Will the studios totally dominate the best animated feature category or will there be room for one or two indies? And how many surprises will there be for animated short? Let's look at my predictions for Thursday's Oscar nominations.
After grabbing the Golden Globe last night, there's no doubt that Disney's Frozen juggernaut ($317.6 million domestically and $712.2 million globally so far) is the heavy favorite. Frozen is Disney's best feature since Beauty and the Beast and the dual princess fairy tale delivers the animated and musical goods. It's fresh, funny, heart-warming, and different. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee honor the legacy while making it hip, concentrating on the sibling bond rather than romantic love, and the Disney animators reach new heights with CG.
The Wind Rises (Buena Vista)
Hayao Miyazaki's supposed swan song at Studio Ghibli is a poignant and beautiful evocation of dreams and engineering, so near and dear to him, and the subject of flying and making planes is tailor made. It's a brilliant, if melancholy, summary statement by the master, and he doesn't hide from the darker aspects of war, suffering, and death. The Wind Rises is his most adult movie since Porco Rosso, and although it is more grounded than his fairy tales, the hand-made touch is still poetry in motion.
Monsters University (Pixar)
Pixar isn't exactly playing it safe with its first prequel. How often do you find an animated film about failure? Mike must confront his inability to become a Scarer and find a new career while working out his rivalry with eventual best-friend Sulley. At the same time, Pixar stepped up its lighting approach by introducing global illumination and ray tracing to create a more complex and realistic-looking environment around the Monsterfied campus.
The Croods (DreamWorks Animation)
This certainly stands out in a year dominated by survival and the inevitability of change. What Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco accomplish is a fun and funny prehistoric family road trip that doesn't stop moving, and the unique, Zion-inspired eye candy is gorgeous. Meanwhile, the cave paintings reveal technology that reaches back all the way to the beginning of filmmaking with matte paintings while utilizing the cutting edge of what we can do today with fluid dynamics and particle simulations.
Ernest & Celestine (Gkids)
This gentle and whimsical French/Belgian fable about the forbidden friendship between a grumpy, musical bear and a sensitive, artistic mouse is gaining momentum after being voted best animated feature by the Los Angeles Critics Assn. Directors Benjamin Renner, Stephane Aubier, and Vincent Patar have concocted an animated delight. Although the film has a beautiful hand-drawn look, in actuality, the characters were animated in Flash while the watercolor backgrounds were hand-drawn and then rendered with a new software created by Digital Graphics.
Get A Horse! (Disney)
Lauren MacMullan's ingenious short a meta Mickey Mouse experience, combining hand-drawn and black-and-white with color, CG, and 3-D. It's the perfect metaphor for Disney's resurgence and functions like a dialogue between the past and present, ending in aesthetic harmony. It's not about technique -- it's about storytelling, according to Eric Goldberg, who supervised the 2D and collaborated with CG supervisor Adam Green.
Subconscious Password (NFB)
Oscar winner Chris Landreth (Ryan) takes the inner workings of the human psyche in a whole new absurd direction. Poking fun at middle-aged memory loss, he conjures a mind-bending game show with guest appearances by Dick Van Dyke, Yoko Ono, Sammy Davis Jr., William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ayn Rand. The short mixes techniques while using 3-D effects to mirror the growing psychological imbalance.
Room on the Broom (Magic Light Pictures)
Directors Max Lang (The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer adapt the popular book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a kind witch (Gillian Anderson) who invites a bizarre group of animals to ride on her broom. Made by Germany’s Studio Soi, the CG short about tolerance co-stars Rob Brydon as the abused Cat, Marin Clunes as the Dog, Sally Hawkins as the Bird, David Walliams as the Frog, Timothy Spall as the Dragon, and Simon Pegg as the narrator.
The Missing Scarf (Belly Creative Inc.)
Eoin Duffy's little ditty is a delight about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few (narrated by George Takei) and made in Blender3D. Albert the Squirrel discovers an empty space where once his favorite scarf lay. He heads off into the forest only to find everyone else is preoccupied with worries of their own with no time to help him find his elusive scarf.
Mr. Hublot (Zeilt Prods.)
Laurent Witz and co-director Alexandre Espigares deliver whimsical steampunk that would bring a smile to Bill Joyce: Mr. Hublot lives in an absurd, post-industrial world where patched-up, stiched-up characters come together with mechanical parts. But it's an environment driven by giant machines preoccupied with recycling, and where nature and most human emotions are sadly nonexistent.