Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

In one of the most unexpected twists of awards season, Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has emerged as the year’s most-honored animated feature in the first round of critics’ awards.

The film’s status as Oscar frontrunner for Best Animated Feature was confirmed over the weekend when four different critics organizations — Chicago Film Critics Association, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle — named it as their best animated film of the year. The awards capped off a stellar week for the film in which it was also nominated for a Golden Globe and seven Annie Awards, the latter being tied for the most Annie nominations of any non-Disney production.

Cartoon Brew is tracking every year-end animation honor via our Animation Award Tracker, and Spider-Man has now picked up more honors (7) than the next two films combined — Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, each of which have come up with three honors.

The most awarded animation features as of Sunday, December 9, 2018.

It’s important to note that using the term frontrunner for the feature animation category of the Oscars is always a bit presumptuous unless you’re talking about a Walt Disney Studios release. Disney has won 10 out of the last 11 Oscars in the category; its virtual ownership of the category is unprecedented in Academy Award history for any category.

Spider-Man faces other strong headwinds too, namely that it’s a Marvel superhero film. Academy voters have traditionally been reluctant to reward previously-established superhero characters. There is a precedent though: in 2015, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6, based on a Marvel comic, won the animation Oscar.

Another factor complicating its chances with the Academy is that Sony Pictures Animation has not established a reputation for prestige animated films. In fact, a film it released last year, The Emoji Movie, was recognized by the Razzie Awards as the worst film of the year. The Emoji Movie to Spider-Man is the biggest glow-up for a feature animation studio since Disney’s cg productions went from Bolt to Tangled.

Even after taking all factors into account, it will be hard to overlook Spider-Man this season. The film, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, has been praised by nearly every critic for its fresh approach to animated filmmaking. The film succeeds in not only looking different, but also feeling different; it has a tone and texture previously unseen in mainstream American animation.

As a film, it’s truly the complete package, combining a sharp deconstruction of cg animation’s established visual language with a whip-smart script and an authentic understanding of youth urban culture. Judging the film as it deserves to be — purely on its own merits and not by external factors like Sony’s history — it is by and far the most impressive achievement in animation filmmaking this year. So far, the year-end film awards agree.

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