The Croods, directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco
Despicable Me 2, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Ernest & Celestine, Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier
Frozen, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki
Before we give a predictable one-word answer to who’s gonna win, consider how the mighty have prat-fallen. For nearly two decades, Pixar has been the most hallowed name in feature animation. In the previous dozen years of this Oscar category, John Lasseter’s Emeryville studio has won seven times: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL·E, Up, Toy Story 3 and Brave. (In two other years, it released no feature film and couldn’t compete here. So it’s really more like seven for 10.) Yet this time, Pixar did not snag a nomination — even though its 2013 entry, Monsters University, was a critical and popular success that earned nearly $750 million at the worldwide box office. (In this category, unlike in Best Picture, Academy voters do not discriminate against good movies that are also big hits.)
(READ: Corliss’s review of Monsters University)
Two of this year’s nominees were produced by studios that came into existence because of the Pixar model: DreamWorks with the Stone Age comedy The Croods and Universal with Despicable Me 2. A third, the bear-loves-mouse fable Ernest & Celestine, is from France; that’s how far the Oscar nominating committee had to go to find a replacement for Monsters U. A fourth, The Wind Rises, is the final feature from Japanese ani-master Hayao Miyazaki, who was an Oscar finalist for Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, and a winner for Spirited Away. Lasseter shouldn’t mind the Miyazaki mention: he’s a huge fan, and Disney, whose animation unit he now runs (along with Pixar), released all three of Miyazaki’s Oscar-nominated movies.
(READ: Is the Miyazaki magic Gone with The Wind?)
And now: Frozen! Lasseter shepherded that double-princess musical into theaters, where it has earned $981 million and may soon pass Toy Story 3 as the world’s all-time top-grossing animated feature. (Do note with pleasure that two of last year’s three top domestic releases, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, have female protagonists; and that Frozen was written and co-directed by a woman.) This is also the first cartoon in ages whose songs have reached the top of the Billboard and iTunes charts.
(SEE AND HEAR: a mashup of Frozen’s “Let It Go” sung in 25 languages)
Gold and platinum aside, Frozen is a terrific movie, fully deserving its Oscar for Animated Feature. Best Song, too, for “Let It Go.”