2D animation, 3D animation, OSCAR

Oscar Watch 2012

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

Studio: Illumination Mac Guff
Directors: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: March 2
Box Office: $338.9 million [$214 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 54%
Synopsis: The CG animated update of Theodor Geisel’s environmentally minded children’s classic stars Zac Efron as a young boy named Ted bent on saving the disappearing Trufula Trees, Taylor Swift as the girl of his dreams, Danny DeVito as the gruff yet cuddly Lorax, Ed Helms as the mysterious Once-ler, Rob Riggle as the mayor and Betty White as Ted’s grandma.
The Buzz: It’s always a challenge to adapt a well loved picture book as a feature effort; despite the artistic wizardry of French studio Mac Guff and the box office response, critics seemed underwhelmed by the updated Lorax.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Studios: Aardman Animations, Sony Pictures Animation
Director: Peter Lord
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: April 27
Box Office: $121.6 million [$31 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Synopsis: This mad-cap seafaring adventure stars Hugh Grant as Pirate Captain, who in the course of vying for the Pirate of the Year contest gets tangled up with the likes of Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and other characters. The excellent cast also includes Martin Freeman, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Brendan Gleeson and even Al Roker as the Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens.
The Buzz: Co-directed by Jeff Newitt and based on the popular books by Gideon Defoe, Pirates was a tour de force of richly detailed stop-motion animation and Brit humor—but after the mania over Oscar winner Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Aardman might have trouble filling its own sizeable shoes.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: June 8
Box Office: $638.8 million [$216.1 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Synopsis: In the zoosters’ latest escapade, a faulty getaway with the “help” of the penguins finds the critters joining up with a European traveling circus, all the while evading capture by Monaco’s most dogged Animal Control Officer, Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand). Franchise cast including Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen return along with newcomers Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain and Martin Short as their circus pals.
The Buzz: While the third outing performed very well at the box-office and entertained family audiences, so far none of the franchise’s films have made the final Oscar cut—then again, the popular zoo pals may be overdue in the Academy’s eyes.

Brave

Studio: Disney-Pixar
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: June 22
Box Office: $515.7 million [$233.8 million domestic]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
Synopsis: As princess of an ancient Scottish kingdom, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) struggles against the expectations of her parents and her plans for her life. When she takes her destiny into her own hands, it threatens the safety of the kingdom as well as those she loves most. The pedigreed cast also includes Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson as the king and queen, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson.
The Buzz: Pixar’s first fairytale sought to break the mold with its strong-willed female protagonist as well as forge new ground in stunningly detailed CG animation; despite accomplishing this, some critics felt Brave lacked the originality of prior Pixar films.

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Studio: Blue Sky Studios
Directors: Steve Martino, Mike Thurmeier
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: July 13
Box Office: $849.9 million [$159.2 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38%
Synopsis: The fourth installment of the Ice Age saga sees the herd separated by shifting continents, pestered by pirates and desperately trying to reunite families amid the chaos and finding a new home (and a new girlfriend for Diego). Key cast Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Chris Wedge and Keke Palmer are joined by Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Wanda Sykes, Drake, Aziz Ansari, Nicki Minaj and more to round out the cool ensemble.
The Buzz: Despite being the highest-grossing toon of the year (so far) and cracking up audiences, the 3-D CG sequel effort seemed to critics to recycle too much from the previous films; it’s unclear whether the franchise is overdue for a nod or if the first film’s nomination was its best shot.

ParaNorman

Studio: LAIKA
Directors: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Distributor: Focus Features
Release Date: August 17
Box Office: $86.5 million [$54.1 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Synopsis: Norman is an outcast kid shunned by his schoolmates for his strange ability to talk to ghosts. But when an ancient curse unleashes a horde of zombies on his small town of Blithe Hollow, it’s up to him to set things right. Kodi Smitt-McPhee stars with Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Bernard Hill and John Goodman.
The Buzz: LAIKA’s second feature effort, ParaNorman’s original story (penned by Butler) and lovingly hand-crafted stop-motion impressed the critics … except certain conservative outlets who found fault with a reference to a character’s homosexuality in a kid flick—but we like to think (hope?) the Academy is less stuffy.

Hotel Transylvania

Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: September 28
Box Office: $57.7 million [$49.6 million]
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 45%
Synopsis: Dracula (Adam Sandler) runs a luxury resort for classic monsters (werewolves, mummies, zombies and the like) and is busy preparing for his daughter Mavis’ (Selena Gomez) 118th birthday. As the gruesome guests are set to arrive, a normal human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles onto the hotel and takes a shine to Mavis, much to Drac’s chagrin. The comedic cast is filled out by Kevin James, Cee Lo Green, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Fran Drescher and Jon Lovitz.
The Buzz: Toon fans were keen to check out Tartakovsky’s first feature effort and enjoyed the colorful, cartoony vibe of this kids’ comedy; but the long and tumultuous production may have added to critics’ sense that the plot wasn’t up to snuff for older audiences.

Frankenweenie

Studio: Tim Burton Productions
Director: Tim Burton
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: October 5
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85%
Synopsis: When young Victor is inspired to reanimate the body of his beloved dog, Sparky, his classmates follow suit and unleash a chaotic plague of strange creatures on the town of New Holland. Based on Burton’s 1984 live-action short, the film features the voices of Charlie Tahan, Catherina O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Atticus Shaffer, Christopher Lee, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, James Hiroyuki Liao and Tom Kenny.
The Buzz: With a disappointing opening weekend B.O. (lagging behind Hotel Transylvania, which was in its second week), Disney’s gamble on Burton’s quirky éclat seemed wobbly; critics however praised the artistry of the black-and-white stop-motion film as well as its oddball story—hey, how much did Spirited Away make on its U.S. debut?

Wreck-It Ralph

Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Director: Rich Moore
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: November 2
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: John C. Reilly stars as a disgruntled 8-bit game villain who sets out on a journey across the various videogames in his arcade to prove that he has what it takes to be a hero. The 3-D CG flick also stars Sarah Silverman as Vanellope, a glitchy but cute racing game character; Jack McBrayer as the hero of Ralph’s game Fix-It Felix, Jr.; and Jane Lynch as Sgt. Calhoun, star of an FPS game.
The Buzz: Disneyphiles and gamers alike are psyched to check out Ralph, which will feature cameos from popular game characters; first glimpses reveal a sweeping variety of characters and worlds expertly animated—but only time will tell if this departure from the Disney canon will please the Academy.

Rise of the Guardians

Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Director: Peter Ramsey
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: November 21
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: This colorful, action-packed adaptation of William Joyce’s popular book stars Chris Pine as Jack Frost, who joines up with North (Santa Claus, Alec Baldwin), Bunnymund (Easter Bunny, Hugh Jackman), Tooth (Tooth Fairy, Isla Fisher) and Sandy (Sandman) to restore the faith of children around the world and defeat the wicked Pitch (Jude Law).
The Buzz: DWA’s previous features based on Joyce’s books (Meet the Robinsons, Robots) proved popular with audiences, and this latest 3-D CG effort is creating buzz with its fresh take on classic characters and rich visuals—could this be the Joyce tale that makes it to the Oscars?

The Painting

Studios: Blue Spirit/Be-Films
Director: Jean-François Laguionie
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: TBA
Box Office: $183,700 (approx. USD value of French B.O., per AlloCiné)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: Set in the world of a 1930s artist’s atelier, three races of painted beings—the completed Alldunns, partially done Halfies and roughly rendered Sketchies—battle each other for supremacy. Ramo an Alldunn and Claire, the Halfie he loves, join up with inquisitive Lola on a quest to find the artist and discover why he created these contentious races.
The Buzz: Critics responded favorably to this inventive, beautifully crafted tale from Laguionie and co-scripter Anik Le Ray (Eleanor’s Secret) on both sides of the pond—it’s a blessing and a potential curse for Painting that 2012 has been such a strong year for foreign animated features.

From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio: Studio Ghibli
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: TBA
Box Office: $56 million (approx. USD value of Japanese B.O., per Variety)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: Set in 1960s Yokohama, the film follows two high school students who undertake to restore an historic building and save it from demolition, all the while unraveling the mystery of their own connected past. GKIDS has tapped Gillian Anderson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Christina Hendricks, Ron Howard, Chris Noth, Aubrey Plaza, Anton Yelchin, Beau Bridges, Sarah Bolger, Jeff Dunham, Isabelle Fuhrman, Emily Osment, Charles Saxton and Alex Wolff as the English language voice cast.
The Buzz: With the pro revamp team of director Gary Rydstrom, writer Karey Kirkpatrick and exec producer Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (all of Arrietty fame) on the case, audiences can expect a fluid translation of this heartfelt teen adventure—but though the Academy loves Ghibli, Goro’s (son of Hayao Miyazaki) last feature effort was a B.O. and critical disappointment.

Zarafa


Studio:
 Prima Linea Productions
Directors: Rémi Bezançon, Jean-Christophe Lie
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: TBA
Box Office: $1.7 million (approx. USD value of French B.O., per AlloCiné)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: This expansive film takes viewers on a journey from Sudan to Paris as 10-year-old Maki pursues his beloved pet giraffe Zarafa, who is en route to France as a gift to Charles X from the Pasha of Egypt. Through Alexandria, Marseille and the snow Alps the duo encounter many adventures and odd characters in this charming story of true friendship.
The Buzz: Zarafa has won over festival audiences around the word with its impeccably French 2D artistry and sweet sentimentality—although some have raised their hackles over inaccuracies about the fate of the legendary giraffe; it’ll be up to Academy members to decide whether the art of fiction wins out over the complexities of history when GKIDS launches its qualifying run.

The Rabbi’s Cat

Studio: Autochenille Productions
Directors: Joann Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux
Distributor: GKIDS
Release Date: TBA
Box Office to Date: $552,416 (approx. USD value of French B.O., per AlloCiné)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: Based on Sfar’s award-winning comic series, the film centers on a cat living in 1920s Algeria who gains the ability to speak after swallowing a parrot and expresses his desire to convert to Judaism to his Rabbi owner.
The Buzz: While critics have been universally won over by the colorful 2D animation, some were less enchanted by the storytelling in the film translation—but after nabbing the top Annecy Cristal, it’s still a strong contender for Oscar nomination.

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

Studios: Bill and Ben Prod., EPIX
Directors: Bill Jones, Ben Timlett, Jeff Simpson
Distributor: Brainstorm Media
Release Date: November 2
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: Based on Chapman’s fictitious 1980 autobiography, the film is a mélange of completely untrue events from the Brit comedian’s life. Former Python cohorts John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam provide voices, adding to recordings of Chapman reading from the book made shortly before his death in 1989.
The Buzz: Python fans are eager to see how this independent project will turn out, and animation aficionados are piqued by the format which will combine animated “chapters” crafted by over a dozen studios—but has “Project Chapman 3D” generated enough buzz to lure in Academy voters at the end of the year?

The Secret of the Wings

Studio: DisneyToon Studios
Directors: Peggy Holmes, Roberts Gannaway
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: September 3 [Limited]
Box Office to Date: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: The fourth film in Disney’s popular Tinkerbell home movie franchise sees Tink (Mae Whitman) venture into the forbidden world of the Winter Woods and discovering a mysterious secret about fairies’ wings. Lucy Hale, Lucy Liu, Angela Bartys, Raven-Symone, Megan Hilty, Pamela Adlon, Anjelica Huston, Timothy Dalton and Grey DeLisle star.
The Buzz: While the fairies do gangbusters with their young target home audience, they haven’t managed to conjure up an Academy nod—although Disney may have pushed a theatrical release in part to raise the number of qualifiers, and thus nominees, like they tried with Great Fairy Rescue in 2010.

Arjun: The Warrior Prince

Studios: UTV Motion Pictures, Disney
Director: Arnab Chaudhuri
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: May 25, September 3 [Limited]
Box Office: $19,267 (approx. USD value of Indian B.O., per BollywoodTrade)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: Taken from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, the film explores the early life of legendary warrior Arjun, his training, the family rivalries for the crown that drive him into exile with his brother and his eventual triumph.
The Buzz: Indian critics widely acknowledged Arjun, with its intriguing CG/toon-shaded animation style, was a big leap forward for the country’s toon industry and it’s been snapped up by festivals—but with such strong competition it might not make much of an impact Stateside.

The Mystical Laws

Studio: Eleven Arts
Director: Isamu Imakake
Distributor: Nikkatsu
Release Date: October 6, 2012
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: In the near future, the newly formed Godom Empire is threatening to take over the world by using advanced technology offered to them by Leika Chan, the mysterious female president of a trading company. The film’s hero, Sho Shishimaru, is the one man who has the “mystical technology” that can stop the Godom Empire. After being hunted down by the Empire, Sho is saved by mysterious Indians monks, who tell him about a prophecy about the rebirth of Buddha. Based on the book by Ryuho Okawa, the founder of the controversial religious organization Happy Science (Kōfuku no Kagaku).

Zambezia

Studio: Triggerfish
Director: Wayne Thornley
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Box Office: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: TBA
Synopsis: On the edge of a majestic waterfall, in the heart of Africa, lies the amazing bird city of Zambezia, led by wise and battle-tested Sekhuru (Leonard Nimoy). Our young falcon hero Kai (Jeremy Suarez) leaves his remote outpost against his Father’s (Samuel L. Jackson) wishes to join the prestigious Hurricane defense flyers fiercely trained by Ajax (Jeff Goldblum) to patrol the skies keeping Zambezia safe. Kai’s father goes after him but is captured as the scheming iguana lizard Budzo (Jim Cummings) conspires to attack the sanctuary. Kai and soulmate Zoe (Abigail Breslin) will need to gather all their flying skills along with a big dose of diplomacy to save the city from Budzo’s deadly plot.

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2D animation, art, Cartoon - animation films, OSCAR

OSCAR Watch 2011

2011 Award Season Spotlight

Welcome to Animag’s special award season section, where you can read about all the highs and lows of the animated movies and shorts that are in the running for this year’s Oscars, Annies, Golden Globes, PGA, AFI and Visual Effects Society Awards. Here’s to all the talented men and women who are responsible for the dazzling list of 2011’s contenders. In our eyes, they are all winners, whether they take home the big trophies on those special nights or not!

Animated Features


With the potential to nab five nomination spots instead of just three this year, the toon industry is sure to see a wider variety of films vying for the Best Animated Feature award come Oscar time—but which of the 2011 releases will be leading the pack, and which will be left in the dust? Here are our recaps (and pre-caps!) of the possible contenders and their chances of trotting into the winner’s circle:

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn


Studio: Paramount
Director: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: December 23
Pros: Spielberg. Jackson. Hergé. What more can you want out of a budget-busting, performance-capture CG 3-D spectacular (which, fingers crossed, will launch a trilogy)? Critics were mighty impressed with what they saw at a European press screening this month, praising the film’s scope, action and realistic-yet-stylized animation. One French writer even said the movie might be Spielberg’s masterpiece!
Cons: Any time a beloved character is dropped into a new medium, there will be grumbling. We heard it with the Smurfs. We heard it with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Don’t even get us started on what we heard about Garfield, OK? Some will be turned off no matter what! Others are still debating over the fact that performance capture technology should not really be judged in the same category as totally animated movies.


Alois Nebel


Studio: Negativ in assoc. with Czech TV, Tobogang, Pallas Film
Director: Tomás Lunák
Release Date: TBA
Pros: Widely hailed as one of the most striking films of the year, this dramatic rotoscoped effort is based on the comic trilogy by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromír 99 about a Czech train dispatcher living in a small village in the 1980s who begins to suffer hallucinations linked to the post WWII expulsion of Germans from the country. Czech Rep. has even tossed this hat into the Best Foreign Language Film ring—if nominated, it will be the first toon in that category since 2008’s Waltz with Bashir.
Cons: While the artistry and atmosphere of Alois are not lacking in praise, critics have pointed out that the film may be too particularly Czech—too specific to the country’s history and a central European world view. Academy members might be hard pressed to truly identify with this dramatic work.


Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked


Studio: Fox
Director: Mike Mitchell
Release Date: December 16
Pros: The new CG/live-action hybrid adventure finds the Chipmunks (and the Chipettes) stranded on a not-so-deserted isle after a cruise ship mishap. Mitchell, the director of Shrek Forever After, gets to exercise his comedy muscles with Jason Lee as Dave Seville and Arrested Development‘s David Cross in this third installment
Cons: The Chipmunks films have done quite well for themselves at the box office, so rest assured that some of your friends (especially the ones with tots in tow) will be psyched for this holiday release—but so far critics haven’t been too kind to the little rodents. And there is the eternal question of whether hybrid flicks should qualify as animated features.


Arthur Christmas


Studios: Aardman/Sony
Directors: Sarah Smith; co-director Barry Cook
Release Date: November 23
Pros: We don’t know any toon fans who don’t squeal with glee at the announcement of a new Aardman project, and those in the know are curious how to see how their first effort under their new agreement with Sony turns out. The 3-D CG, sci-fi holiday story stars James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen.
Cons: Please forgive us, O Grand Creators of Wallace & Gromit, but it’s gotta be said: A Christmas flick (or any holiday film) may be a tough sell for the older Academy voters, and truth be told, die-hard Aardman fans seem to be more excited about next spring’s real stop-motion movie, The Pirates! Band of Misits. If memory serves, Aardman’s last CG-animated movie Flushed Away didn’t take the big Oscar home either.


Cars 2


Studio: Disney-Pixar
Director: John Lasseter; co-director Brad Lewis
Release Date: June 24
Box Office to Date: $551 million [$190 million]
Pros: Disney-Pixar has had an unadulterated four-year run of claiming the Best Feature prize, and the second Cars outing hit the right notes at the box office thanks to the popularity of the characters, globe-trotting (driving?) storyline and impeccable as ever animation.
Cons: Critics were somewhat disappointed by the sequel, noting that the heartfelt emotion and animated artistry that’s come to be expected of Pixar flicks was overwhelmed by the go-go action. While it had plenty of enthusiastic fans, it seems doubtful that this will be the Disney-Pixar offering to cross the finish line this year.


A Cat in Paris


Studios: Folimage/France 3/Rhône-Alpes/GKIDS
Directors: Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
Release Date: TBA
Box Office to Date: $1.2 million [France]
Pros: This graphically distinct 2D tale of a Parisian cat whose double lives puts his owner in peril when the girl decides to follow him on his night-time adventures has won over critics and festival audiences the world over. Long-time collaborators Gagnol and Felicioli have been honored with nominations at the European Film and César Awards—the Oscar nod can’t be much of a stretch!
Cons: With a release date yet to be set, Cat might get caught up in the clutter of late-season entrants vying for qualifying runs for a shot at Oscar glory. For an indie film from a foreign producer, the frantic pace might keep Academy members from savoring this offering enough to remember it come ballot time. At the least, it will have to out-do Spanish production Chico & Rita for the token foreign nomination slot.


Chico & Rita


Studios: Magic Light Pictures/Luma Films/GKIDS
Directors: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
Release Date: TBA
Pros: This expertly crafted digital 2D film won over critics with its emotional story line, artisanal attention to detail in the locales and eras it spans and impeccable music laced with the rhythms of Cuba and free-wheeling jazz notes. It even took home the Goya Award for Best Animated Film this year.
Cons: While the cream of the foreign-produced indie crop is usually honored with a nomination come Oscar season, we have yet to see one take home the statuette. Chico may sadly join the ranks of The Illusionist, Persepolis, The Secret of Kells and other beautiful films that went home empty-handed.


Gnomeo & Juliet


Studios:
Starz/Touchstone
Director: Kelly Asbury
Release Date: February 11
Box Office to Date: $190 million [$100 million domestic]
Pros: Disney’s “sleeper hit” of the year shows its toon pedigree, with Starz animation deftly sculpting the film under Asbury (Shrek 2). The film ranked well its opening weekend, and you can’t beat a soundtrack featuring an Elton John (who served as producer) and Lady Gaga duet.
Cons: While a fun romp and good family fare, critics found the film a bit too reliant on its gimmick. However, many found the central romance quite charming in a “You can tell everybody this is your song” kind of a way.


Happy Feet Two


Studios: Dr. D/Warner Bros.
Director: George Miller
Release Date: November 18
Pros: Who doesn’t love penguins? Especially plucky, adorable little ones that find a way to solve their problems through the magic of dance? Miller (who directed Oscar-winning Happy Feet as well) has a great cast lined up for this 3-D adventure—returning stars Elijah Wood and Robin Williams, plus Carlos Alazraqui, Jeffrey Garcia, Hugo Weaving, Sofia Vergara, Pink, even Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as (doubtlessly dreamy) krill.
Cons: Lightning rarely strikes twice at the Best Animated Feature racetrack. Perhaps the penguin crew will give Rio‘s parrots something to squawk about—or this encore performance might leave audiences disenchanted like most of the year’s sequel offerings. We’ll have to wait for the Holiday Season box office buzz to know!


Hoodwinked Too!: Hood Vs. Evil


Studio: Weinstein Co.
Director: Mike Disa
Release Date: April 29
Box Office to Date: $16.9 million [$10.1 million]
Pros: The sequel to 2005’s CG fairy tale spoof upped the animation ante with a broader world and more awesome action (in 3-D!) that paid tribute to top blockbusters from the live-action world. Hayden Panettiere lead a top notch cast—Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, Joan Cusack, Martin Short, Brad Garrett, Cheech & Chong…the list goes on.
Cons: Despite pushing the action/animation envelope, most critics felt the sequel sacrificed the charm of the original outing. In the crowded nominations race, Red and her crew will probably sit this one out on the indie toon bench.


Kung Fu Panda 2


Studio: DreamWorks/Paramount
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Release Date: May 26
Box Office to Date: $663 million [$165 million]
Pros: Technology advances (and stereo 3-D) helped expand the magical ancient Chinese world of Po the panda and his Furious Five cohorts, and the film’s sweeping animated scale won nods of approval as did the star-powered voice cast (lead by Jack Black) and slightly dark tones attributed to exec producer Guillermo del Toro’s influence. Oh, and it’s the 49th highest grossing film of all time and top grossing woman-directed film!
Cons: While Po and his kung fu crew have a loyal fan base, the Academy is notoriously averse to giving the top honor to a sequel, tending to favor break-out original stories. Panda might have to wait for fond farewell Award a la Toy Story 3.


Mars Needs Moms


Studios: ImageMovers/Disney
Director: Simon Wells
Release Date: March 11
Box Office to Date: $38.9 million [$21.4 million]
Pros: Wells (The Time Machine, The Prince of Egypt) had a well honed cast to work with—Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dee Bradley Baker, etc.—and used them well along with the digital might of producer Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers studio to bring Berkeley Breathed’s popular book to life. Not to mention a $150 million budget.
Cons: While many praised the cast performances, the film’s critical reception was largely, well, critical. Most felt the story had been neglected in favor of the 3-D performance-capture spectacle—which tipped too closely to the “uncanny valley” for some tastes. The disappointing BO performance sounded the death knell for ImageMovers, so don’t hold your breath for Polar Express 2 either.


Puss in Boots


Studios: DreamWorks/Paramount
Director: Chris Miller
Release Date: October 28
Pros: Antonio Banderas returns as the swashbuckling feline who, quite frankly, stole the show in Shrek 2. Giving the character his own vehicle to explore his roguish back story with a fresh look (in 3-D), new friends and foes and some sizzling Latin flair may be enough to perk up the Academy’s whiskers.
Cons: The franchise has been well represented at the Oscars, with Shrek winning in 2001 and its sequel nominated in 2004. Puss will have to really stand out from its mother-films for the Academy to grant one of its coveted nomination spots—especially with yet more Shrek films in the works.


Rango


Studios: ILM/Paramount
Director: Gore Verbinski
Release Date: March 4
Box Office to Date: $243 million [$123 million]
Pros: ILM’s first feature animation outing rightly wowed critics and audiences with its rich (if gritty) look, A-list cast and sly nods to classic Westerns. Johnny Depp proved his chops playing the titular lizard and earned a Teen Choice Award for his efforts—and teenagers know everything.
Cons: Some audiences (and critics) didn’t know what to make of a cartoon animal film in which few characters are fluffy and almost none are adorable. While a strong premiere effort, Verbinski’s cowboy homage might be swept aside in favor of franchise flicks.


Rio


Studios: Blue Sky/Fox
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Release Date: April 15
Box Office to Date: $484 million [$144 million]
Pros: The bright colors, festive sounds and sights of Carnival dazzled audiences and critics, who praised the animation and catchy music influenced by the film’s South American setting. The Blue Sky crew is old hat at creating visually enchanting family adventures, and this latest effort places another feather firmly in that cap.
Cons: As so often befalls those contenders not produced by Pixar, it seems the loudest complaint about the Fox flick is that it … isn’t from Pixar. Like a fussy child tasting an exotic dish, will the Academy spit this one out and demand a familiar flavor?


The Smurfs


Studio: Sony
Director: Raja Gosnell
Release Date: July 29
Box Office to Date: $533 million [$139 million]
Pros: Comedy vets Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria lead a celeb-packed cast which includes Jonathan Winters, Fred Armisen, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, Jeff Foxworthy, Kenan Thompson, Paul Reubens—and even pop star Katy Perry and Wolfgang Puck lend their voices to spunky Smurfs. The magic-meets-Manhattan story offered something for everyone, and won big at the box office.
Cons: Is it really an animated film? Did we love the film, or just seeing those cute little blue dudes on the big screen? Can a film starring Katy Perry ever truly deserve an Oscar? The debate rages on. While the bouncing baby crowd came out in droves to see it, a film that garners reviews like “not torturous” and “surprisingly tolerable” isn’t exactly a strong bet.


Winnie the Pooh


Studio: Disney
Directors: Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall
Release Date: July 15
Box Office to Date: $33.2 million [$26.7 million]
Pros: Viewers raved about the gentle, nostalgic charm of this film, and applauded Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation lovingly crafted by Disney vet Burny Mattinson, who lead a team of top artists as key animator. The sweet family fare was well received and made for a very refreshing summer treat.

Cons:
While Pooh was a calm stroll down memory lane for so many, the soft story that so perfectly matched the soft animators’ touch might lack the necessary “edge” that separates a good film from an Oscar-worthy film—but a nomination nod would still be fitting.


Wrinkles (Arrugas)


Studio: Perro Verde Films
Director: Ignacio Ferreras
Release Date: TBA
Pros: Another brilliant animated take on a gripping graphic novel! This one is based on the tale by Paco Roca about the friendship between two elderly men living in a retirement home, one of whom is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Perro Verde has delivered a moving, poignant exploration of a very difficult topic and the film has been well received by festival audiences around the world.
Cons: Wrinkles faces stiff competition from another Spanish production, Chico & Rita, to nab a coveted nomination spot. One can never say how far the Academy will go in wanting to acknowledge more serious animated stories. It could be the difficult subject matter pushes this film to the finish line, or Oscar might prefer to go home with a pair of doomed jazz-loving lovers.

Animated Shorts


December 1, 2011 by Ramin Zahed

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 10 animated short films will advance in the voting process for the 84th Academy Awards. Forty-four projects had originally qualified in the category.

The 10 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production company:

Dimanche/Sunday Dimanche/SundayPatrick Doyon, director (National Film Board of Canada)
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreWilliam Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, directors (Moonbot Studios LA, LLC)
I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat I Tawt I Taw a Puddy TatMatthew O’Callaghan, director and Sam Register, executive producer (Warner Bros. Animation Inc.)
La Luna La LunaEnrico Casarosa, director (Pixar Animation Studios)
Luminaris LuminarisJuan Pablo Zaramella, director (JPZtudio)
Magic Piano Magic PianoMartin Clapp, director and Hugh Welchman, producer (BreakThru Films)
A Morning Stroll A Morning StrollGrant Orchard, director and Sue Goffe, producer (Studio AKA)
Paths of Hate Paths of HateDamian Nenow, director (Platige Image
Specky Four-Eyes Specky Four-EyesJean-Claude Rozec, director and Mathieu Courtois, producer (Vivement Lundi!)
Wild Life Wild LifeAmanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, directors (National Film Board of Canada)

The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee viewed all the eligible entries for the preliminary round of voting in screenings held in New York and Los Angeles. Short Films and Feature Animation Branch members will now select three to five nominees from among the 10 titles on the shortlist. Branch screenings will be held in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in January 2012.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by the ABC Television Network.


November 15, 2011 by Ramin Zahed

Last weekend, the Academy screened the 45 projects that were submitted for Best Animated Shorts consideration. Members of the Shorts and Animation branch of the Academy will vote for the 10 titles to be included on the short list and we will finally learn about the final five nominees with the rest of the contenders on Jan. 24.

Here is the list of the submitted shorts, which is a healthy mix of shorts produced by studios such as Disney, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation and Warner Bros., international entries from Studio AKA, Platige Image, BreakThru Films, Human Ark, Axis Animation, National Film Board of Canada and submissions from indie animators such as David Levy, David Chai and Koji Yamamura:

  • A Morning Stroll by Grant Orchard (Studio AKA)
  • A Shadow of Blue by Carlos Lascano
  • Birdboy by Alberto Vasquez (Abrikim Studio)
  • Chopin’s Drawings by Dorota Kobiela (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Correspondence by Zach Hyer (Pratt)
  • Daisy Cutter by Enrique Garcia and Rubin Salazar (Silverspace)
  • Dimanche / Sunday by Patrick Doyon (NFB)
  • El Salon Mexico by Paul Glickman and Tamarind King
  • Enrique Wrecks the World by David Chai
  • Ente Tod Und Tulipe (Duck Death and the Tulip) by Matthias Bruhn (Richard Lutterbeck – Trickstudio)
  • Fat Hamster by Adam Wyrwas (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Grandpa Looked Like William Powell by David Levy
  • Hamster Heaven by Paul Bolger (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat by Matt O’Callaghan (Warner Bros.)
  • I Was the Child of Holocaust Survivors by Anne Marie Fleming (NFB)
  • Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest by Kevin Sean Michaels USA
  • Kahanikar by Nandita Jain (National Film and Television School) England
  • La Luna by Enrico Casarosa (Pixar)
  • Little Postman by Dorota Kobiela (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Luminaris by Juan Pablo Zaramella (JPZaramella Studios)
  • Luna by Donna Brockopp (Rainmaker) Canada
  • Maska by Timothy and Stephen Quay (Sem-ma-for) Poland
  • Muybridge’s Strings by Koji Yamamura
  • My Hometown by Jerry Levitan, Written and Narrated by Yoko Ono (Eggplant)
  • Night Island by Salvador Maldonado (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Nullarbor by Alister Lockhart
  • Papa’s Boy by Leevi Lemmetty (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Paths of Hate by Damien Nenow (Platige Image) Poland
  • Romance by George Schwizgebel (NFB & Studio GDS)
  • Specky Four-Eyes by Jean Claude Rozec (Vivement Lundi)
  • Spirits of the Piano by Magdalena Osinska (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • Thank You by Pendleton Ward and Thomas Herpich (Produced by Cartoon Network Studios in partnership with Frederator)
  • The Ballad of Nessie by Stevie Wermers (Walt Disney Studios)
  • The External World by David O’ Reilly
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (Moonbot Studios)
  • The Gloaming by Nobrain (Autour De Minuit) France
  • The Lost Town of Switez by Kamil Polak (Human Ark) Poland
  • The Magic Piano by Martin Clapp (BreakThru Films) Poland
  • The Monster of Nix by Rosto
  • The Renter by Jason Carpenter (CalArts)
  • The Smurf’s A Christmas Carol by Troy Quane (Sony Pictures Animation)
  • The Tannery by Iain Gardner (Axis Animation)
  • The Vermeers by Tal S. Shamir
  • Vincenta by Samuel Orti Marti
  • Wild Life by Amanda Forbis & Wendy Tilby (NFB)

Although the 45 shorts which have been qualified for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced already, this is a list we compiled from all the projects that have won awards at festivals around the world this year.


Big Bang Big Boom


Director: Blu [Italy]
Synopsis: Argentine artist Blu’s trademark stop-motion graffiti technique depicts an “unscientific” perspective on the beginning, evolution and probable end of life.
Qualifying Win: Special Jury Award (Annecy Festival Int’l du Cinéma d’Animation)


Bottle


Director: Kirsten Lepore (U.S.)
Synopsis: Shot on location, Lepore’s latest stop-motion effort tells the bittersweet story of two characters—a lump of sand and a pile of snow—who form a transoceanic friendship trading objects in a bottle.
Qualifying Wins: Best Animated Short (Florida Film Festival); Sparky Award for Best Animated Short (Slamdance Film Festival)


Brick Novax’s Diary, Pt. 1 & 2


Director: Matt Piedmont [U.S.]
Synopsis: The first two parts of Piedmont’s four-parter puppet miniseries for HBO’s Funny or Die Presents find Brick Novax preserving his tales of adventure to secure his reputation as the coolest guy in the world.
Qualifying Win: Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking (Sundance Film Festival)


La Bruxa


Director: Pedro Solís García [Spain]
Synopsis: In 3D artist García’s directorial debut, an old witch searches for love at any cost.
Qualifying Win: Goya Award for Best Short Animation (Academia de las Artes y Ciencias Cinematograficas de España)


Correspondence


Director: Zach Hyer [Pratt Inst., NY]
Synopsis: A CG-animated tale set in an undefined war, the film explores issues of power abuse and control as the main character risks his life for a frivolous cause.
Qualifying Win: Student Academy Award – Gold Medal (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences)


Dragonboy


Directors: Bernardo Warman, Shaofu Zhang, Lisa Allen [Academy of Art Univ., CA]
Synopsis: An epic battle for love and honor unfolds as three children become a princess, knight and dragon in their school play.
Qualifying Win: Student Academy Award – Gold Medal (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences)


The Eagleman Stag


Director: Michael Please (U.K.)
Synopsis: This darkly comic stop-motion piece explores a man’s obsession with the quickening of time that faces us as we age, and his attempts to counter this effect.
Qualifying Wins: Best Short Animation (British Academy of Film and Television Arts); Best Animated Short Film (Los Angeles Film Festival); Grand Jury Prize – Animation (Seattle Int’l Film Festival)


Enrique Wrecks the World


Director: David Chai [U.S.]
Synopsis: Chai, an assistant professor at San Jose State University, lends a refreshingly hand-crafted feel to his 2D short in which Enrique learns that “actions speak louder than birds.”
Qualifying Win: First Place – Animation (USA Film Festival)


The External World


Director: David O’Reilly [Ireland/Germany/U.S.]
Synopsis: A menagerie of characters in a series of bizarre vignettes are woven together in this trippy CG critique of life and its inherent futility. At least, that’s our best guess.
Qualifying Wins: Yoram Gross Award for Best Animation (FlickerFest); Best Short Animation (Guanajuato Int’l Film Festival); Golden Gate Award – Animated Short (San Francisco Int’l Film Festival); Grand Prix – Int’l Competition (Stuttgart Int’l Animation Festival)


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore


Directors: William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg (U.S.)
Synopsis: After a violent storm carries off his home, Mr. Morris Lessmore discovers a magical library full of very animated volumes in this CG charmer.
Qualifying Wins: Best Animated Short (Cinequest Film Festival); Best Animated Short Film (Cleveland Int’l Film Festival); Best of Show (SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival)


Hand Soap


Director: Kei Oyama [Japan]
Synopsis: An adolescent boy’s insecurity, body obsession and ill-at-ease family are reflected in details and objects that occasionally take on a life of their own.
Qualifying Win: Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film (Ann Arbor Film Festival)


Kahānikār (The Storyteller)


Director: Nandita Jain [U.K.]
Synopsis: Based on a myth from Southern India, the film explores Nirmala’s relationship with her grandfather, who struggles to recall the details of her favorite story, leading her to take on the role of storyteller.
Qualifying Win: Best Animation (LA Shorts Fest)


Lipsett Diaries (Les Journaux de Lipsett)


Director: Theodore Ushev [Canada]
Synopsis: The haunting hand-painted film explores the troubled life of Canadian experimental animator Arthur Lipsett, who committed suicide in 1986.
Qualifying Win: Genie Award for Best Animated Short (Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television)


The Little Boy and the Beast


Directors: Johannes Weiland, Uwe Heidschötter
Synopsis: In this sweet CG animated short from Studio Soi, a young boy deals with the tribulations of having one’s mother suddenly transformed into a monster. The project was commissioned by German kids channel KI.KA.
Qualifying Win: Special Jury Award – Animation (New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival)


The Lost Town of Switez


Director: Kamil Polak [Poland/Canada]
Synopsis: Inspired by art of the Middle Ages and 19th century Slavonic paintings, this epic tale of a man’s journey to heroism was crafted with a unique blend of CG techniques and traditional animation in oils.
Qualifying Win: Best Animation (Palm Springs Int’l Shortfest)


Marcel the Shell with Shoes On


Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp [U.S.]
Synopsis: Equal parts adorable and semi-tragic, this stop-motion short takes us into the world of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (voiced by co-writer and former SNL member Jenny Slate) as he shares facts about his tiny existence.
Qualifying Win: Grand Prize Short (New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival)


Moxie


Director: Stephen Irwin [U.K.]
Synopsis: Irwin’s trademark smudgy, Noir-ish digital/traditional 2D technique brings us the tale of a pyromaniac bear who misses his mother.
Qualifying Win: Grand Prize for Best Independent Short Animation (Ottawa Int’l Animation Festival)


Nullarbor


Director: Alister Lockhart; co-director Patrick Sarell [Australia]
Synopsis: This CG tale from Aussie outfit The LampShade Collective packs the stresses of road rage, nicotine withdrawal and generational conflict into a journey along Australia’s longest, straightest desert road.
Qualifying Wins: Holmesglen Award for Best Animation Short Film (Melbourne Int’l Film Festival); Yoram Gross Animation Award (Sydney Film Festival)


Pixels


Director: Patrick Jean [France]
Synopsis: Old-school videogame characters wreak CG havoc on live footage of New York in this techno-retro animation and fx showpiece.
Qualifying Win: Le Cristal d’Annecy (Annecy Festival Int’l du Cinéma d’Animation)


The Renter


Director: Jason Carpenter
Synopsis: Carpenter’s digital 2D tale draws from his childhood daycare experiences, centering on a young boy left at his grandmother’s house where a strange man rents a room.
Qualifying Win: Best Animated Short (Atlanta Film Festival)


Something Left, Something Taken


Directors: Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata [U.S.]
Synopsis: This dark comedy from Porter/Kuwahata’s Tiny Inventions mixed-media animation team documents a vacationing couple’s chance encounter with a man they believe to be the Zodiac Killer.
Qualifying Win: Best Animated Short (Nashville Film Festival)


Specky Four-Eyes


Director: Jean-Claude Rozec [France]
Synopsis: When little Arnaud learns he has to wear a pair of hideous, painful glasses, he find he much prefers the vague world of his nearsightedness, populated with fanciful creatures from his imagination.
Qualifying Win: Best Animation (Aspen Shortsfest)


The Tannery


Director: Iain Gardner (U.K.)
Synopsis: When Fox encounters the ghost of a rabbit, they develop an usual relationship. But when a Hunter prepares a pelt for market, and Fox learns of his connection to The Tannery.
Qualifying Win: Best Animated Short (Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival)


The Wonder Hospital


Director: Beomsik Shimbe Shim [S. Korea/U.S.]
Synopsis: A blend of CG animation and puppetry weave the surreal tale of a mysterious hospital where a girl’s desire for beauty sends her chasing around the hospital only to find an irreversible end.
Qualifying Win: Best Animated Short (South By South West)


Three for the Road

In addition to the qualifying festival winners profiled in this issue, the following three studio heavyweights are also likely to show up on the Oscar short list this year:


La Luna


Director: Enrico Casarosa
Synopsis: A young boy discovers his family’s unusual line of work in this wonderful short directed by Pixar’s gifted head of story.


The Ballad of Nessie


Directors: Stevie Wermers-Skelton, Kevin Deters
Synopsis: The legendary Loch Ness Monster and his best friend McQuack the Duck fight an evil land developer in this 2D Disney short.


I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat


Director: Matthew O’Callaghan
Synopsis: Using recordings by the legendary Mel Blanc, this new Looney Tunes short gives us a 3-D, CG take on the battle between Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat. Granny is voiced by the amazing June Foray.

The Visual Effects Race


Coming Soon!

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