Your 2023 Academy Awards Animated Feature Dossier

***This feature originally appeared in the December ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 325)***

Which animated features are going for Oscar gold on March 13, 2023? Unlike recent years in which clear frontrunners appeared early, this year offers a wide-open contest with a mix of franchise films and original stories, studio pics and indie efforts, domestic and foreign films. It is a panoply of animation styles, subject matter and even target audiences. While probable nominees are beginning to come into focus, the excitement for 2023 will be that for the first time in years it ain’t Oscar ‘til it’s Oscar!

THE TOP TIER

The Bad Guys
Director: Pierre Perifel
Released by: Universal
Production Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Voice Cast: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Synopsis: Stinging from being labeled “bad” animals, a group of anthropomorphic predators pull off a heist — the first step on their way to reforming.
Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director Talk: “There’s a new generation of artists or creators or filmmakers, I think in a way myself, part of it wants to see a little bit of a change in how we do our big CG animation movies.” ─ Pierre Perifel
The Word: “[The Bad Guys] plays its target audience like a fiddle. That is music, no matter how familiar, that even the most cynical among us can enjoy” ─ Oliver Jones, Observer
Nomination Chances: Clever script and characters, zippy stylized animation; fair against stiff competition.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Netflix Animation, The Jim Henson Company, ShadowMachine
Voice Cast: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Gregory Mann
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Synopsis: The classic tale of the puppet who becomes an ethically-challenged real boy, set in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s and done in exquisitely detailed stop-motion animation.
Release Date: November 25, 2022 (U.S. theatrical); December 9, 2022 (Netflix)
The Word: “This is a rare children’s entertainment that isn’t afraid to perplex kids as much as it enchants them … It’s a vivid, lavish stroke of weirdness, better seen than described.” ─ Guy Lodge, Variety
Director Talk: “No art form has influenced my life and my work more than animation and no single character in history has had as deep of a personal connection to me as Pinocchio.” ─ Guillermo del Toro
Nomination Chances: No need for the filmmaker to wish upon a star. The early buzz on the film is deafening. Maestro del Toro’s beautifully crafted take on Carlo Collodi’s tale is a vision to behold, and it immediately makes everyone forget the two other Pinocchio films released in 2022.

Read more in the January ’23 issue of Animation Magazine, coming soon. 

Lightyear
Director: Angus MacLane
Released by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Production Studios: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
Voice Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Synopsis: Marooned on a planet with his crew, headstrong space ranger Buzz Lightyear tries to find a way back to Earth while also battling an alien threat to the universe.
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director Talk: “One of the neat things about our film is the way that it approaches the rugged individualism of cinema, and then, actually, the realities of the situation that require a team to actually make it work.” ─ Angus MacLane
The Word: “To infinity and beyond? Hardly, but Lightyear does achieve liftoff, and that in and of itself ain’t too bad.” ─ Sara Michelle Fetters, MovieFreak.com
Nomination Chances: Probable, though this year’s Pixar A-side release confused fans who were expecting a straight-forward spin-off rather than a toy’s origin story and a tribute to sci-fi movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
Released by: A24
Production Studios: Cinereach, Chiodo Bros. Productions
Voice Cast: Jenny Slate, Isabella Rosellini
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Synopsis: Based on the 2010 short, this mockumentary chronicles the adventures and travails of a tiny mollusk who is the victim of a broken home.
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Director Talk: “This is a movie I want as many people as possible to see. A mainstream distributor might look at it and think it’s too niche or just for kids. But I feel like the character has resonated with people at every possible age.” ─ Dean Fleischer Camp
The Word: “Hilarious and extremely sweet … a feel-good movie that’s not like anything you’ve seen before.” ─ Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
Nomination Chances: Good; Marcel is well-poised to charm Academy voters. Supervising animation director Stephen Chiodo and animation director Kirsten Lepore are universally admired in stop-motion circles.

My Father’s Dragon
Director: Nora Twomey
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Netflix Animation, Cartoon Saloon
Voice Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Synopsis: Inspired by the popular children’s book by Ruth Stiles Gannett, the film follows the adventures of a resourceful runaway boy who forms a friendship with an awkward dragon on an island.
Release Date: November 11, 2022 (Netflix)
Director Talk: “We were drawn together by a desire to tell a very special tale of friendship, adventure, and true bravery. I fell in love with storytelling as a child and Netflix excels at celebrating all kinds of stories, through different styles and distinct voices. When Netflix came onboard with this film, before we even had a script, it was to encourage us to make the best film we possibly could. Our crew created a beautiful, animated lens to look through and I can’t wait to share the view with audiences around the world.” — Nora Twomey
The Word: “It lacks the cultural specificity of the Irish animation boutique’s best work, like Wolfwalkers and Song of the Sea, but its retro 2D beauty and lively storytelling should please junior audiences … The deep fondness for the source material comes through, and the painterly hand-drawn aesthetic is enchanting.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
Nomination Chances: Pretty good! Given Cartoon Saloon’s five Oscar nominations to date for four of its lovingly crafted 2D animated films and one short, chances are that this one will gain attention as well.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Director: Joel Crawford
Released by: Universal Pictures
Production Studios: DreamWorks Animation
Voice Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Olivia Colman, Harvey Guillén
Synopsis: Down to his last life, Puss in Boots goes on a mystical quest to restore his eight previous ones.
Release Date: December 21, 2022
Director Talk: “We always compared it to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly … Yes it has an edge, but I also think it has an edge in comedy.” ─ Joel Crawford
Nomination Chances: This darker-hued re-boot of DreamWorks’ Puss franchise will have to sell itself anew to Academy voters. But those who have seen the movie have fallen for its storybook stylized CG animation, and the undisputed charms of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in full feline form.

Read more in the January ’23 issue of Animation Magazine, available soon. 

The Sea Beast
Director: Chris Williams
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Netflix Animation
Voice Cast: Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Synopsis: An orphan girl joins a crew of monster hunters in hopes of capturing a huge, legendary sea creature known as “Red Bluster,” who proves to have a motive behind her menace.
Release Date: June 24, 2022 (U.S. theaters); July 8, 2022 (Netflix)
Director Talk: “I wanted the movie to feel really immersive and really deep … I want people to get lost in this world. I hope people get that experience of being able to disappear in this world for a while.” ─ Chris Williams
The Word: “A whoppingly bland title for a singularly thrilling animated adventure is the only detectable flaw in this exquisite ocean-going yarn.” ─ Kevin Maher, The Times (U.K.)
Nomination Chances: Good; it scores points on both technical and artistic levels. The director won an Oscar for his work on Big Hero 6.

Strange World
Director: Don Hall
Released by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Production Studios: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios
Voice Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu
Synopsis: A noted family of explorers, including one who’s less adventurous by nature, go on a mission to a strange planet filled with surrealistic creatures.
Release Date: November 23, 2022
Director Talk: “I loved reading the old issues of pulps growing up … they were big adventures in which a group of explorers might discover a hidden world or ancient creatures. They’ve been a huge inspiration for Strange World.” — Don Hall
Nomination Chances: Decent; offbeat graphic design and the fact that semi-functional family journeys have done well by Oscar in recent years could give this one an edge. The movie is also reported to have the first depiction of a gay teenage romance in a Disney movie.

Turning Red
Director: Domee Shi
Released by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture
Production Studios: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
Voice Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Synopsis: A 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl turns into a giant red panda when stricken with extreme emotion.
Release Date: March 11, 2022
Director Talk: “It was important for us to really push the look and style of this movie. We really wanted the world to feel how Mei feels and how she might see the world.” — Domee Shi
The Word: “It’s the best thing Pixar’s produced in recent memory and perhaps the studio’s most emotionally nuanced and thematically clever film since Inside Out. Much like that movie, it’s concerned with the inner life of a teenage girl, but unlike that movie, it doesn’t burrow into an extensive fantasy world in order to understand her feelings.” — David Sims, The Atlantic
Nomination Chances: Very good; it includes all the right buttons for Oscar consideration and deftly pushes them.

Wendell & Wild
Director: Henry Selick
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Netflix Animation, Monkeypaw Productions
Voice Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett, Lyric Ross
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Synopsis: Stop-motion horror comedy about two demon brothers square off against a nun.
Release Date: October 21, 2022 (U.S. theatrical); October 28, 2022 (Netflix)
Director Talk: “There’s one brief CG scene, but none of the characters are CG. I still believe in that. If it’s going to be stop motion, it should look like it, with the flaws that we get.” ─ Henry Selick
The Word: “But for all the clever satirical touches and asides, the gorgeously intricate, wondrous stop-motion landscape is ultimately pure Selick, imbued with a fitting color scheme of swirling, eerily glowing greens and purples choreographed against a mischievous score by Bruno Coulais that effectively sets the mood for the film’s pre-Halloween arrival.” — Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
Nomination Chances: Decent; Oscar likes both Peele and Selick, and the combination of them in weird/creepy/funny mode could prove hard for Academy voters to resist.

SOLID CONTENDERS

Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood
Director: Richard Linklater
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Netflix Animation, Minnow Mountain, Submarine
Voice Cast: Glen Powell, Zachary Levi, Jack Black, Milo Coy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Synopsis: A nostalgic view of a young boy’s fantasies about being part of the great Apollo moon mission.
Release Date: March 24, 2022
Director Talk: “I was really trying to capture that blurry line between fantasy and reality. The younger you are, the more real things like that are.” ─ Richard Linklater
The Word: “A beautiful, moving family portrait set against the epic backdrop of history.” ─ David Jenkins, Little White Lies
Nomination Chances: Slim, but not impossible; the story is a heartfelt paean to growing up in the 1960s, however the Academy has rejected the rotoscoped film as “animation” (Linklater is currently appealing the decision).

The Bob’s Burgers Movie
Directors: Loren Bouchard, Bernard Derriman
Released by: 20th Century Studios
Production Studios: 20th Century Animation, 20th Century Family, Bento Box Entertainment
Voice Cast: H. John Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Zach Galifianakis, Kevin Kline
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Synopsis: A sinkhole opening in front of Bob’s Burgers, plus a murder, cause financial and other problems for the Belcher Family.
Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director Talk: “The idea [of a feature film] came up somewhat in the early days. No one said, ‘Hey, you want to do a Bob movie?’ It was more like, ‘What if you got to do a movie?’ And I think we were actually very nervous about it, and didn’t talk about it for years.” ─ Loren Bouchard.
The Word: “Even cinemagoers who have never seen an episode of the TV series (me, for example) are likely to find much to amuse them.” ─ Wendy Ide, Observer (U.K.)
Nomination Chances: Slim, if history is a judge; feature films based on long-running TV series, even great ones, have a hard time getting noticed.

DC League of Super-Pets
Director: Jared Stern
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Studios: Warner Animation Group, DC Entertainment
Voice Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Synopsis: Superdog Krypto and a buddy from a shelter named Ace team up to rescue human superheroes from the clutches of Lex Luthor.
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Director Talk: “It was a fun challenge to introduce a lot of [superhero] stuff that people know to a completely new audience, as if they were an alien who just landed on this planet, which little kids are.” ─ Jared Stern.
The Word: “This amiable animated adventure will delight its target audience while keeping parents amused just enough so that they won’t check their phones.” ─ Randy Myers, San Jose Mercury News
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; even if Academy voters are entertained, they might find this too overtly kiddie to take seriously.

Minions: The Rise of Gru
Director: Kyle Balda
Released by: Universal Pictures
Production Studios: Illumination
Voice Cast: Steve Carrell, Taraji P. Henson, Pierre Coffin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Synopsis: The story of young Gru, who assembles his Minions and aspires to membership of the super-criminal organization known as the Vicious 6.
Release Date: July 1, 2022
Director Talk: “The main challenge with the Despicable Me universe is taking the characters — the Minions, specifically —in new directions, and creating situations where deeper aspects of their character come forward.” ─ Kyle Balda.
The Word: “Is this in any way, shape or form defensible as meaningful art? Certainly not. Is it really cute? Yup.” ─ Kathleen Sachs, Chicago Reader
Nomination Chances: Slim, but not impossible; Gru and his Minions have done well in past awards seasons.

YOU NEVER KNOW

Fireheart
Directors: Laurent Zeitoun, Theodore Ty
Released by: Entertainment One, Hulu
Production Studios: L’Atelier Animation
Voice Cast: Olivia Cooke, William Shatner, Kenneth Branagh, Laurie Holden
Synopsis: A teenage girl disguises herself as a young man in order to become a firefighter in 1930s New York.
Release Date: February 2022 (U.S., Hulu)
The Word: “The whole thing quickly flops into the realm of public information film or a cartoon Feminism for Dummies.” ─ Kevin Maher, Times (U.K.)
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; even if its U.S. release hadn’t been quickly extinguished, there’s not enough notable in this moderate global success to attract Oscar’s attention.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
Directors: Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kluska
Released by: Amazon Studios
Production Studios: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation
Voice Cast: Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
Synopsis: Thanks to a mayhem machine devised by Dr. Van Helsing, Drac and his ghoulish entourage are transformed into humans, while human son-in-law Johnny becomes a monster.
Release Date: January 14, 2022 (Prime Video)
Director Talk: “The challenge of the Drac Pack was to change them and come up with a funny idea. Frank becomes super handsome, which is unexpected, but it’s designed in a way that the audience will recognize him as the character.” ─ Derek Drymon
The Word: “While there aren’t any genuine belly laughs in the new movie, there are plenty of modestly likable, chucklesome ones.” ─ Bilge Ibiri, New York Magazine/Vulture
Nomination Chances: Poor; while the Hotel Transylvania franchise always entertains, it will not likely transform into Oscar gold.

Luck
Director: Peggy Holmes
Released by: Apple TV+
Production Studios: Apple Original Films, Skydance Animation
Voice Cast: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
Synopsis: A down-on-her-luck teenaged orphan is taken by a magic black cat to the leprechaun-laden Land of Luck.
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Director Talk: “I was attracted to the premise of this girl growing up in foster care and aging out, and the presence of a leprechaun … We could have this very emotional story about her journey to find a family.” ─ Peggy Holmes
The Word: “The enchanting setting becomes a backdrop to action that’s dispiritingly mundane.” ─ Noel Murray, Los Angeles Times
Nomination Chances: Probably not, no matter how many good luck charms the producers carry.

Mad God
Director: Phil Tippett
Released by: Shudder
Production Studios: Tippett Studio
Voice Cast: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Synopsis: A being known only as the Assassin goes on an existential journey through a nightmarish underworld and faces a variety of monstrosities on the way to new creation.
Release Date: June 16, 2022
Director Talk: “Dream structure was very important to the project. I think the unconscious drives so much in our lives, and we do things that we just don’t know we’re doing.” ─ Phil Tippett
The Word: “There is a plot of sorts and plenty of grisly stop-motion violence, but Mad God is most impressive as a work of sheer atmosphere, a visual experience that is actually unlike any other.” ─ David Sims, The Atlantic
Nomination Chances: This year’s wild card. VFX maestro Tippett’s 30-year personal project offers never-before-seen imagery, though some of it may exist outside the comfort level of Academy animation voters.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
Directors: Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, Chris Bailey
Released by: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies
Production Studios: Align, Aniventure, HB Wink Animation, GFM Animation, Cinesite
Voice Cast: Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, Ricky Gervais, Mel Brooks, George Takei
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%
Synopsis: An animated slant on Blazing Saddles in which a condemned hound is forced by a nefarious fat cat to serve as the samurai protector for a village of bigoted felines, which the villain actually intends to wipe out.
Release Date: July 15, 2022
Director Talk: “It was originally envisioned as a story about humans. I said, ‘I think there might be a better approach to take if it was done as a fable … a story about a dog, specifically, who becomes a samurai in a world of cats, and of course they hate him because he’s a dog.’” ─ Rob Minkoff
The Word:Paws of Fury is precisely as inane as its premise makes it sound … though it has been cobbled together with a certain honest doltishness that tends to play well with its young target audience.” — Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; most critics missed the actual inspiration and wrote it off as imitation Kung Fu Panda, but regardless, the kiddified result made too little a splash to catch Oscar’s eye.

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Directors: Andy Suriano, Ant Ward
Released by: Netflix
Production Studio: Nickelodeon Movies
Voice Cast: Ben Schwartz, Omar Miller, Josh Brener, Brandon Mychal Smith, Eric Bauza, Kat Graham
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Synopsis: The pizza-loving testudine warriors make one final stand to save the planet from takeover by the alien Krang in the year 2044.
Release Date: August 5, 2022 (Netflix)
Director Talk: “I think there’s an accessibility to these characters. We all have this longing for family and this brotherhood of people that you surround yourself with, who have your back. These four turtles and all their friends represent that.” ─ Andy Suriano
The Word: “While unlikely to bring any nostalgia-minded fans of the series’ early-’90s heyday back into the fold, Rise is a serviceable — if also forgettable — entry in the cowabunga canon.” ─ Michael Nordine, Variety
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; while Turtle nerds are rejoicing, the Academy might simply consider this yet another notch in a very long franchise belt.

Scrooge: A Christmas Carol
Director: Stephen Donnelly
Released by: Netflix
Production Studios: Timeless Films, Axis Studios
Voice Cast: Luke Evans, Olivia Colman, Jonathan Pryce
Synopsis: An animated remake of the 1970 musical adaptation Scrooge, in which an antisocial miser remembers the true value of humanity and Christmas after being visited by four ghosts.
Release Date: November 18, 2022 (U.S. theatrical); December 2, 2022 (Netflix)
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; while its direct source has become a perennial on TV it’s hard to imagine the Academy will anoint the umpty-ninth version of the venerable Dickens story.

Scrooge: A Christmas Carol [Netflix © 2022]

THE PRESTIGE IMPORTS

Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon
Directors: José Zelada, Richard Claus
Released by: Cinema Management Group
Production Studios: Tunche Films, Katuni Animation, Cool Beans, EPIC
Voice Cast: Lola Raie, Rene Mujica, Naomi Serrano, Alejandra Gollas
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Synopsis: A young heroine and her spirit guides quest to save the Amazon rainforest.
Release Date: February 4, 2022 (U.S. digital)
Director Talk: “We thought, how to portray the apocalyptic reality … the depredation of the rainforest … that is more pleasant, and we realized we needed to make an animated feature film” ─ José Zelada
The Word: “It is the indigenous-themed elements that work best in Ainbo; an over-reliance on goofy humor … [is] less impactful.” Simon Foster, Screen-Space
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; the filmmakers’ hearts are in the right places, but that probably won’t equate to a nomination.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Director: Pierre Földes
Released by: Gébéka Films
Production Studios: Miyu Productions, Arte France Cinema
Voice Cast: Marcello Arroyo, Michael Czyz, Zag Dorison, Pierre Földes
Synopsis: A talking frog enlists a bank employee to help save Tokyo from a gigantic worm, after the 2011 earthquake there.
Release Date: June 16, 2022 (France)
Director Talk: “I thought that I would snap my fingers and producers would rush in … I was a bit naïve. But when you come up with such an ambitious animation project, which is not a film for children, you are confronted with reluctance.” ─ Pierre Földes
The Word:Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is an impressive achievement, a piece of storytelling which balances moments of flighty whimsy against deeper existential questions.” ─ Wendy Ide, Screen International
Nomination Chances: Probably not; its visual style and unique story are plusses, but breaking through the foreign animated film line is always a tough task.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
Director: Tetsuro Kodama
Released by: Crunchyroll
Production Studio: Toei Animation
Voice Cast: Kyle Herbert, Sean Schemmel, Robert McCollum, Christopher Sabat
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Synopsis: Hero Z-Fighters face off against a big pharma mogul who is reorganizing a destructive personal army.
Release Date: June 11, 2022 (Japan); August 19, 2022 (N. America)
The Word: “The Dragon Ball formula is repetitive and predictable. But it’s difficult to overstate how exquisitely gratifying that formula can be.” ─ Calum Marsh, The New York Times
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; hugely popular for fans, but there are probably not enough fans in the Academy’s voter roll.

Drifting Home
Director: Hiroyasu Ishida
Released by: Netflix
Production Studio: Studio Colorido
Voice Cast: (English dub) Cassandra Lee Morris, Bryce Papenbrook, Elliot Fletcher
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Synopsis: Two estranged sixth-grade friends try to patch up their differences by sneaking into their former housing complex, which is scheduled for demolition, only for it to unmoor and launch into a mysterious sea.
Release Date: September 16, 2022 (Netflix global)
Director Talk: “I’ve always had an interest in the look of apartment complexes. I have never lived in one, but I was always strangely drawn to those simple, square, white rows of buildings that looked the same … I also felt a sense of romanticism in this situation of [one] sailing the high seas.” ─ Hiroyasu Ishida
The Word: “If it was about 20 minutes shorter, Drifting Home would represent a minor triumph for Ishida. However, he lets things drag on interminably.” ─ James Hadfield, Japan Times
Nomination Chances: Slim; though the film’s conventional look is buoyed by an intriguing high concept.

The Deer King
Directors: Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji
Released by: GKIDS
Production Studio: Production I.G
Voice Cast: (English dub) Ray Chase, Griffin Puatu, Erica Schroeder, Luciana VanDette
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%
Synopsis: An enslaved warrior and a young girl are infected with deadly Black Wolf disease and survive, but their peace is shattered by forces intent on capturing the girl, and the desperate search for the cure.
Release Date: July 15, 2022 (U.S.)
Director Talk: “The original novel is very long and complicated, but very deep. I do think that is the appeal of the novel, but that’s what makes it really hard for us to turn it into a movie.” — Masashi Ando
The Word:The Deer King looks great (and has a lovely score) but it’s repetitive, predictable, and downright dull.” ─ Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Nomination Chances: Unlikely; while the animation for this fantasy adventure is quite stunning, the storyline is unnecessarily complicated, and the film overall is not emotionally involving.

Goodbye, Don Glees!
Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Released by: GKIDS
Production Studios: Madhouse
Voice Cast: (English dub) Adam McArthur, Nick Wolfhard, Jonathan Leon, Victoria Grace
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Synopsis: Three misfit teens (who call themselves “Don Glees”) flee to the woods after wrongly being accused of starting a forest fire, and what they encounter there challenges their friendships.
Release Date: February 18, 2022 (Japan); September 16, 2022 (U.S.)
Director Talk: “I wanted to write a drama story about how people change and how people feel things differently, how they think and how they evolve as a person … and also the discoveries you make as you go on in life.” ─ Atsuko Ishizuka
The Word: “The best friendships, after all, transcend space and time, and Goodbye, Don Glees! is a nifty reminder of that.” ─ Clint Worthington, The Spool
Nomination Chances: Possible; this is one of the likeliest to score among this year’s crop of anime releases.

Inu-Oh
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Released by: GKIDS
Production Studio: Science SARU
Voice Cast: Avu-chan, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Synopsis: In the 14th century, a young man under a disfiguring curse who happens to be a brilliant dancer joins forces with a blind musician to stage electric performances, but when outside business forces threaten to break up the band, they strive to learn the truth behind their gifts.
Release Date: May 28, 2022 (Japan); August 12, 2022 (U.S.)
Director Talk: “We did not use many new things for Inu-Oh, but I stuck with the concept not to be so concerned about the shape of things. For Tomona’s vision, I made it vague and fuzzy because that’s how I imagined his world would look.” ─ Masaaki Yuasa
The Word: “A psychedelic, bombastic rock opera.” ─ Kamoble Campbell, Polygon
Nomination Chances: Possible; the competition is very tough this year, and though Yuasa has won many international honors, he has yet to break through the Oscars ceiling.

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be
Directors: Amandine Fredon, Benjamin Massoubre
Released by: Charades
Production Studios: ON Classics, Bidibul Productions
Voice Cast: Alain Chabbat, Laurent Lafitte, Simon Faliu
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Synopsis: A beloved French comic-book character interacts with his creators in a series of vignettes.
Release Date: June 13, 2022 (Annecy Int’l Animation Film Festival)
Director Talk: “We liked Nicholas as a figment of the imagination in the office and workshop, talking to the authors. It gives them a relationship and makes him active.” ─ Amandine Fredon
The Word: “You don’t even have to know [source creators] Sempé and Goscinny’s work to recognize what a labor of love Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be happens to be. Every frame of [this] nostalgia-driven, Annecy-winning adaptation pays homage to their oeuvre.” ─ Peter Debruge, Variety
Nomination Chances: It all depends on visibility. The animation branch will love this beautiful homage to 2D animation and comic-book artists.

Unicorn Wars
Director: Alberto Vásquez
Released by: GKIDS
Production Studios: Abano Productions, Uniko, Autour de Minuit, Schmuby Productions
Synopsis: Bear cubs are indoctrinated into fighting a bloody war with unicorns.
Release Date: October 21, 2022 (Spain)
Director Talk: “I like films to have an emotional impact on the audience, for them to be remembered and to make them reflect on what they have seen. I like films that provoke emotions. Unicorn Wars is actually an anti-war film that talks about the absurd origin of all wars. Unfortunately, it’s all very topical right now, because when we started the project, we had no idea we would have the current conflict in Europe.” — Alberto Vásquez
Nomination Chances: Not very likely; with the possible exception of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, Academy voters may not warm easily to a film about cute creatures killing and mutilating each other.

Note: Rotten Tomatoes rankings and critics’ quotes not available at print time for the Dec. issue have been added to this article, and data for current releases has been updated as of Nov. 4. 

Academy Awards nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 24, 2023. The 95th Oscars awards ceremony will be held Sunday, March 12, 2023.

 

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