With ‘The LEGO Movie’ out of the mix, the animated feature battle is on

01.16.15 3 years ago 27 Comments

The biggest Oscar shocker yesterday morning, bar none, was “The LEGO Movie” missing out on a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. For many, it was the frontrunner to win the Oscar, and indeed, its absence has everyone still in the category thinking they might have a play on this thing.

My bet would be on “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which won the Golden Globe last weekend. But there are those on the Disney campaign who are making everything they can of the statistic that no film that wasn't nominated by BAFTA has ever won this particular Oscar. So the “Big Hero 6” fire will surely get a lot of kindling next week.

There was a bit of a silver lining Thursday night, however, as “The LEGO Movie” won the animated prize at the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards. Director Christopher Miller called the day a “roller coaster of emotions,” echoing in some ways “Argo” director Ben Affleck's quip on the show a few years ago upon being snubbed of a Best Director Oscar nomination: “I'd like to thank the Academy.” It was nice that they got a moment like that, and when I circled around to “Dragon 2” director Dean DeBlois at one point during the show, he mentioned how happy he was for them.

Yesterday morning, DeBlois was as surprised by the omission as everyone else. “I try best not to be presumptuous about it because every now and then there are those bizarre omissions,” he said. “I went to bed thinking 'I hope we make the cut.' I was happy to hear our name mentioned and was shocked when 'LEGO' wasn't. It bums me out because Chris and Phil are great guys and they made a great movie. But I also see the artistic merit in the other nominees like 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' and 'Song of the Sea.' They're both amazing movies in their own way.”

Indeed, GKIDS was the party crasher this year, just like three years ago when the indie distribution company landed nominations for “The Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” while major studio players like “Arthur Christmas,” “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Cars 2” and “Rio” ended up on the sidelines. This will continue to happen, I would wager, as the animation branch is full of, if not purists, then certainly those who want to see the value of traditional animation propagated.

“I'm obviously a fan of hand-drawn animation, having come from that background, so I applaud that being continued,” DeBlois told me. “I think the animation branch is made up of many classically trained, hand-drawn animators, and they certainly do their best to keep the medium alive and in the public eye, and the Academy is a great way of doing that and recognizing and celebrating them. And it's important, I think, because a lot of those skills get lost as everyone focuses on computer animation. There's always a danger that the art form of hand-drawn animation and all of its sort of time-honed techniques will be lost in time.”

But again, the race is now on. For GKIDS, the nominations might be the win, but you never know. If you can get enough people to watch the screeners, magic can happen. But Disney and Focus will probably step up their game considerably.

We'll see how it shakes out, but it's hard for me not to pull for “Dragon 2,” obviously. And if indeed film claims the prize, it will be a nice moment for producer Bonnie Arnold (who recently got the bump upstairs to DreamWorks Animation co-chief). She and a number of producers at other studios lobbied the Academy recently in order to allow for producers to be nominated alongside directors in the animated feature category, which is only fitting seeing as producers claim victory in the live action Best Picture category. It makes sense that the creative lead and the producing lead share in the recognition, and so should the film win, she'll be able to take the stage right alongside DeBlois.

Meanwhile, here's a great shot courtesy of “The Book of Life” director Jorge R. Gutierrez from last night's awards show. That's Gutierrez on the left and moving right, his wife and fellow animator Sandra Equihua, “Big Hero 6” director Chris Williams, “The Boxtrolls” directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and DeBlois in front.

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Who are you predicting to win Best Animated Feature Film? Can “Big Hero 6” pull it off? Do the GKIDS entries have a prayer? Will “The Boxtrolls” creep in and snatch it away? Sound off in the comments.

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