A Cat in Paris, directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicoli
Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Puss in Boots, Chris Miller
Rango, Gore Verbinski
In the first decade of this category, eight Pixar features were nominated and six won, including the famous fourpeat of Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up and Toy Story 3 in 2008-11. So the exclusion of Cars 2, Pixar’s first non-nominee in Animated Feature, would be big news — unless you’d seen the movie and realized it just didn’t deserve a finalist slot. The absence of the dominant CGI studio from this category (there’s a Pixar film nominated for Animated Short) allows for the first open field since the 2005-06 season, when John Lasseter’s gang did not produce a movie and the Aardman stop-motion film Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit won the Oscar. It’s as if Albert Pujols had been left off the All Star team after a sub-par year. Who’ll fill the slugger’s slot at first base?
For just the third time in 11 years, five nominees were eligible. The traditionalists on the nominating committee have yet to select a motion-capture animated film, and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin did not break the streak. (Some day they’ll see the light.) Nor did they choose vivid contenders from familiar provenances: Disney’s artfully innocent Winnie the Pooh, or Happy Feet 2, George Miller’s sequel to his 2007 Oscar winner, or Blue Sky’s wonderfully exuberant Rio (which got a Best Song nomination), or Aardman’s frenetic but friendly Arthur Christmas, or Studio Ghibli’s The Secret Life of Arrietty, which recently opened to enthralled reviews. (It may be eligible next year.) Instead of these films, the committee, for the first time, shortlisted two foreign-language films: the French A Cat in Paris and the Spanish Chico & Rita, a kind of Lucy-and-Desi musical romance set in the years after World War II. Trueba, the movie’s co-director, won a Foreign-Language Oscar in 1994 for his Belle Epoque. If he were to triumph here, he’d be the only person to win in these two demanding categories.
Back in 1994, when Jeffrey Katzenberg, then at Disney, brought the creators of The Lion King to a Radio City Music Hall press junket, a journalist looked at all the men on stage and asked, “Can girls draw?” Eighteen years later, the answer is Yes: Korean-born Jennifer Yuh Nelson copped a nomination for Kung Fu Panda 2, one of two finalists from Katzenberg’s DreamWorks studio. The other is Puss in Boots. The first film is brisk and colorful, the second has the charm and texture of old, near-classic Disney features. Between the two I’d pick Puss in Boots, but the feminist imperative may nudge the voters to award Yuh the Oscar, and make her the Kathryn Bigelow of animated features.
For that to happen, there’d have to be a revolt in the ranks against Rango, the front-runner and, between us, the best of the eligible lot. In his first animated feature, live-action director Gore Verbinski, who made the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, brought Johnny Depp and his other actors onto a green-screen stage, filmed them as various hombres and hombrettes in a tough Western town and, using this footage as reference, collaborated with the wizards at ILM in creating a gorgeously parched landscape. (The movie was made in traditional key-frame animation, not motion-capture, as I erroneously suggested in last week’s TIME magazine.) A witty, desert-dry mashup of Chinatown and Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Westerns with Clint Eastwood, Rango will be this category’s deserving winner.
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