Waiting for a heavyweight in the animated Oscar race
"Brave"'s come-from-behind victory proved that the lure of the familiar can be a key factor in this race, but can that voter complacency really extend to "Monsters University?" The only sequel to take the award to date has been "Toy Story 3" -- but there can be no doubt that its two predecessors would also have won the Oscar had it been there for the taking in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Is the Academy will to hand the gold to a sequel to the film they passed over?
Meanwhile, "Despicable Me 2" and, later this year, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" are looking to take the question even further: in a field this seemingly weak, will the animators' branch be forced to include sequels to films they didn't even nominate? We don't yet know if the 2013 animation slate will be large enough to force a five-wide nominee field, but if it does, that's that distinct possibility. ("Despicable Me," it's worth remembering, would surely have been nominated in a field of five back in 2010, but despite a healthy precursor showing, it was rightly kept out of the final three by Sylvain Chomet's arthouse underdog "The Illusionist.")
If the Academy does indeed decide (for the first time since "Happy Feet" took the 2006 Oscar) that the year's spring and summer releases aren't up to snuff, it could finally be Disney's year in the category. Kris recently discussed the possibility of the buried Mickey Mouse short "Get a Horse!" being a force in the Best Animated Short race, but we could be in for a package deal: the short will released in theaters in November alongside the studio's elaborate feature fairytale "Frozen," which might emerge as the one to beat.
"Frozen," the Mouse House's long-mooted adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," has rather a lot riding on it, and the first trailer will be eagerly scrutinized when it land next week. Like 2010's Rapunzel riff "Tangled," it'll be looking to match the studio's classic storytelling sensibility to the demands of a 21st-century kiddie audience -- it's no coincidence that both films opted for snappy, past-participle title changes in an attempt to sound more contemporary (and, sadly, disguise the female focus of their narratives).
The inordinately expensive "Tangled" succeeded to a degree, grossing $200 million in the US -- though it missed out on an Oscar nod. (Like "Despicable Me 2," it was a victim of 2010's three-wide field.) Other late-year options include Relativity Media's Thanksgiving comedy "Free Birds," while GKIDS's delightful "Ernest and Celestine" -- a critical hit at Cannes last year that has yet to set a release date -- should be a welcome specialty option in the mix. But if "Frozen" doesn't deliver, we could be in for a less-than-animated race.