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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

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