While the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature is usually treated as a throw away — where lackluster children’s movies such as Kung-Fu Panda are pitted against truly great achievements such as Wall-E — this year it was filled with five exemplary films that could all compete with the live action fair of the night.
One, in fact, was nominated for the highest honor of the night — Best Picture. Pixar’s Up was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1991.
These are, in fact, the only animated films ever to be nominated; a testament to UP’s greatness. Up Was a lock for Best Animated Feature, but it still had stiff competition.
This year’s animated nominees covered a variety of formats. Coraline and The Fantastic Mr. Fox are both stop-motion animated. Up, of course, is another in Pixar’s line of wonderful computer animated films. The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s triumphant return to traditional (2D) animation, a format shared by Irish competitor The Secret of Kells.
Just about every form of animation shy of claymation and experimental animation was present and accounted for this year.
Almost all the animated films had great creative minds behind them. Coraline is an expansive screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel and was directed and written for the screen by Henry Selick. Selick worked on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas project. With a creative background like that, how can you lose?
Then there was The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the first animated film attempted by acclaimed indie film director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore). The movie was based on a novel by the great Roald Dahl, who also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and The Giant Peach.
With the masterful teams of Disney and Pixar behind the other two American entries, its pretty safe to say they too were backed by some of the greatest creative minds to ever work in animation.
All were critically acclaimed and for very good reasons. Coraline’s dark tone, creative visuals and stylistic flair made it an enjoyable ride with or without 3D glasses.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox bonded Wes Andersons’ flair for dry wit with creative music, cinematic technique and thoughtful characterization. This film found itself combined with a childlike wonder in its visuals and a fascinating detail in both its textures and its art design.
The Princess and the Frog featured Disney’s return to its former glory, but was renewed with creative imagery, fun songs, heartwarming scenes and even a bit of social consciousness.
The Book of Kells boasted an absolutely beautiful and unique art style coupled with a tad of Celtic folklore.
But the winner of the night, and quite possibly one of the greatest animated films of the last decade, was Up. The movie’s story about a man attempting to carry on after the death of his wife was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Even when Up takes a comical turn with its talking dogs and colorful birds, it still holds to a central theme of rediscovering the spirit of wonder and adventure in the world in the face of death. This is an unusually deep and emotionally evocative animated film that shows what animation is truly capable of doing.
And what is animation capable of doing? Everything that all the others movies do, and possibly, a little bit more.