As noted in the updates of Monday’s Best Animated Feature Film ponderings (which revealed the acquisition of Cannes hit “Ernest & Celestine” for a 2013 release), the indie distributor GKIDS will be qualifying four films for Oscar contention this year: “From Up on Poppy Hill,” “Le Tableau,” “The Rabbi’s Cat” and “Zarafa.” Added to Disney’s “Secret of the Wings” and “Arjun: The Warrior Prince” (which were confirmed to me as well), that puts us at 17 titles officially in the running thus far, one more than the 16 necessary for a full slate of five nominees. And I don’t see any eligibility concerns being raised for any of them on the horizon, so we should be good to go.
I assume many readers would like to know more about these films, which could ultimately shake up the race much like the studio’s efforts did last year. So below, read through the official GKIDS synopses of each and start your speculating: which, if any, could end up on the eventual slate of nominees? My bet is currently on “Poppy Hill,” but each film has a shot and each, most importantly, could really connect with animators — you know, the folks who have the ultimate say on the matter.
“FROM UP ON POPPY HILL”
The latest release from Japan”s legendary Studio Ghibli was the top-grossing Japanese release of 2011 and took home the Japan Academy Prize for Animation. The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki from a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, with Hayao Miyazaki supervising the production, marking the first feature collaboration between father and son. An English-language version is currently in production by Studio Ghibli with Frank Marshall executive producing. Voice cast announcement is expected within the next two weeks. Set in Yokohama in 1963, the film centers on a high school couple”s innocent love and the secrets surrounding their births. The story takes place in a Japan that is picking itself up from the devastation of World War II and preparing to host the 1964 Olympics – and the mood is one of both optimism and conflict as the new generation struggles to embrace modernity and throw off the shackles of a troubled past. The film’s rich color palette and painterly detail capture the beauty of Yokohama’s harbor and its lush surrounding hillsides, while the 1960″s pop soundtrack evokes nostalgia for an era of innocence and hope. The film will qualify in the English language version.
French animation auteur Jean-Francois Laguionie”s latest work is a wryly-inventive parable executed in a stunning painterly style. A kingdom is divided into the three castes: the fully painted Alldunns who reside in a majestic palace; the Halfies who the Painter has left incomplete; and the untouchable Sketchies, frail charcoal outlines who are banished to the cursed forest. Chastised for her forbidden love for an Alldunn and shamed by her unadorned face, Halfie Claire runs away into the forest. Her beloved Ramo and best friend Lola journey after her, passing between the forbidden Death Flowers that guard the boundaries of the forest, and arriving finally at the very edge of the painting – where they tumble through the canvas and into the Painter”s studio. The abandoned workspace is strewn with paintings, each containing its own animated world – and in a feast for both the eyes and imagination, they explore first one picture and then another, attempting to discover just what the Painter has in mind for all his creations. The film will qualify in the original French language version.
“THE RABBI’S CAT”
Based on the best-selling graphic novel by Joann Sfar, The Rabbi”s Cat tells the story of a rabbi and his talking cat – a sharp-tongued feline philosopher brimming with scathing humor and a less than pure love for the rabbi”s voluptuous teenage daughter. Algeria in the 1930s is an intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture. A cat belonging to a widowed rabbi eats the family parrot and miraculously gains the ability to speak. Along with the power of speech comes unparalleled sardonic wit, and the cat – and filmmaker Sfar – spare no group or individual as they skewer faith, tradition and authority in a provocative exploration of (among other things) God, lust, death, phrenology, religious intolerance, interspecies love, and the search for truth. Rich with the colors, textures, and flavors of Mediterranean Africa, the film takes us on a cross continent adventure from the tiled terraces, fountains, quays and cafes of colonial Algiers to Maghrebi tent camps and dusty trading outposts, in search of a lost Ethiopian city. Joann Sfar is an award winning filmmaker (Gainsbourg) and one of France”s most celebrated comic artists. The film will qualify in the original French language version.
The French box office breakout from animator Jean-Christophe Lie (Triplets of Belleville) and live action director Rémi Bezançon (A Happy Event) was inspired by the true historical account of a giraffe given as a gift to King Charles X of France by the Pasha of Egypt. Under a baobab tree, an old man tells the story of the everlasting friendship between Maki, a little boy aged 10 who has narrowly escaped slavery, and an orphaned baby giraffe named Zarafa. Hassan, Prince of the Desert, is instructed by the Pasha to deliver Zarafa to France. But Maki has made up his mind to do everything in his power to stop Hassan from fulfilling his mission and to bring the giraffe back to its native land – even if it means risking his own life. During an epic journey that takes them from Sudan to Paris, passing on the way through Alexandria, Marseille and the snow-capped Alps, they have many adventures, crossing paths with the balloonist Malaterre, a pair of mystical twin cows called Mounh and Sounh (Moon and Sun), and falling into the hands of the fearsome pirate queen Bouboulina. The film will qualify in the original French language version.