Today it’s time to take a look at Oscar’s youngest child, the award for Animated Feature. First presented to Shrek in 2002, the category has fluctuated between having three and five nominees since its inception, depending on how many eligible films are submitted, though it’s been a full slate of five since 2011. The category has been dominated by Disney – Pixar specifically has won exactly half of the 16 times the award’s been handed out, while “normal” Disney has three further wins – with some residual honors for Dreamworks, Ghibli, and other titans of animation.
This year’s slate of nominees is the same as it was for the Golden Globes, and honestly, it’s a curious set. A couple of the featured films are wonderful works of art, while a couple others are total headscratchers.
This year’s nominees are (with named producers in parentheses):
The Boss Baby – Dreamworks (Tom McGrath and Ramsey Ann Naito, Producers)
Really? Boss Baby? Seriously, motherfucking BOSS BABY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Were there really no other options for the Animated Feature category?
“Hi, I’m The Emoji Movie“…
Never mind! Neeeeeeeeeeeeever mind! This is fine. But in all seriousness, I’m curious as to what kind of marketing campaign Dreamworks ran on this one, because this movie is absolutely terrible. The entire premise (of corporate babies infiltrating families to combat a corporation of puppies for dominance over humanity’s love) is beyond asinine. It makes no sense that Alec Baldwin’s baby has an adult voice while all other talking corporate babies have baby voices. To attempt to sort out the constant back and forth as to what’s in the kid’s head and what’s reality is to stare into an existential void on par with watching Rugrats on acid. And really, any merit the film might have had in terms of animation quality immediately goes out the window with the film’s obsession with baby ass, random Glengarry Glen Ross references that no kid would get, pixelated baby penis, and, oh yeah…
THE FILM LITERALLY HAS A SCENE WHERE THE KIDS SQUEEZE THROUGH THE ANUS OF A GIANT, INFLATABLE DOG!
Sorry, the moment you have a balloon dog literally shit out kids, I’m out. I made it to the end of the movie purely for the sake of this analysis, but it is such hot garbage that I regret every second of my life that I lost in doing so.
Also, to answer my earlier question, here’s a list of the other eligible animated films released in 2017 (in chronological order, omitting The Red Turtle, which was nominated last year, and Your Name, which was submitted last year, but not nominated):
The Lego Batman Movie
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale
Smurfs: The Lost Village
Spark: A Space Tale
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Despicable Me 3
The Emoji Movie
The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature
The Lego Ninjago Movie
My Little Pony: The Movie
Pokemon The Movie: I Choose You
Now, in deference to Boss Baby, that’s not a particularly strong list (for example, Spark, which I’ve never heard of, has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 14%), mostly mindless sequels and thinly-veiled commercials. Still, I heard good things about Lego Batman and High School, the trailer for Cars 3 looked almost live action, and The Star got an Original Song nomination for the Golden Globes, which at least implies it has some value. I personally also saw Sword Art Online, which ruled (but I’m biased, I understand leaving it off if you’re not a fan), and Napping Princess was a heartwarming bit of steampunk anime. You’re telling not one of these movies was better than Boss Baby in the Academy’s eyes? Really? Let’s move on before I pop a blood vessel. I’ve given this movie more attention than it ever deserved.
The Breadwinner – Cartoon Saloon (Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo, Producers)
This is the third major feature from Cartoon Saloon, the studio that brought us previous nominees The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, both of which are visual marvels. This one is no different. CS’ signature animation style translates beautifully in shades of brown and red as a young girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan must “pull a Mulan” and dress like a boy to make money for her family, after her father is arrested for “insulting Islam” by teaching her to read.
In between her travails to earn money and secure her father’s release (right before we invaded post-9/11), the young girl Parvana – with piercing blue-green eyes like the famous photograph of the Afghani woman in National Geographic from 1984 – befriends another girl in a similar situation, and keeps her baby brother at peace with an ancient story about a boy who saved his village from a demon. These alternate sequences, just like the important storytelling subplots of other Saloon features, is wonderfully rendered in bright colors against dark background tones.
This is just a grand story presented in about as beautiful a way as possible. It grants perspective on the other side of the gun barrels as the War on Terror began, letting the audience see who the enemy is, and who was simply caught in the crossfire. It never sugarcoats how drastic the situation is, but it also allows kids to relate to what’s going on through the avatar of Parvana. I’d say it’s a singular achievement, but Cartoon Saloon has proven three times going now that they know exactly what they’re doing, and it’s at the highest level.
Coco – Pixar (Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson, Producers)
Pixar has had a stranglehold on this category, and it’s hard to argue against it. The studio was the first to break through with a fully CGI film (1995’s Toy Story) and with few stumbles (Cars), they’ve put out masterpiece after masterpiece pretty much since the studio’s inception.
This year’s entry, Coco, is somewhere in the middle as far as the studio’s overall quality, which is still pretty good. The primary setting – The Land of the Dead during Dia de los Muertos – has already been done thanks to The Book of Life, and the idea of a child having a very mature adventure where death is a constant threat is something that Laika Studios has done with all four of their features to date, most recently Kubo and the Two Strings (and all of which have been nominated in this category; they’re just as overdue for a win as Cartoon Saloon).
Still, what sets the film apart, as it would regardless of subject matter, is that undeniable Pixar quality. The character design is imaginative beyond compare. The lighting effects are breathtaking. And the story, while predictable, still tugs at the heartstrings with virtuoso skill. And of course, there’s the throughline theme, “Remember Me,” which is nominated for Original Song (more on that when we tackle that category in a few days). With three true contenders in this set, it’s easy and tempting to default to the all-time champs.
Ferdinand – Blue Sky Studios/Fox (Carlos Saldanha, Producer)
Honestly, I really don’t have much to say about Ferdinand. It’s a perfectly harmless bit of kiddie entertainment, based on the classic children’s book about a bull who loves flowers. There’s a nice little song by Nick Jonas to break up the monotony of the Pitbull-heavy soundtrack (cause his name has BULL in it, you see!). The voice cast does a fine job cashing their paychecks that would have been better spent on regular voice actors (in that it would go to people who need the money more, and you could have probably saved a lot of money not going for A-listers). It’s not a dig against John Cena, or Kate McKinnon, or David Tennant (my favorite Doctor, but he’s basically using the exact same voice he uses for Scrooge McDuck), but it’s not like the preschool audience would know who any of these people are anyway, right?
The story is sweet, particularly the bond between the titular bull and his adoptive family, including the dog. There are even a couple of decent sight gags, highlighted by an eagle picking up a rock to temporarily thwart Ferdinand’s disobedience which sets off the entire story. Still, in a basic plot oversight, I never got over the fact that Ferdinand had that name among the other young bulls at his ranch, and then was still called that when he ran away and ended up on the flower farm. How did the little girl know his name? He didn’t have a name tag on or anything! That’s just lazy writing. Also, why were the horses German? I love Flula Borg, but that was just weird, and their banter was borderline racist and sexual for a kids movie.
Loving Vincent – Polish Film Institute (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, and Ivan Mactaggart, Producers)
Whether it wins or not, the Kickstarter-funded Loving Vincent truly is a singular achievement (yay, I got to use the phrase after all!) in animation. A sort of Citizen Kane-esque look at the death of Vincent van Gogh, arguably the greatest artist of all time, the film consists of 65,000 frames, all of which are oil paintings on canvas in van Gogh’s style, adding in melded likenesses of the actors with the real-life associates of the artist and portraits he painted of them. This is the first animated film ever to be done entirely with oil paintings, and the result is just spectacular.
The story is a little light, and the voice performances are nothing special (though it’s got Saoirse Ronan and the guy who plays Bronn on Game of Thrones, among others), but the artistic achievement more than makes up for any plot shortcomings that might exist. This is the most beautiful film I saw all of last year. The subtle changes in each painting are marvelous to look at, especially when a character moves their head, necessitating new brush strokes to fill in shadow. I nearly cried it was so gorgeous. And although the story isn’t hard-hitting, it’s an intriguing idea to investigate van Gogh’s death as a possible murder rather than a suicide. The artist was a deeply complex person whose true genius was only realized long after he was gone. This film is the most unique movie of the year, and a true piece of high art worthy of its inspiration.
1) Loving Vincent
2) The Breadwinner
5) Drinking paint
4,789) The Boss Baby
Next up: We put on our prettiest dress (or our favorite sea monster rubber suit) and take a look at the Costume Design category!
Join the conversation in the comments section! Did you love Vincent as much as me, or do you want to throw a diaper at me and defend the babies! Let me know. Also, as ever, please note that all photos are taken from a Google image search and are not owned by me, nor do I profit from them. Please don’t sue.