We’re still five months away from the 2024 Oscars, but these questions have got us thinking about the March 10 Academy Awards ceremony.
1 – Last year, Netflix got two nominations and an eventual win. Can the streamer repeat in 2023?
Last year, two Netflix films scored animated feature nominations, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won the award. While Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast scoring a nomination may have surprised some, Pinocchio felt like a favorite from the day its release was first announced. This year, none of Netflix’s titles are casting as large a shadow as did Pinocchio, but the streamer has a pair of very serious contenders in Nimona and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Nimona has been one of the critics’ favorite animated features and boasts as ambitious and unique a look as any big studio film. And although there are only a handful of reviews following Dawn of the Nugget’s BFI Fest world premiere, most have been positive, not to mention Academy darling Aardman Animations produced it.
2 – Why is Illumination consistently ignored?
We asked a similar question last year, and we’re forced to ask it again now. Few studios, if any, have been able to match Illumination’s cultural or box office impact in recent years, yet the Academy regularly overlooks the studio’s fan-friendly fare. In 2022, Minions: The Rise of Gru was a box office smash that spawned a tidal wave of memes and social media interactions but didn’t get a nod. This year, The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a cultural phenomenon built on one of the largest media franchises in history. It also overshadowed all the other animated features at the box office and most of the live-action ones, too. Some may argue that Illumination’s films aren’t artistically ambitious enough to merit the Academy’s attention, but we’re talking about an Academy that gave nominations to The Boss Baby and Ferdinand. Love or hate them, those films weren’t more artistically ambitious than Mario, which is a perfectly solid film, if a bit safe. Illumination will also release Migration later this year, but it’s still too early to say if that film will resonate with voters. That said, it was directed by former Oscar nominee Benjamin Renner (Ernest & Celestine).
3 – Can Across the Spider-Verse pull a franchise repeat, or will the Academy wait to recognize the third film in the trilogy?
Nearly every review of the latest Spider-Verse entry agrees it is a step forward from the franchise’s first film, Into the Spider-Verse. Since that film won the animated feature Oscar in 2019, Across the Spider-Verse must be considered one of this year’s favorites and a lock to secure a nomination. That said, voters may be put off by the film’s inconclusive ending and wait to recognize the franchise until the third and final film, Beyond the Spider-Verse, comes out.
4 – Has Disney regained frontrunner status?
One of the biggest question marks this year is Disney’s Wish, set to hit theaters on November 22. Few of the company’s recent titles feel as “Disney” as Wish, a musical family feature with talking animals and a princess – in spirit if not in title – as its lead. And after a disastrous opening for Pixar’s Elemental, who’d have thought that come awards season, Peter Sohn’s film would be one of the year’s strongest contenders? After an incredible box office comeback, Elemental is a bettor’s favorite to snag a nod and maybe even win the whole thing. Disney has practically owned the animated feature category since it was established in 2001, and this year feels like the studio could easily snag two nominations and perhaps even a win.
5 – Does Paramount have a legitimate shot at a nomination?
Since the company stopped distributing Dreamworks’ films more than a decade ago, Paramount has been mostly absent from the awards season chatter, though 2015’s Anomalisa was a notable exception. This year, Jeff Rowe’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem could change that. The film pushes graphic boundaries as far as any other of this year’s contenders, and it made a nifty cultural impact, reportedly driving more than $1 billion in global retail sales for the franchise this year.
6 – Can Sony Pictures Classics continue its stellar Oscars track record?
Sony Pictures Classics may not distribute many animated films, but when it does, the films often catch the attention of the Academy. Persepolis, The Red Turtle, and The Triplets of Belleville were all distributed by SPC, and all three got animated feature Oscar nominations. Waltz with Bashir was also an SPC release, and that film got an international feature nomination. This year, the distributor has two potential contenders from former Oscar nominees: They Shot the Piano Player from Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba (Chico & Rita), and The Peasants from DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman (Loving Vincent).
7 – Could China play a role in this year’s race?
Three of this year’s top 10 grossing animated features worldwide came from China: Chang An, Boonie Bears: Guardian Code, and Deep Sea. Despite the trio’s tremendous success in their domestic market, none has had a major impact in the West. But how long will that trend last? It feels a lot more like a question of when, rather than if, Chinese animation will start making waves at the U.S. box office and on the awards scene. We also wouldn’t overlook Liu Jian’s Art College 1994, which has some serious festival credibility after debuting in competition at the Berlinale and screening in the main competition at Annecy.
Bonus question – Did Japan pick the wrong international feature submission?
Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron is already a shoo-in for the animated feature category, but we’re thinking it could have been a multi-category contender. This year, Japan picked Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days as its submission for the international feature category, the first time the country has submitted a film by a non-Japanese director. But would Japan have had a better chance at a nomination if it had submitted Miyazaki’s latest? Japan has submitted animated films in the past, including Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke in 1997. And just four years ago, Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You was the Japanese pick. It’s perhaps uncommon, but certainly not unprecedented, for the Academy to nominate an animated film for the international feature category. In 2021, Denmark submitted Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated feature, Flee, which earned nominations for best animated, documentary, and international feature.
Pictured at top: The Boy and the Heron, Elemental, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Nimona