The Animated Feature Contenders

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Although some naysayers were complaining about the quality of the animated features in contention this year, how can you really be grumpy about a year that had a wonderful 2D animated feature from France, competing with excellent pics by Miyazaki, Disney, Pixar, Blue Sky, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Animation and Illumination? Come on, people. Please lighten up. Here is the list of the 19 movies that have been submitted for consideration for nomination in the feature animation race. And yes, since more than 16 titles are entered, that means we’ll get five titles in the big race.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Directors: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: September 27
Box Office: $104.4 million [$83 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 70%
Synopsis: Following the events of the first film, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is finally being recognized for his genius, and is invited to work for his science idol, Chester V, whose company happens to be tasked with cleaning up the Swallow Falls disaster. When Flint and friends return to the island, they find it overrun by strange hybrid “foodimals”–some friendly and some deliciously dangerous.
The Odds: While enjoying a mostly positive reception, Cloudy 2 critics thought that the first outing’s originality and story quality were partially replaced by whizz-bang visuals–although what’s not to love about a tribe of anthropomorphic pickles is beyond us.

The Croods

The Croods

The Croods
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Directors: Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: March 22
Box Office: $585 million [$187 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 69%
Synopsis: A Stone-Age family road trip kicks off as the Crood family must go in search of a new home after their cave is destroyed, meeting an imaginative nomad (Ryan Reynolds) along the way who teaches them about the outside world, much to father Grug’s (Nicholas Cage) chagrin.
The Odds: DWA’s spring release leaned heavily on family themes, humor and inventive prehistoric designs from Chris Sanders (of Lilo & Stitch fame). Critics and moviegoers preferred the CG caveman comedy to the studio’s big summer push, Turbo.

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2
Studio: Illumination Entertainment
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 3
Box Office: $873 million [$363 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75%
Synopsis: Gru (Steve Carrell) the loveable grouch–as well as his adopted daughters and army of yellow Minions–is still struggling to adjust to fatherhood, and things get even more complicated when secret agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) shows up to recruit him to the Anti-Villain League, which needs him to use his evil insight to put a stop to mysterious new criminal mastermind (Benjamin Bratt).
The Odds: This CG sequel is a strong contender, having received largely positive reviews and achieving global box office domination (it is the third highest-grossing film of the year so far). While sequels rarely make the nomination cut, the somewhat weak competition leaves the door open.

Epic

Epic

Epic
Studio: Blue Sky Studios
Director: Chris Wedge
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 24
Box Office: $230 million [$107.5 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64%
Synopsis: A teenage girl (Amanda Seyfried) finds herself caught up in a battle between good and evil after moving in with her eccentric scientist father, shrinking down to the size of the miniscule Leafmen eco-warriors and aiding them in their fight against the evil Boggans at the behest of their queen (Beyonce Knowles).
The Odds: Loosely based on a book by William Joyce (Robots), Fox spared no expense with the voice talent (Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell and more celebs star), nor on the lush CG-animated forest worlds of the film. While critics marveled at the scenery, some felt the eco theme seemed a bit familiar.

Ernest and Celestine

Ernest and Celestine

Ernest and Celestine
Studios: La Parti Productions, Les Armateurs (France/Belgium)
Directors: Benjamin Renner, Stephan Aubier, Vincent Patar
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: December 6?
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Synopsis: An unlikely friendship is born when Celestine, an artistic young mouse who gets cornered in a trashcan after an ill-fated journey to the surface world of bears, is discovered by Ernest, a musical bear with a sweet tooth. After convincing him not to ear her, the two form a deep bond, but the creatures around them are not always as accepting.
The Odds: Animation aficionados have been chomping at the bit to see this painterly 2D film in theaters stateside after it has spent the last year charming audiences at festivals around the world. With a storyline that touches on issues that are dear to many of the voters’ hearts (role of an artist in society, the delicate balance of friendships, etc.), the movie has a strong shot at a nomination, especially with indie darling GKIDS promoting it in the right circles.

The Fake

The Fake

The Fake
Studio: Studio Dadashow (Korea)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Distributor: Next Entertainment World
Release Date: November 21
Synopsis: When rural villagers are threatened by a catastrophe of biblical proportions–their municipality is scheduled to be flooded to make way for dam construction–they place their faith in church elder Choi, in fact an experienced con man looking to defraud the villagers of their resettlement money. Only skeptical outcast Min-chul stands in his way.
The Buzz: Acclaimed director Sang-ho’s second feature film (following The King of Pigs, a critique on bullying in Korean culture) is relatively fresh on the festival circuit. This violent thriller which spit-roasts the pitfalls of organized religion offers a dark alternative to Academy voters in a year overrun with friendly fare.

Free Birds

Free Birds

Free Birds
Studio: Reel FX
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Distributor: Relativity Media
Release Date: November 1
Box Office: worldwide [domestic]
Synopsis: After being pardoned by the President of the United States, Reggie the Turkey (Owen Wilson) lives a comfortable life at Camp David enjoying pizza and telenovelas. His cozy life changes when he meets Jake (Woody Harrelson), president and sole member of the Turkey Liberation Front, who drags Reggie on a time-traveling journey to go back to the past and keep turkey off the holiday menu for good.
The Odds: Reel FX’s first feature animation effort, arriving just in time for the holiday season, will be a good gauge as to just how well smaller studio productions can stand up to the big toon boys. We may have seen talking animal buddy comedes before, but come on, these are time-traveling turkeys. With Hayward at the helm, we can expect a quality family adventure.

Frozen

Frozen

Frozen
Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: November 27
Synopsis: When Elsa (Idina Menzel), the Snow Queen, finds her powers running amok and plunging the kingdom into eternal winter, she flees the angry citizens. Her optimistic sister Anna (Kristen Bell), teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff, his sidekick reindeer Sven and a talking snowman named Olaf to find Elsa and restore summer to the cursed land.
The Odds: Disney’s modernist take on the Hans Christian Andersen tale has a female-empowering message, and a return to musical form for the animation studio. Some have prematurely pointed out that the design is a bit too reminiscent of the shop’s last CG fairytale, Tangled. However, you can never discount that old Mouse House magic—Frozen certainly offers some of the most dazzling 3-D CG sequences of the year.

Khumba

Khumba

Khumba
Studio: Triggerfish Animation Studios (South Africa)
Director: Anthony Silverston
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
Release Date: December 6 (Limited)
Synopsis: When his superstitious herd blames a young half-striped zebra (Jake T. Austin) for a deadly drought, he sets off on a dangerous journey to find a legendary watering hole, teaming up with a sassy wildebeest (Loretta Devine) and an insecure ostrich (Richard E. Grant) to save the animals of the Great Karoo while evading the evil leopard Phango (Liam Neeson).
The Odds: The second feature outing from South Africa’s Triggerfish has the benefit of a more experienced crew and the assistance of writing collaborator Jonathan Roberts, one of the wordsmiths for Disney’s The Lion King. The studio’s previous film, Zambezia, earned local accolades as well as Annie nominations, so the little zebra that could has a chance at glory.

The Legend of Sarila

The Legend of Sarila

The Legend of Sarila
Studios: 10th Ave. Productions, CarpeDiem (Canada)
Director: Nancy Florence Savard
Distributor: Phase 4
Release Date: February 22 (Canada)
Synopsis: Set in 1910, the adventure follows three young Inuit hunters (and their cute lemming sidekick) as they search for the legendary paradise of Sarila to save their starving people, taking on an evil shaman and encountering the mystical creatures of Sarila, like the powerful seal-goddess Sedna.
The Odds: Another Canadian offering, this one the first CG feature to be produced in Quebec, Sarila won points with local audiences for exploring native culture and even got a U.S. distributor, but international critics were disappointed in this debut effort from the region.

A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo
Studio: Production I.G (Japan)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: ??
Box Office: $11.3 million
Synopsis: After the death of her father, young Momo moves with her mother from bustling Tokyo to a remote island, where bizarre happenings start cropping up around her in the previously peaceful community, spurring Momo to investigate these supernatural happenings that may be tied to a mysteriously unfinished letter left for her by her father.
The Odds: Okiura’s charming, comedic new film–a vast departure from the decidedly not kid-friendly Jin Roh–is an entirely original tale, blending family issues and magical mysteries. The 2D family flick has garnered much recognition since its 2011 debut at the Toronto fest, and it seems a safe pick to stand against The Wind Rises for a coveted nomination spot.

Monsters University

Monsters University

Monsters University
Studio: Pixar Animation Studio
Director: Dan Scanlon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: June 21
Box Office: $737 million [$267 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Synopsis: Mike and Sulley (once more voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) return to the big screen to relive their college years and show how the two monstres went from disgruntled dorm dwellers to best of friends, while encountering a host of new creepy creatures and an imposing dean (Helen Mirren).
The Odds: If Toy Story taught us anything, it’s that everyone loves to revisit their favorite Pixar pals in theaters. While consensus found the prequel “not the best” Pixar pic (isn’t that what people always say?), it still ranked higher than many big studio flicks both with critics and at the box office.

O Apóstolo (The Apostle)

O Apóstolo (The Apostle)

O Apóstolo (The Apostle)
Studio: Artefacto Producciones (Spain)
Director: Fernando Cortizo
Distributor: EFG-Renascence Productions
Release Date: September 22 (Fantastic Fest)
Synopsis: When an escaped con sets out to retrieve his hidden loot from a remote village, he encounters a fate worse than prison: sinister seniors, strange disappearances, ghosts, an old priest and the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela haunt his every turn.
The Buzz: Cortizo’s bizarre stop-motion thriller (with a mood enhanced by a soundtrack from Philip Glass) has impressed festival goers worldwide this year, earning an Audience Award at Annecy and a nomination for the Best Animated Feature Goya. The genre is a bit under-represented this year, so this creepy adventure has a shot.

Planes

Planes

Planes
Studio: DisneyToon Studios
Director:Klay Hall
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: August 9
Box Office: $190.9 million [$88.6 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 27%
Synopsis: This CG spin-off stars Dusty (Dane Cook), a crop-dusting plane who practices aerial maneuvers in his spare time, dreaming of competing in the Wings Across the World race. With the help of some other aviating characters and mechanical helpers, Dusty gets a shot at making his dream come true.
The Odds: It’s like Cars, but with airplanes. That’s about what critics and critically minded audiences took away from the DisneyToon outing, which was originally intended for a direct-to-DVD release–although it was praised for its visuals. Who knows, maybe the academy is full of aviophiles?

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie – Rebellion

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie – Rebellion

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie – Rebellion
Studio: Aniplex, Shaft (Japan)
Directors: Akiyuki Shinbo, Yukihiro Miyamoto
Distributor: Aniplex of America
Release Date: October 26
Synopsis: Based on the TV series by writer Gen Urobuchi and director Shinbo, the film finds Homura living in a world where witches are no longer born, but despair still manifests as creatures called Nightmares, which the magical girls continue to fight. Homura is surprised when her former allies Madoka and Sayaka mysteriously reappear, as well as a new girl named Momoe–and a new evil being to battle.
The Buzz: The final installment of the Magica movie trilogy offers beautiful 2D animation enriched with gothic designs to highlight the Magical Girl-meets-Horror genre mash-up. But the story may be too dependent on the previous films to wow as a stand-alone.

Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury

Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury

Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury
Studios: Buriti Films, Gullane (Brazil)
Director: Luiz Bolognesi
Release Date: April 5 (Brazil)
Synopsis: A love story spanning eons unfolds in this film, which centers on an immortal man and the woman he has loved for six centuries is told across four key dates in Brazil’s history: the discovery by Portuguese explorers in 1500, the slave trade days of 1800, the acme of military dictatorship in 1970 and the future year 2096, when war will erupt over water supplies.
The Odds: We dearly hope this inventive story, which earned the coveted Annecy Cristal this year, will take a bow in the U.S. and enter the running. But when it comes to the Oscar race, there’s a fine line between outstanding and standing too far out, so who can say?

The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Director: Raja Gosnell
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: July 31
Box Office: $337.5 million [$70.3 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 14%
Synopsis: The evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) is at it again–this time, kidnapping Smurfette (Katy Perry) in order to use her special powers to bring his wicked semi-Smurfs, the Naughties,into full Smurfdom. Papa Smurf (the late Jonathan Winters) and the rest of the blue crew must reunite with their human pals and travel to Paris to rescue their damsel in distress.
The Odds: The Smurfy sequel’s eligibility will again hinge on whether the hybrid film has enough animation to qualify for the category (previous Smurfs verdict: nope). While the franchise film once again raked in plenty of cash for Sony, which the big name voice cast will be happy about, critics were pretty Smurfed-out.

Turbo

Turbo

Turbo
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Director: David Soren
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: July 17
Box Office: $194 million [$82 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 65%
Synopsis: A lowly Southern California-dwelling garden snail (Ryan Reynolds) dreams of becoming the fastest racer in the world, which doesn’t impress his slow and steady fellows. When a freak accident grants him super speed, Theo (a.k.a. Turbo) sees his chance to take on the Indy 500.
The Odds: Despite top-notch animation, impressive voice cast (Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Snoop Dogg, Michelle Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph and Samuel L. Jackson) and ambitious marketing, Turbo wasn’t quite the summer blockbuster DWA was hoping for. Critics found the characters and humor charming, but perhaps the glut of toon titles left them generally unenthused.

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises
Studio: Studio Ghibli (Japan)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Release Date: November 8 (limited)
Box Office: $118 million
Synopsis: Based on Miyazaki’s original manga, the film is a fictionalized account of the life of World War II fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi, who struggles to fulfill his dreams while dealing with personal tragedy in the guise of a doomed love interest.
The Odds: Miyazaki’s final directorial hurrah before retirement would seem a fitting time to offer the Japanese master one last chance at the Oscar, which he won in 2002 for Spirited Away, though his last film, Ponyo failed to make the nominations list. The film’s mature, historical subject matter surely set it apart from the masses of kid-centric fare in competition.