In many ways the fate of the Oscar animation race rests on a little distribution company called GKIDS. Why? Because whether there will be more than 13 or more than 16 feature films qualifying in 2012 determines how many nominees there will be. It looks like we'll easily get 13-15 (three or four nominees). But will we get 16 or more (five)?
GKIDS often acquires the sort of overseas 2-D animation that many Oscar voters in the animation branch admire. It has scored three animated feature Oscar nominations in the past three years: "The Secret of Kells" in 2010 and both "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita" in 2012, the first time that an indie distributor had two nominations in the category.
Now GKIDs is planning to release "Ernest et Celestine" (which debuted in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes this May and will make its North American debut at Toronto in September) in both English and French in stateside theaters not in 2012 but in fall 2013. (The film opens in France on December 12, 2012.)
So that's one film that will NOT qualify this year. However, GKIDS says it will qualify four others with a week in an LA theater: "From Up on Poppy Hill" (Studio Ghibli, Japan), "Zarafa" (Pathe, France), "The Rabbi’s Cat" (TF1, France), and "Le Tableau" (Rezo, France). "A Letter to Momo" (Production I.G, Japan) will wait to qualify in 2013. Upcoming 2013 release "Wrinkles" (Six Sales, Spain) already qualified for the previous Oscars.
Based on the Gabrielle Vincent children’s book series and animated in hand-painted watercolors, "Ernest & Celestine" is about a friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse, Celestine. The production was spearheaded by Didier Brunner and Les Armateurs (Oscar-nominated "Triplets of Belleville" and "The Secret of Kells") with participation of Studiocanal, Maybe Movies, La Parti Productions, Mélusine Productions and France 3 Cinema. Studiocanal manages all rights as well as the international sales, while GKIDS is handling US theatrical, home video, digital and TV rights.
GKIDS handles North American theatrical distribution for Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli library, including Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" and classics "My Neighbor Totoro," "Princess Mononoke" and more. GKIDS produces the annual New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival, which qualifies short films for the Oscars. NYICFF jury members have included Uma Thurman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Modine, Jeffrey Wright, Gus van Sant, Christine Vachon, John Canemaker and James Schamus.
Here's a list of likely qualifying films in order of their nominatability (I've seen footage from some of the films, and many I have not seen at all; thanks to In Contention for keeping a running tally).