“Do you know the story of the little mouse who didn’t believe in the big bad bear?” Academy voters do. They nominated Ernest & Celestine for the Best Animated Feature Oscar alongside some of the biggest hits of 2013. The French pic from the creators of The Triplets …
Anthony D’Alessandro is Managing Editor of AwardsLine
In the final stretch before the Oscar ballot deadline, there’s still hope that voters remain undecided in the animation category. Though Disney has cornered the Oscar slot with three titles, its Frankenweenie, directed by Tim Burton, stands as an island against the epic Brave and the existential crisis comedy of Wreck-It Ralph. The film is an auteur’s youthful dream short, once buried by the studio that has resuscitated it as a 3D stopmotion feature — the first in black and white. This Frankenstein homage about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life is signature Tim Burton. Many will argue Burton is overdue for an Oscar. He was nominated in the animated category for 2005’s Corpse Bride. His 1994 absurdist biopic Ed Wood garnered a supporting actor win for Martin Landau (as Bela Lugosi) and best makeup, while 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street won best art direction and earned noms for Johnny Depp as best actor and for Colleen Atwood’s costumes. Another appealing Burton attribute for Oscar voters is that he remains an iconoclast among big-studio directors working today — he’s a visual artist with a spooky canon that appears alienating with its deep subtext but lures the masses with its fanciful spins on children’s tales such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. AwardsLine recently spoke to Burton about his career and Frankenweenie’s place in it.
AwardsLine: Why was this the best time to make Frankenweenie as a stopmotion feature. You could have conceivably made it in 1993 instead of Nightmare Before Christmas.
Tim Burton: All these projects take a long time. I remember when I first designed Nightmare, it took about 10 years to get that in place because nobody really wanted to do stopmotion, and in a way, there weren’t a lot of facilities that were doing it. We did the Frankenweenie short many years ago, and I never really planned on it being anything else. Over the years, I just kept kind of thinking about the relationship with my dog, but also other monster movies, the kids and teachers from my school, and even the downtown places in Burbank. A lot more thoughts came into Frankenweenie,
Ever since the first Best Animated Feature category was included in the Oscars, and Dreamworks’ irreverent Shrek snagged the very first award in 2001, the annual race for top toon has been fiercely competitive. Of course animators were pleased by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ long overdue special recognition. But their worry is that no toon will ever win Best Picture now that the genre has its own prize.
Rich Ross didn’t greenlight Toy Story 3. But the recently promoted Walt Disney Studios chairman understands he has an obligation to the Disney/Pixar toon as if he did. “We’re going for the Best Picture win,” he affirmed. “The reviews have clearly said that it’s the best movie, and it’s the No. 1 box office hit of the year. It’s thrilling that there is a separate category for animation that allows animated movies to be recognized. But for some reason an animated film has never gotten Best Picture. We decided, if not this year, and not this movie, when?”
Toy Story 3 is one of the presumed frontrunners both for Best Animated Feature and Best Picture along with DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon. There have been only two Best Picture nominees ever: 1991’s Beauty And The Beast from Walt Disney Studios and last year’s Up from Disney/Pixar when the list of nominees was expanded from five to 10 for the first time since 1943. Neither won. “As far as Up last year, I think the strategy was you go for Best Picture and as a fallback end up as Best Animated Feature,” recalled Ross. “But with this movie, we wanted to come up with a campaign that kept our aspirations clear but at the same time used a tongue-in-cheek approach.”
To that end, Disney/Pixar has launched an ambitious advertising campaign aimed at Academy members to associate past Best Picture winners with Toy Story 3 by having the toon’s characters enact some iconic images from West Side Story, On The Waterfront, Shakespeare In Love, Titanic, and more. The campaign uses the phrase ’Not Since’ and even has sequels in its sight, mimicking The Godfather 2 and Lord Of The Rings 3 in a not-so-subtle attempt to remind voters that it’s time for another sequel to win. Of course, Ross and his counterpart at DreamWorks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, have to overcome perceptions by many in the Academy that the Animated Feature category is enough recognition for this art form. But other genres of films like horror (Silence Of The Lambs) broke equally insurmountable barriers in terms of AMPAS perceptions that certain kinds of movies can’t win. “I feel very confident we have a movie everybody loves and I want to make sure with our campaign that people don’t feel the consolation prize is the appropriate prize for a movie like Toy Story 3,” Ross explained.
Jeffrey Katzenberg also makes the case for a toon winning Best Picture by pointing out that the three best reviewed films of the year (if you go by Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) have been Toy Story 3 (99%) and How To Train Your Dragon (98%), plus Sony Pictures’ live action The Social Network (97%). Dragon producer Bonnie Arnold says about her toon, “It’s just a good movie that is in competition with other good movies, no matter what the medium, whether it’s live action, animation or whatever.” And Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich echoes: “We look at our films like every other film. Yes, it is animated and we’re working in a specific medium. But our approach is very much the same as live action – production design, costume design, casting of actors, scoring, editing. We’re making movies.”
Best Picture aspirations aside, the other frustration for animators is that Academy rules allow only three nominees in Best Animated Feature in any year when there are just 8 to 15 submissions deemed eligible. Sixteen and over qualifiers trigger five nominations, which has happened twice (in 2002 and last year). But on November 15th, the Academy announced that only 15 films were in the animation race this year, even though 2010 was considered an exceptionally strong year for toons. Since two of the nominees are expected to be Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon, only one slot is open.
Here is the shortlist of eligible Best Animated Feature entries in alphabetical order:
ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) – If Lady And The Tramp were thrown to the wolves, it might look like this sweet Romeo and Juliet-style toon that only did modest box office business. Against the heavyweights, its prospects of landing a nom are weak.
Beverly Hills, CA — Fifteen features have been accepted for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category for the 83rd Academy Awards®.
The 15 features are:
“Alpha and Omega”
“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”
“The Dreams of Jinsha”
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“Idiots and Angels”
“Legend of the Guardians: The
Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sent out a reminder confirming the 5 PM PT November 1st deadline for 2010 Best Animated feature entries. At this point there do not appear to be enough entries to trigger five nominations rather than the more common three but there is still time, brother. What wasn’t …