What a great year for toon flicks. For the first time in 30 years an animated film has competed at the Cannes Film Festival (DreamWorks’ Shrek), and the Academy will present an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film for the first time next year. Feature-length animation is finally being recognized as the unique film genre that it is.
The Academy has been rewarding innovation and excellence in animated short films since 1932, when Hollywood studios regularly produced cartoons to run before films. But during the 1990s, when such simple shorts as Bunny and Bob’s Birthday were winning Oscars, ground-breaking pics like Toy Story, The Iron Giant and Chicken Run were lucky to be nominated for Best Song. Something had to change.
The Academy rules say at least eight qualifying animated features must be released in a given year to keep the category open, and it looks like that will not be a problem based on current release charts. But which ones look like likely winners?
Summer successes Shrek and Atlantis: The Lost Empire are certainly audience favorites and have a good chance at a nod. Final Fantasy looks great, and Nick’s Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius promises fun, but Disney/Pixar’s Monsters Inc. is the CGI film to beat.
Rounding out the year’s Oscar-qualifying toon pics are zany comedies Osmosis Jones, an animated/live-action mix from the Farrelly Bros. and Chris Rock, and Columbia TriStar’s Eight Crazy Nights, starring, written by and produced by Adam Sandler.
It won’t surprise me if an adult-skewing indie film walks away with the Oscar. Currently on the festival circuit, Bill Plympton’s Mutant Aliens is a likely candidate, as is Richard Linklater (Slacker) and Bob Sabiston’s Waking Life, which has already won awards at Sundance and Cannes. It’s edgy and innovative (using a unique computer rotoscope technique) and could definitely make the cut.
The problem is sorting through the 2-D features, the CGI films and the CGI/live-action combos. For instance, does Warner Bros.’ live action/puppet/toon hybrid Cats & Dogs qualify as an animated feature?
In years past, Disney’s Dinosaur was primarily animated with live-action backdrops, and Star Wars: Episode 1 was 70% CGI. If we were to include the Jurassic Parks, Men In Blacks and Evolutions-which rely heavily on animated wizardry-I’d really be in a bind.