The 2012 Features Race

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With the potential to nab five nomination spots instead of just three this year, the toon industry is sure to see a wider variety of films vying for the Best Animated Feature award come Oscar time—but which of the 2011 releases will be leading the pack, and which will be left in the dust? Here are our recaps (and pre-caps!) of the possible contenders and their chances of trotting into the winner’s circle:

Gnomeo & Juliet

Gnomeo & Juliet

Feature Film: Gnomeo & Juliet
Studios: Starz/Touchstone
Director: Kelly Asbury
Release Date: February 11
Box Office to Date: $190 million [$100 million domestic]
Pros: Disney’s “sleeper hit” of the year shows its toon pedigree, with Starz animation deftly sculpting the film under Asbury (Shrek 2). The film ranked well its opening weekend, and you can’t beat a soundtrack featuring an Elton John (who served as producer) and Lady Gaga duet.
Cons: While a fun romp and good family fare, critics found the film a bit too reliant on its gimmick. It’s uncertain whether the light-hearted gnome romance can compete with some of the more adventurous offerings.
Alois Nebel

Alois Nebel

Feature Film: Alois Nebel
Studios: Negativ in assoc. with Czech TV, Tobogang, Pallas Film
Director: Tomás Lunák
Release Date: TBA
Pros: Widely hailed as one of the most striking films of the year, this dramatic rotoscoped effort is based on the comic trilogy by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromír 99 about a Czech train dispatcher living in a small village in the 1980s who begins to suffer hallucinations linked to the post WWII expulsion of Germans from the country. Czech Rep. has even tossed this hat into the Best Foreign Language Film ring—if nominated, it will be the first toon in that category since 2008′s Waltz with Bashir.
Cons: While the artistry and atmosphere of Alois are not lacking in praise, critics have pointed out that the film may be too particularly Czech—too specific to the country’s history and a central European world view. Academy members might be hard pressed to truly identify with this dramatic work.
Rango

Rango

Feature Film: Rango
Studios: ILM/Paramount
Director: Gore Verbinski
Release Date: March 4
Box Office to Date: $243 million [$123 million]
Pros: ILM’s first feature animation outing rightly wowed critics and audiences with its rich (if gritty) look, A-list cast and sly nods to classic Westerns. Johnny Depp proved his chops playing the titular lizard and earned a Teen Choice Award for his efforts—and teenagers know everything.
Cons: Some audiences (and critics) didn’t know what to make of a cartoon animal film in which few characters are fluffy and almost none are adorable. While a strong premiere effort, Verbinski’s cowboy homage might be swept aside in favor of franchise flicks.
Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms

Feature Film: Mars Needs Moms
Studios: ImageMovers/Disney
Director: Simon Wells
Release Date: March 11
Box Office to Date: $38.9 million [$21.4 million]
Pros: Wells (The Time Machine, The Prince of Egypt) had a well honed cast to work with—Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dee Bradley Baker, etc.—and used them well along with the digital might of producer Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers studio to bring Berkeley Breathed’s popular book to life. Not to mention a $150 million budget.
Cons: While many praised the cast performances, the film’s critical reception was largely, well, critical. Most felt the story had been neglected in favor of the 3-D performance-capture spectacle—which tipped too closely to the “uncanny valley” for some tastes. The disappointing BO performance sounded the death knell for ImageMovers, so don’t hold your breath for Polar Express 2 either.
Rio

Rio

Feature Film: Rio
Studios: Blue Sky/Fox
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Release Date: April 15
Box Office to Date: $484 million [$144 million]
Pros: The bright colors, festive sounds and sights of Carnival dazzled audiences and critics, who praised the animation and catchy music influenced by the film’s South American setting. The Blue Sky crew is old hat at creating visually enchanting family adventures, and this latest effort places another feather firmly in that cap.
Cons: As so often befalls those contenders not produced by Pixar, it seems the loudest complaint about the Fox flick is that it … isn’t from Pixar. Like a fussy child tasting an exotic dish, will the Academy spit this one out and demand a familiar flavor?
Hoodwinked Too!: Hood Vs. Evil

Hoodwinked Too!: Hood Vs. Evil

Feature Film: Hoodwinked Too!: Hood Vs. Evil
Studios: Weinstein Co.
Director: Mike Disa
Release Date: April 29
Box Office to Date: $16.9 million [$10.1 million]
Pros: The sequel to 2005′s CG fairy tale spoof upped the animation ante with a broader world and more awesome action (in 3-D!) that paid tribute to top blockbusters from the live-action world. Hayden Panettiere lead a top notch cast—Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, Joan Cusack, Martin Short, Brad Garrett, Cheech & Chong…the list goes on.
Cons: Despite pushing the action/animation envelope, most critics felt the sequel sacrificed the charm of the original outing. In the crowded nominations race, Red and her crew will probably sit this one out on the indie toon bench.
Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2

Feature Film: Kung Fu Panda 2
Studios: DreamWorks/Paramount
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Release Date: May 26
Box Office to Date: $663 million [$165 million]
Pros: Technology advances (and stereo 3-D) helped expand the magical ancient Chinese world of Po the panda and his Furious Five cohorts, and the film’s sweeping animated scale won nods of approval as did the star-powered voice cast (lead by Jack Black) and slightly dark tones attributed to exec producer Guillermo del Toro’s influence. Oh, and it’s the 49th highest grossing film of all time and top grossing woman-directed film!
Cons: While Po and his kung fu crew have a loyal fan base, the Academy is notoriously averse to giving the top honor to a sequel, tending to favor break-out original stories. Panda might have to wait for fond farewell Award a la Toy Story 3.
Cars 2

Cars 2

Feature Film: Cars 2
Studios: Disney-Pixar
Director: John Lasseter; co-director Brad Lewis
Release Date: June 24
Box Office to Date: $551 million [$190 million]
Pros: Disney-Pixar has had an unadulterated four-year run of claiming the Best Feature prize, and the second Cars outing hit the right notes at the box office thanks to the popularity of the characters, globe-trotting (driving?) storyline and impeccable as ever animation.
Cons: Critics were somewhat disappointed by the sequel, noting that the heartfelt emotion and animated artistry that’s come to be expected of Pixar flicks was overwhelmed by the go-go action. While it had plenty of enthusiastic fans, it seems doubtful that this will be the Disney-Pixar offering to cross the finish line this year.
Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh

Feature Film: Winnie the Pooh
Studios: Disney
Directors: Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall
Release Date: July 15
Box Office to Date: $33.2 million [$26.7 million]
Pros: Viewers raved about the gentle, nostalgic charm of this film, and applauded Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation lovingly crafted by Disney vet Burny Mattinson, who lead a team of top artists as key animator. The sweet family fare was well received and made for a very refreshing summer treat.
Cons: While Pooh was a calm stroll down memory lane for so many, the soft story that so perfectly matched the soft animators’ touch might lack the necessary “edge” that separates a good film from an Oscar-worthy film—but a nomination nod would still be fitting.
The Smurfs

The Smurfs

Feature Film: The Smurfs
Studios: Sony
Director: Raja Gosnell
Release Date: July 29
Box Office to Date: $533 million [$139 million]
Pros: Comedy vets Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria lead a celeb-packed cast which includes Jonathan Winters, Fred Armisen, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, Jeff Foxworthy, Kenan Thompson, Paul Reubens—and even pop star Katy Perry and Wolfgang Puck lend their voices to spunky Smurfs. The magic-meets-Manhattan story offered something for everyone, and won big at the box office.
Cons: Is it really an animated film? Did we love the film, or just seeing those cute little blue dudes on the big screen? Can a film starring Katy Perry ever truly deserve an Oscar? The debate rages on. While the bouncing baby crowd came out in droves to see it, a film that garners reviews like “not torturous” and “surprisingly tolerable” isn’t exactly a strong bet.
Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots

Feature Film: Puss in Boots
Studios: DreamWorks/Paramount
Director: Chris Miller
Release Date: October 28
Pros: Antonio Banderas returns as the swashbuckling feline who, quite frankly, stole the show in Shrek 2. Giving the character his own vehicle to explore his roguish back story with a fresh look (in 3-D), new friends and foes and some sizzling Latin flair may be enough to perk up the Academy’s whiskers.
Cons: The franchise has been well represented at the Oscars, with Shrek winning in 2001 and its sequel nominated in 2004. Puss will have to really stand out from its mother-films for the Academy to grant one of its coveted nomination spots—especially with yet more Shrek films in the works.
Happy Feet 2

Happy Feet 2

Feature Film: Happy Feet Two
Studios: Dr. D/Warner Bros.
Director: George Miller
Release Date: November 18
Pros: Who doesn’t love penguins? Especially plucky, adorable little ones that find a way to solve their problems through the magic of dance? Miller (who directed Oscar-winning Happy Feet as well) has a great cast lined up for this 3-D adventure—returning stars Elijah Wood and Robin Williams, plus Carlos Alazraqui, Jeffrey Garcia, Hugo Weaving, Sofia Vergara, Pink, even Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as (doubtlessly dreamy) krill.
Cons: Lightning rarely strikes twice at the Best Animated Feature racetrack. Perhaps the penguin crew will give Rio’s parrots something to squawk about—or this encore performance might leave audiences disenchanted like most of the year’s sequel offerings. We’ll have to wait for the Holiday Season box office buzz to know!
Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas

Feature Film: Arthur Christmas
Studios: Aardman/Sony
Directors: Sarah Smith; co-director Barry Cook
Release Date: November 23
Pros: We don’t know any toon fans who don’t squeal with glee at the announcement of a new Aardman project, and those in the know are curious how to see how their first effort under their new agreement with Sony turns out. The 3-D CG, sci-fi holiday story stars James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen.
Cons: Please forgive us, O Grand Creators of Wallace & Gromit, but it’s gotta be said: A Christmas flick (or any holiday film) stands about as much of a chance of winning an Oscar as one of Wallace’s inventions working correctly. While the xmas crowds are sure to see Arthur in droves, we probably won’t see it represented on the red carpet.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Feature Film: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Studios: Fox
Directors: Mike Mitchell
Release Date: December 16
Pros: The new CG/live-action hybrid adventure finds the Chipmunks (and the Chipettes) stranded on a not-so-deserted isle after a cruise ship mishap. Mitchell, the director of Shrek Forever After, gets to exercise his comedy muscles with Jason Lee as Dave Seville and Arrested Development’s David Cross in this third installment.
Cons: The Chipmunks films have done quite well for themselves at the box office, so rest assured that some of your friends (especially the ones with tots in tow) will be psyched for this holiday release—but so far critics haven’t been too kind to the little rodents. And there is the eternal question of whether hybrid flicks should qualify as animated features.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

Feature Film: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
Studios: Paramount
Directors: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: December 23
Pros: Spielberg. Jackson. Hergé. What more can you want out of a budget-busting, performance-capture CG 3-D spectacular (which, fingers crossed, will launch a trilogy)? Critics were mighty impressed with what they saw at a European press screening this month, praising the film’s scope, action and realistic-yet-stylized animation.
Cons: Any time a beloved character is dropped into a new medium, there will be grumbling. We heard it with the Smurfs. We heard it with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Don’t even get us started on what we heard about Garfield, OK? Some will be turned off no matter what, and the ever-looming “uncanny valley” effect is sure to strike some moviegoers. And the biggest worry: Can the story live up to the graphics?
A Cat in Paris

A Cat in Paris

Feature Film: A Cat in Paris
Studios: Folimage/France 3/Rhône-Alpes/GKIDS
Directors: Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
Release Date: TBA
Box Office to Date: $1.2 million [France]
Pros: This graphically distinct 2D tale of a Parisian cat whose double lives puts his owner in peril when the girl decides to follow him on his night-time adventures has won over critics and festival audiences the world over. Long-time collaborators Gagnol and Felicioli have been honored with nominations at the European Film and César Awards—the Oscar nod can’t be much of a stretch!
Cons: With a release date yet to be set, Cat might get caught up in the clutter of late-season entrants vying for qualifying runs for a shot at Oscar glory. For an indie film from a foreign producer, the frantic pace might keep Academy members from savoring this offering enough to remember it come ballot time. At the least, it will have to out-do Spanish production Chico & Rita for the token foreign nomination slot.
Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita

Feature Film: Chico & Rita
Studios: Magic Light Pictures/Luma Films/GKIDS
Directors: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
Release Date: TBA
Pros: This expertly crafted digital 2D film won over critics with its emotional story line, artisanal attention to detail in the locales and eras it spans and impeccable music laced with the rhythms of Cuba and free-wheeling jazz notes. It even took home the Goya Award for Best Animated Film this year.
Cons: While the cream of the foreign-produced indie crop is usually honored with a nomination come Oscar season, we have yet to see one take home the statuette. Chico will probably join the ranks of The Illusionist, Persepolis, The Secret of Kells and other beautiful films that went home empty-handed.
Wrinkles

Wrinkles

Feature Film: Wrinkles (Arrugas)
Studio: Perro Verde Films
Director: Ignacio Ferreras
Release Date: TBA
Pros: Another brilliant animated take on a gripping graphic novel! This one is based on the tale by Paco Roca about the friendship between two elderly men living in a retirement home, one of whom is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Perro Verde has delivered a moving, poignant exploration of a very difficult topic and the film has been well received by festival audiences around the world.
Cons: Wrinkles faces stiff competition from another Spanish production, Chico & Rita, to nab a coveted nomination spot. One can never say how far the Academy will go in wanting to acknowledge more serious animated stories. It could be the difficult subject matter pushes this film to the finish line, or Oscar might prefer to go home with a pair of doomed jazz-loving lovers.

  • http://none. JONATHAN FUNNELL

    I HOPE THAT IT’S RIO, CARS 2, OR WINNIE THE POOH!

  • http://eugenioherrera.blogspot.com/ Eugenio Enrique Herrera P

    Río! :D

  • muss

    GNOMEO AND JULIET will get a nomination. RANGO will win.