This, history has shown, is what the Oscars like. In future articles, we’ll write about the contenders we think most deserve recognition.
Disney has home advantage in the Oscars’ animation categories: voters seem to drift toward its films by default, although this tendency is less pronounced with shorts than features. Walt Disney Animation Studios is behind Far from the Tree (Natalie Nourigat), a fable about parenting starring a pair of cute racoons. The film, which is screening alongside Encanto in theaters, is not traditionally hand-drawn — but it is rendered in a 2d style, which may score nostalgia points.
The studio has also submitted Us Again (Zach Parrish), which accompanied Raya and the Last Dragon. An elderly couple are transported back to their youths and dance together through a rain-streaked city. The film is snazzily choreographed and sentimental in just the right way for the Oscars. It has echoes of To Gerard, Dreamworks’ short about an aging magician, which was shortlisted last year.
Pixar has two films in contention. Twenty Something (Aphton Corbin) is a comic piece that depicts a young woman’s insecurities about growing up: her feelings of immaturity are personified in child characters, who we realize are her younger selves. It is 2d, like its predecessors Burrow and Kitbull. The second film is Nona (Louis Gonzales), a bittersweet cg short in which an old woman is torn between minding her granddaughter and watching her favorite wrestling show.
Netflix won this category for this first time last year, with school-shooting drama If Anything Happens I Love You. It will hope to repeat the trick with Robin Robin (Mikey Please, Dan Ojari), a charming holiday special from British stop-motion house Aardman. The Academy loves the studio, and has handed statuettes to several of its shorts and one feature. But Robin Robin breaks with the plasticine-puppet style that defined those films, and may not scream “Aardman” to voters.
Another new-ish player in this category is Apple TV+, which is competing for the second year. Its entry is Blush (Joe Mateo), a sweet tale of romance on a remote planet. It comes from Skydance Animation, which means it has the Oscar-friendly John Lasseter touch: it’s the first film to bear Lasseter’s credit as executive producer in his post-Pixar career.
Affairs of the Art (Joanna Quinn) is the leading contender from the National Film Board of Canada, which enjoys brand recognition in this category: it tends to produce highly polished films and has the resources to promote them well. The studio regularly gets nominations. Affairs of the Art happens to be a hell of a film, funny and full of beautiful animation by Quinn, who has been nominated before for Famous Fred (1998).
The Windshield Wiper (Alberto Mielgo) is one of the more modestly budgeted films on our list: it was self-financed by Mielgo, who handled many roles on the production, and his collaborators. Appropriately for a passion project, the film revolves around the meaning of love, which is portrayed in all its varieties in different vignettes. Mielgo is known in Hollywood — he was art director on Tron: Uprising and worked on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — and The Windshield Wiper launched with a Cannes premiere, which boosted its profile.
Another indie contender, this one from France, is the documentary Souvenir Souvenir. Director Bastien Dubois sets out to learn about his grandfather’s experience of the Algerian War; the film ends up as a nuanced study of the trauma of warfare, and the way it is remembered and narrated. Dubois was previously nominated for Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010), and Souvenir Souvenir has picked up momentum by winning at major festivals like Clermont-Ferrand and Sundance.
Rounding out our list is Namoo (Erick Oh), which narrates a man’s whole life via an elegant tree metaphor. Oh, a former Pixar animator, was nominated last year for his experimental animated installation Opera. If that worked for voters, Namoo, which is more accessible and sentimental, certainly stands a chance. The film also exists in a vr version — could this be the first Oscar nominee to have been animated inside Quill?
Images at top, left to right: “Far from the Tree,” “Robin Robin,” “Souvenir Souvenir”