"Wolfwalkers" "Wolfwalkers"

One month into this strange, delayed awards season, Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers has emerged as something of a frontrunner in the race for an Oscar for best animated feature.

The fantastical period drama, the fourth feature from the Irish studio, has been named best animated feature of 2020 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, Chicago Film Critics Association, and Boston Online Film Critics Association. No other animated film has been so widely honored this year by the critics’ groups.

Three other critics’ organizations have announced winners so far. Disney-Pixar’s Soul was named best animated feature by the Indiana Film Journalists Association and Florida Film Critics Circle, while the Boston Society of Film Critics plumped for The Wolf House, the experimental stop-motion feature from Chilean directors Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña. Wolves are clearly in this year.

Other traditional indicators of Oscar buzz, such as nominations at the Golden Globe and Annie Awards, will follow in the new year. Nominations for the Oscars themselves will be announced on March 15, with the ceremony due to be held on April 25. The entire awards calendar has been shifted back a few months, owing to disruption caused by Covid.

Cartoon Saloon has received an Oscar nomination for all its features to date: The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014), and The Breadwinner (2017). The first two share a director with Wolfwalkers in Tomm Moore. The studio also received a nomination for its short film Late Afternoon (2018). So far, however, a statuette has eluded it.

The hype so far positions Wolfwalkers, which has been universally well reviewed (99% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), as Cartoon Saloon’s best shot yet at a win. Both a nomination and a win would also be firsts for Apple, which distributes the feature on its young streaming service Apple TV+.

There’s a big caveat here: no animated feature is ever a true frontrunner unless it is a Disney production. The House of Mouse has dominated this Oscar category, winning in 11 of the last 13 years (although its vicegrip was loosened by the triumph of Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse two years ago).

Soul, which has also been well received, is a strong competitor this time around. But as the number and variety of animated features grows every year, and public awareness of animation with it, Academy voters’ devotion to Disney is looking increasingly out of step with the times.

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