So those are the outliers. But what about the studio contenders that are more plausible than the likes of "The Smurfs 2?" We're left with six: two from Disney and/or Pixar, one from DreamWorks, one from Fox, one from Universal and one from Sony. Sony and Universal's films are both sequels, in 'Cloudy With Chance Of Meatballs 2" and "Despicable Me 2." The former is more attention grabbing with its inventive character designs, the latter was a bigger hit (one of the biggest in the genre, as it happens), but neither franchise got a nod the first time around, and it's unlikely to change here.
Fox's "Epic," while mildly disappointing at the box office, at least looked fairly striking. But Blue Sky Studios have never fared especially well with the category (they have a sole nomination, for "Ice Age" in 2003), and the broad action-adventure tone of the film may not make it a favorite with voters. A much better bet is DreamWorks' "The Croods." While not the studio's finest hour, there was enough impressive animation in the film (and of course, likely campaigning power from the company) that we should seem them bouncing back after missing out on a nomination last year.
And then there's Disney. Pixar's "Monster University" might have been mildly disappointing by their standards, but they've traditionally dominated the category. That "Cars 2" is their sole movie since the inception of the category to miss out might give some pause, but this was certainly better regarded than that was, so barring a real shock it should be a nominee. But the Mouse House's best chance at a win comes from "Frozen," which hits theaters in a couple of weeks. Though it looked on the surface like an ice-themed level from a "Tangled" video game, the early reviews have been stellar (read ours here), and given that it'll be the last major film to hit release, it'll be fresh in the memory. Remarkably, Disney have never won for an in-house film (Pixar or Studio Ghibli imports having dominated), but "Frozen" might be their best bet yet. That said, "Tangled" missed out on a nomination in 2011 despite good reviews and monster box office, so maybe it's not the home run we think it is?
And "Frozen" doesn't have a free route to the prize, because Disney also have a movie by an absolute master of the form. And in fact, "The Wind Rises" is said to be the last film by Studio Ghibli mastermind Hayao Miyazaki, making it an immediate milestone. We found the film to be an extraordinary achievement in Venice, and the reviews are mostly stellar, so this would likely figure in even if its director wasn't retiring. But the idea of honoring Miyazaki one last time seems almost too good to pass up.
There are some roadblocks. The film is quite different from the director's other work, less fantasy based, and more grown-up. And there's been some controversy at home about the politics of the film (mostly misjudged, we'd argue). But perhaps most important is that Disney are distributing. Will the benefits of being able to put "Academy Award winner" in the ads when the film is released outweigh the desire to get "Frozen" the statue? It's likely to be between the two movies, and there'll be plenty of back and forth over the next few months.
Best Animated Feature Predictions - Tuesday November 12th
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Wind Rises"
Best Animated Short Longlist
"Feral" (dir. Daniel Sousa)
"Get A Horse!" (dir. Lauren MacMullan) - Disney
"Gloria Victoria" (dir. Theodore Ushev)
"Hollow Land" (dir. Uri Kranot and Michelle Kranot)
"The Missing Scarf" (dir. Eoin Duffy)
"Mr. Hublot" (dir. Lauren Witz & Alexandre Espigares)
"Possessions" (dir. Shuhei Morita)
"Requiem For Romance" (dir. Jonathan Ng)
"Room On The Broom" (dir. Max Lang & Jan Lachauer)
"Subconscious Password" (dir. Chris Landreth)