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2016 Oscar Nominations: Animation Analysis

Nominations for the 88th Oscars were announced this morning and there’s a lot to discuss about the animation categories.

But before jumping into those, it’s worth talking about the best picture category. Disney legitimately believed it had a shot with Inside Out being nominated for best picture, as well as best animated feature. Throughout award season, they pushed Inside Out in the industry trades for best picture, while promoting The Good Dinosaur in the animation category.

In fairness to Disney, many others thought Inside Out stood a good shot for best picture recognition as well. Pete Docter’s film isn’t just one of Pixar’s best films, but it was one of the best reviewed and most well liked films of 2015, animated or otherwise.

While Inside Out was snubbed for best picture, it did receive an impressive nomination for its screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, which was based on an original story by Docter and co-director Ronnie del Carmen. The other nominated works in the original screenplay category are Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Spotlight, and Straight Outta Compton.

Here are the animation nominations:

Animated Feature Film
  • Anomalisa
    dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, pro. Rosa Tran
  • Boy and the World
    dir. Alê Abreu
  • Inside Out
    dir. Pete Docter, pro. Jonas Rivera
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
    dir. Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
  • When Marnie Was There
    dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, pro. Yoshiaki Nishimura

Analysis: Even though the winner in this category is pre-ordained (hint: the Disney Company will win for the 8th time in 9 years), the nominees in the category at least managed to be surprising. The surprises came at the expense of Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, both of which had been nominated for Golden Globes and Annie Awards. Those films were knocked out in favor of international features released by New York-based indie distributor GKIDS: Alê Abreu’s The Boy and the World and Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There. It marks the seventh and eighth nominations for GKIDS in the last seven years.

Brazilian film Boy and the World represents a watershed moment for the South American animation industry. It is the first time an animated feature from that part of the world has been nominated for the Academy Award. Even more remarkable, as the film’s director Alê Abreu told Cartoon Brew recently, the film’s budget was around half-a-million dollars. The most expensive film in the category, Pixar’s Inside Out, had a reported budget of $175 million, or 350x more.

Aside from Inside Out, the animated feature category is dominated for the first time by non-major modestly-budgeted animated features. Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep Movie was brought in for under $25 million; When Marnie Was There, the third Studio Ghibli nomination in three years, cost around $10.5 million; and the stop motion gem Anomalisa was produced at a reported budget of $8 million (though the actual cost of production was far lower, and Paramount likely inflated the figure with its $5 million acquisition cost).

Other observations: Two stop motion films, two drawn films, and just one CG film. Also, the majority of the films in the category (Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There) are foreign-made for only the second time in the history of the category. The other time this happened was in 2005, though there were only three nominees that year.

Animated Short Film
  • Bear Story
    dir. Gabriel Osorio, pro. Pato Escala
  • Prologue
    dir. Richard Williams, pro. Imogen Sutton
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
    dir. Sanjay Patel, pro. Nicole Grindle
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
    dir. Konstantin Bronzit
  • World of Tomorrow
    dir. Don Hertzfeldt

Analysis: While the 10-film animated short shortlist could certainly be debated, the Academy made the most straightforward selection of nominees based on that shortlist. Every film that should’ve been nominated from that shortlist was nominated, and the field is solid.

The big story here again is South America. The crowd-pleasing CG short Bear Story directed by Gabriel Osorio is the first nomination in this category for the country of Chile. It’s also among the few (perhaps only?) nominations for a South American animated short. Animation is booming in that region, and the fact that both a South American short and feature were nominated this year makes a powerful statement about the quality of work that’s being produced by our neighbors to the south.

After two critical misses–The Blue Umbrella and Lava–Pixar returned to the Oscar mix with Sanjay Patel’s personal short Sanjay’s Super Team. Meanwhile, World of Tomorrow, which was handily the most critically acclaimed short of 2015, represents Don Hertzfeldt’s first Oscar recognition since 2000 when he was nominated for Rejected.

Neither Patel nor Hertzfeldt were even born yet when animation legend Richard Williams last won an animated short Oscar 43 years ago for A Christmas Carol. Williams’s new film Prologue is a testament to his longevity as an artist, and a fitting tribute to an artist who has made it his lifelong goal to elevate the craftsmanship of animated filmmaking.

The fifth nominee in the category, 50-year-old Russian filmmaker Konstantin Bronzit, is no Oscar slouch either, having previously been nominated in 2009 for Lavatory–Lovestory. His much-lauded We Can’t Live Without Cosmos won a slew of awards on the festival circuit, including last year’s short film grand prize at Annecy.

Visual Effects
  • Ex Machina
    Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
    Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
  • The Martian
    Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
  • The Revenant
    Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
  • dao_tao

    It bears repeating that the only reason the Best Animated Feature category exists is to spare the Academy the embarrassment of another animated film (cartoon), being nominated for Best Picture again.

    • Chinoiserie

      But isn’t it a great thing that a animated features get recognition? I am sure many people would not have head of a film like Boy and the World without awards watchers mentioning it in their predictions and many more will hear of the animated features in the ceremony.

      • Lucky Jim

        Without the category there’s no GKids, who have given distribution to a wide range of eclectic and diverse animated features from across the globe. They’re an unambiguously good thing for our industry.

    • Lucky Jim

      After the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, two more animated movies were nominated for Best Picture, “Up” and “Toy Story 3.”

      • dao_tao

        No plan survives contact with the enemy.

  • Glad to see it come full-circle to South America, where the first two (sadly, lost) animated features were produced.

  • Stefan Ellison

    I believe this is also the first year that four different continents are represented in the Animated Feature category, with films coming from North America, South America, Europe and Asia. As much as I would have loved a nomination for The Peanuts Movie, I can’t fault the variety of styles and nations in these choices.

  • Jaty

    Even though all of those are awesome nominations, I still bet it’s going to be Disney/
    Pixar who’s going to win the awards for feature and short animated film categories.

  • Doconnor

    It’s a bit early to condemn them for picking Inside Out. Besides, it’s pretty good for being a mere Hollywood film.

  • ea

    Typical Oscar Voter’s reaction to the nominees for Best Animated Feature:

    “Team America, Serta commercial, and two f-cking Chinese things. Well, this is a no-brainer: my vote goes to Pixar even though I didn’t really get Inside Out. But where are the Minions??! My kids are gonna drive me crazy with their tantrums! WORST NOMINEES EVAR!!!!1”

    • Graph

      How cynical, yet appropriate.

  • desantoos

    Hats off to the Academy for such a diverse and stellar list. They did a great job this year.

  • Inkan1969

    Disney has only won the BAF Oscar two times. It’s Pixar that won the other six times.

    • aquapyro

      exactly. People have to remember that while Disney Animation has had nominations before they have always lost to Pixar (with exceptions of Frozen and Big Hero 6).

      • Exilov

        This is how the Best Animated Feature category has gone since 2007.

        1.) If a Pixar film is nominated – it wins.
        2.) If not, but a Disney film is nominated – it wins.

        The only non-Disney/Pixar film to win the award in that time span is Rango.

        • Mina

          WALLACE AND GROMIT won from DW and Shrek.

          • Exilov

            That’s why I said since 2007. The Oscars actually did decent for the first few years that this category existed.

            Since then it’s been the Disney/Pixar show. Think about it: could you honestly see a film like Spirited Away winning Best Animated Feature now? They’d dismiss it as ‘obscure Chinese f-cking shit’ like they did with ‘Song of the Sea’ and ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ last year.

  • Inkan1969

    I have to say that when I first saw that list of Best Animated Feature nominees I completely forgot the lock “Inside Out” has on the award. Instead I felt awestruck by the diversity of the nominees. Two GKIDS films and an Aardman feature showing great work from overseas, and a stop motion movie pitched for adult audiences. I wish nomination lists would have this much variety.

    And actually about “Inside Out”: I still have to see “Boy and the World” and “Anomalisa”. But I did feel that IO was exceptionally good for its imaginative settings and its meaningful drama. For now, I wouldn’t feel bad about “Inside Out” winning at all.

    • AmidAmidi

      It’s a futile task trying to judge “Inside Out” against “Boy and the World” or “Anomalisa.” Each film is exceptionally well made with unique qualities. IMO, it’s the strongest slate of animation nominees in the 15-year history of the award.

  • Mistwalker

    What’s the point of this award? I mean, they are going to give it to Pixar, no debate… same thing happen with Brave for no reason, probably because it has the Pixar logo and it’s not a sequel. They gave the Oscar to Frozen because it has 2 catchy songs and become a global phenomenon. And Big Hero 6…. wow, being HTTYD2 the most mature non-independent American-Animated film in this decade coming from a studio that is best known for making movies with poop jokes…
    Following that logic, they should’ve nominate Star Wars for Best Picture because is Star Wars and it’s a global phenomenon too.
    But hey, Animation is a genre!, instead of making best animated film category just change the name to Best Film appealing to Kids


    • Exilov

      To be honest Star Wars getting an Editing nomination is almost as much of a joke as a Best Pic nom would be.

      I am happy to see so many under-the-radar animated films get in, but it just makes it more obvious what the winner will be. After all, a film like Anamolisa stands no chance because it isn’t Pixar/Disney AND because it aims at adults.

      Also what’s the point of spending money on an Oscar campaign if you know you’ll just lose in the end? If I were DreamWorks/Blue Sky/Illumination/Laika I’d consider cutting my losses and just not bother campaigning.

      • ea

        Simply getting nominated helps the movies get seen, like Triplets of Belleville, Persepolis, the Cartoon Saloon films, etc.

  • Strong Enough

    the fact theres even a category named best animated feature is disrespectful in itself. animated movies should just compete along with live action


    Brad Bird.

    • The reason they have it in the first place is because the Oscars weren’t recognizing it in competition with live action. So if you take Best Animated Feature away, you won’t see much nominations for animation period.

      Seriously, the last time animation was even in a serious nomination before the Best Animated Feature category was Beauty and the Beast back in 1992 for Best Picture. Animation did not come back into Best Picture until the Oscars decided to extend their nominees to a limit of 10 instead of 5. That’s when Pixar was nominated Best Picture for Up and Toy Story 3. Hasn’t happened for animation to be nominated for Best Picture since.

  • Elsi Pote

    This unnecessarily will perpetuate the popular biased pre conception that animation is just void cheap entertainment for kids, which only one corporation “gets” right.

    Think about it, when you put a Chevy to compete against any Japanese car, and give a prize to Chevy only based in manipulative empty gimmicks,. You are discounting the reliability, quality and value of the Japanese car for doing what is supposed to do (to take you from point a to point b), and basically getting crap in exchange.

  • BettyBooped

    NO PEANUTS at the Oscars I’m sooooo upset. Interesting to see Aardmans shaun the sheep nominated, I’ve heard that some at the firm will not be at all pleased. My brother lives in Bristol and knows Aardmans vp of marketing who said ‘we hope the film isn’t nominated as there was no chance of it winning and the awards season particularly the Oscars was just a drain on the studios resources as the producers and directors will all want to go to LA and party for a week.’ Word is that marketing now runs the show at the firm and not only do they determine customer orientation across the whole of Aardmans output they control the travel budget!!!!!!!!!!! so much sucking up by the producers and directors is anticipated. Bit of a change of heart from the renown award chasers! Does any movie stand a chance against Inside Out? Voters should do as the Brits always do and vote for the Brazil hundred-to-one-shot – Boy and the World.

    • richard starzak

      Wow. You’re SO knowledgeable about Aardman. Why don’t you do something useful with your sad little life

  • Steven Bowser

    I’m actually totally okay with Disney winning again this year with Inside Out because Inside Out was actually a very solid film. Big Hero 6 was fun, but not nearly as deep or memorable at all, and I personally think The Tale of Princess Kaguya deserved the Oscar that year. It seemed much more like “Oscar” material.

    • Aryu Lo

      Exactly! To me, the Tale of Princess Kaguya is a literature and the messages it conveys can linger in my hearts for years… I am amazed by its demonstration of Eastern philosophy and the oppression of women in the past. Really a pity that not many people have seen this piece of art.

  • I won’t be surprised for Inside Out for Best Animated Feature. I will also not be surprised if Sanjay’s Super Team does not win Best Animated Short, and it’s given to someone else instead.

    It would be awesome if World of Tomorrow wins for Best Animated Short. Though I could see Prologue winning, seeing Richard Williams has been around the Oscars plenty of times.

  • Not impressed

    I don’t get how a road trip, popcorn flick like inside out gets so much praise… We just love our BS sugar coated don’t we!!

  • Renard N. Bansale

    Given the types of nominees for Best Animated Feature, it kinda makes me feel guilty that the frontrunner is the CG film.

    Inside Out is my 2nd favorite animated film of 2015 (and my 7th favorite film of the year in general). As much as it was emotional, I just couldn’t deny the dialogue-less power and stronger grasp of cinematic technique of Shaun The Sheep (favorite animated film of 2015) and 5th favorite film of 2015).

  • Bob

    I think blue sky was robbed of being included in this list. I also seemed to enjoy inside out more than a lot of the animation community. I’m curious what has changed for amid- a little over a year ago he (you) were appalled at the news and initial images of peanuts. You claimed blue sky was just hunting money and was going to make a mess of the franchise even going so far as to insult the artists working on it. Now, you are clearly riding the coat tails of the peanuts franchise by accepting money to fly blue sky’s peanuts banner and acting surprised they weren’t nominated for an Oscar. Interesting shift…

  • Hey Now

    The Peanuts Movie truly deserved to be on that list.