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AwardsFeature Film

2018 Animated Feature Oscar Contenders: It’s A Wide-Open Race

The Academy Award for best animated feature is an unusually open race this year due to a weak slate of offerings from the major studios.

Additionally, some major rule changes that the Academy made in the category complicates the picture and could knock out some of the independent and international features that would have normally been competitive.

It all adds up to an extremely confusing year that is a complete 180-change from last year, when the category was challenging to judge because there were so many quality competitors.

The thoughts below are intended to give a broad overview of the category and highlight some of the films that will be considered this season.

Studio Fare – Already Released

It’s been an off-year for the U.S. majors, to put it politely. There’s been plenty of average animation, but nothing has lifted itself above the pack. Among the releases the Academy may consider are Sony Picture Animation’s Smurfs: The Lost Village and The Emoji Movie, Warner Bros. Animation/Animation Logic’s The Lego Batman Movie, Dreamworks Animation’s The Boss Baby and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, The Weinstein Company’s Leap!, and Disney-Pixar’s Cars 3.

Oh, and don’t forget the top-grossing animated film of the year, Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3. It’s the studio’s seventh all-animation feature, and like most of their films, it’s been insanely successful. Illumination has been nominated only once before — Despicable Me 2 — and frankly, it would be a surprise if they weren’t nominated for this one. (It’s not unprecedented for the Academy to nominate more than one film in a series — multiple Shreks, Kung Fu Pandas, and How to Train Your Dragons have been nominated in the category.)

They would be a deserving nominee, too. Illumination doesn’t get nearly enough credit for consistently creating globally-beloved entertainment, though I suppose that raking in nearly a billion dollars per film is credit enough. People can dismiss their success, but all the major studios are trying to do the exact same thing and none of them have been able to match Illumination’s success in the last decade. An Oscar nomination would validate the artists who continue to create appealing animated characters that resonate with and entertain a lot of people around the world.

Independent/International Fare

If there was ever a year for independent and international animated features to make a big showing in the animated feature category, it would be this year. They easily have the studio fare beat this year, except for one thing: the Academy made significant changes earlier in 2017 to the voting rules and procedures for the animated feature category, and it was done specifically to curb the growing influence of independent and international animation in the category.

Those rule changes have added much unpredictability to the category this year. Many more members from outside of the animation branch will now be voting to select the animated feature nominees, and as we’ve long established, the members of the Academy who are outside of the animation branch don’t much understand the animation artform and tend to vote for mainstream fare.

With that out of the way, below are some of the promising indie and foreign animated features that are expected to qualify this year and would typically be strong contenders. Other films may go through the qualification process too though we won’t know for a few more months.

Studio Fare – Still To Come

U.S. studios have four major releases set for this fall/winter: Warner Bros. Animation/Animal Logic’s The Lego Ninjago Movie, Fox/Blue Sky’s children’s book-inspired Ferdinand, Sony Picture Animation’s religious animal tale The Star, and Disney-Pixar’s Day of the Dead-ode Coco.

Of those four films, Coco is the only one that is all but guaranteed a nomination. That’s not an endorsement of the film’s quality, since I haven’t seen the film; it’s simply based on the history of the category. A Disney or Pixar studios film has won the feature Academy Award for nine out of the last ten years, and a Disney or Pixar film has been nominated for 14 out of the 16 years that the award has been handed out. The Academy equates animation with Disney-Pixar, and unless Coco is an unmitigated disaster, there’s no reason to believe that the Academy will change its tune this year.

  • Jack Zimmerman

    You forgot My Little Pony: The Movie!

    • AmidAmidi

      Didn’t forget it. This is a look at contenders for the Oscar, not a list of every animated feature that came out this year.

      • Cale

        Oh, snap!

      • Fluffydips

        Woah, shots fired.

        • AmidAmidi

          No shots were fired and it’s hardly controversial to suggest that MLP is not an Oscar-worthy film. Not even the people who worked on the film believe it’s an award contender. Let’s talk about the films that have a creative vision and are pushing the artform forward.

          • Nathan Rae

            [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Stay on-topic. Comments are not a place to discuss ideas not directly related to the post.” The topic of this post is this year’ s contenders for the Oscar animated feature category.]

          • Fluffydips

            I was joking Amid.

          • Jersey Jimmy

            hahaha obliterated

      • Inkan1969

        But you did write, “Among the releases the Academy may consider are Sony Picture Animation’s Smurfs: The Lost Village and The Emoji Movie,” and you did list “Animal Crackers”. I don’t think any of those are in contention.

  • Ryan Serowinski

    They better not nominate Emoji Movie……………

  • Lego Batman deserves an honorary nomination/Oscar, just because The Lego Movie got snubbed back in 2014.

  • Fluffydips

    Why does the Oscar even matter anyway? They suck at voting for anything in animation and no one really deserves it this year. Even if someone does the default Disney or Pixar offering will win it anyway.

  • Ryan Cullen

    Wouldn’t it be great if all the nominees were indie and/or foreign animated films, so one of them could actually win?

  • Joel Furtado

    Wow, so depressing. I feel like commercial animation needs a huge overhaul. Such an enormous waste of talented artists.

  • Elsi Pote

    There is no doubt this will be a bleak category at the Oscars. However this will open the doors to those without the big $$$ to “persuade” the voting members and get exposure for their artistry and execution.

    Seriously, Leap, Ninjago (Batman was unnecesarely busy and bloated) and Despicable Me 3 have a big shot at it.

    Even DreamWorks with a rough cut of whatever they have on Croods 2 can make it!

    • Cameron Ward

      lol Leap! has no chance. This is The Weinsteins we are talking about. The day they get an Oscar nom for an animated film is the day the industry as a whole comes crashing down.

  • Dave Jesteadt

    We are running Benjamin Renner’s Big Bad Fox this year too ;)

    • AmidAmidi

      Added it to the list. Don’t know how I missed that one.

  • Dman

    While I do agree that Illumination should get more credit for making such ridiculous amounts of money, to suggest that Despicable Me 3 deserves an Oscar nomination is laughable. I consider it the worst in the franchise (yes, below Minions) because it felt like 4 episodes of a Despicable Me TV show rather than a coherent film. And of course you throw more shade at Disney/Pixar with Coco, what else is new? I’m rooting for Lego Batman.

  • Yoel Carlos Schincaglia

    I’m really hoping that In This Corner of The World gets a nomination. Ah, I don’t know but, the movie A Silent Movie will run for this year or it has run for last year edition?

    • Cameron Ward

      no it will be in this year if I remember correctly. It’s getting a release later this year so we will have to see what happens. If you follow the indie scene, there is a lot and I do mean A LOT of competition this year.

    • Renard N. Bansale

      I *want* Corner to get what Your Name. could not.

  • HN

    LOL You think Despicable Me 3 has a chance at being nominated? Even the despised Cars 3 has gotten better reviews than DM3. That’s not to say that it is not fun, cause it is, but I can’t just imagine DM3 being nominated. It is worse in quality than DM2. So far, I think the frontrunner is WB Animation’s The Lego Batman Movie. That film is so well received by critics. But in the end, I think a film coming from Disney-Pixar will win, that will be Coco cause I doubt that Cars 3 will be nominated. Looking at the trailer, Coco could be a film that will make the audience so emotional.

    • Renard N. Bansale

      “Despised” is a strong word to describe the critical reception of Cars 3, frankly.

  • Cameron Ward

    I understand if you haven’t heard yet, but Big Fish & Begonia was picked up by Shout! Factory so there goes another one in the indie corner.

    I doubt the rule will change much. I don’t think anyone is going to say DM3, Cars 3, Smurfs, or The Emoji Movie deserve a nomination. Especially when GKids has a stronger than ever line up that includes Napping Princess coming out in September…

  • Alex Hartsell

    My main bets that the voters will chose this films for their positive reviews (if they were wiser):
    * The Breadwinner
    * Captain Underpants
    * Coco
    * The Lego Batman Movie
    * Mary and the Witch’s Flower

    • Marielle

      My bet would be Coco, The Breadwinner, In This Corner of the World, Loving Vincent and The Girl Without Hands.

  • Rob Proost

    There are a couple of small indies I’m really looking forward to, like Louise en Hiver and I’ll Just Live in Bando. It feels like lately the field has been diversifying, and merit can lead to festival momentum and succes (although luck is always involved in momentum too though).

    Hopefully some make it onto the longlist so ignoring indies becomes harder to counter the new rules.

    Boy and the World still amazes me, 0.5 million straight to the oscars. It’s just a bummer that once the package is dropped off, it never makes it through to a win. But I just look at the oscar nominations themselves as the wins of that year for indie from an American point of view.

    Cause as much as the oscars get derided, they’ve consistently picked 3-4 out of 5 really good movies. Maybe not the best ones, but an eclectic and interesting mix as a result of their peculiar situation. A selection like Boy and the World – When Marnie Was There – Anomalisa – Shaun the Sheep – Inside Out is underrated.

    Just because Inside Out wins, everybody hates Pixar and the Oscars, instead of talking about the four other movies as well. That selection is really fine imo. I would pick a couple different ones, but less eclectic for sure, so it’s always interesting to me to check out.

  • Renard N. Bansale

    I write this as I prepare to watch In This Corner of the World and The Girl Without Hands tomorrow afternoon: 2017 in animation *sucks* so far. Out of the 155 new releases I’ve seen (as of this comment), the only animated films that have received more than 3 stars (out of 5) from me are Cars 3 (defending the trilogy has become one of my quirks) and My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. I’m an outspoken non-fan of The Lego Batman Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Despicable Me 3 was a waste of screen space that had some potential. The Emoji Movie is in my bottom 10.

    • Renard N. Bansale

      UPDATE: Just saw In This Corner of the World and The Girl Without Hands. They are easily the two best animated films of 2017 so far.

  • Exilov

    >wide open

    I seriously doubt it.
    Coco is winning it.
    It’s a bland year, and as long as it has decent reviews the Pixar name will be enough to carry it.

    Honestly I think the only chance non-Disney films have now is if Disney and Pixar both fail to get nominations. Sad, but that’s the way it is.