The complete guide to Best Animated Feature at the Oscars

Best Animated Feature holds some of the biggest surprises each year when Oscar nominations are announced. There have only been 33 nominees in the category’s nine-year history. By analyzing key voting trends, Gold Derby’s guide to the category helps you predict this year’s complicated race which could see as many as five nominees drawn from 18 contenders.

One word: Pixar

The easiest way to win? Be produced by Pixar. Six Animated Feature champs, including the last four in a row, came from this studio. One of only two losing Pixar contenders was “Cars” (2006); the other was “Monsters, Inc.” (2001). However, this year’s “Cars 2” was met with critical disapproval. It has an anemic 38% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Get nominated for more than Animated Feature

Nominations beyond the Animated Feature category almost always help. Last year’s champ “Toy Story 3” had five nods in total including Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay. In 2009, “Up” also had five nominations including Best Picture and Original Screenplay, and won for Original Score. Victors “Wall-E” (2008), “Ratatouille” (2007), “The Incredibles” (2004), “Finding Nemo” (2003), and “Shrek” (2001) were all competing in more races than their fellow nominees. Only “Cars” — cited for Best Original Song — lost while leading total nominations when “Happy Feet” overtook it.

Include an adorable animal character

Adorable creatures and critters made contenders of “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010), “Bolt” (2008), “Happy Feet” (2006), “Brother Bear” (2003), “Ice Age” (2002), and “Lilo & Stitch” (2002). The amiable ensemble of “Winnie the Pooh” stands to benefit, as do the felines of “Puss in Boots,” and precious pup of “The Adventures of Tintin.” The dancing penguins of “Happy Feet 2” are also back for more.

Don’t think America is the world

While the majority of qualifying animated films are produced by American companies, films from overseas attract voters. International nominees include “The Illusionist” (2010), “The Secret of Kells” (2009), “Persepolis” (2007), “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2005), “The Triplets of Belleville” (2003). “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005) and “Spirited Away” (2002) won. This year, the Czech “Alois Nebel,” Spanish “Chico and Rita” and “Wrinkles,” and French “A Cat in Paris” are in contention. “Arthur Christmas” is a British/American co-production.

Remember that innovation means nothing

The animation branch has shown a definite reluctance to recognize non-traditional animation. Practically every nominee has been hand-drawn or computer-animated. Four nominees have been stop-motion, including “Coraline” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2009. Rotoscoped films like Richard Linklater‘s acclaimed “Waking Life” (2001) and “A Scanner Darkly” were snubbedd. Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” 1994) pioneered motion capture technology with “The Polar Express” (2004) and used it again in “Beowulf” (2007), and “A Christmas Carol” (2009) but all three were shut out. That might hurt Steven Spielberg‘s “The Adventures of Tintin” which uses the same technology.

Have a recognizable name

While it didn’t work for Linklater or Zemeckis, having a recognizable name could help Spielberg and “Rango” helmer Gore Verbinski this year. It worked for Wes Anderson, Tim Burton and George Miller. The quirky Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”) had previously been nominated for his “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) screenplay. Burton (“Corpse Bride”) had helmed Oscar-winning successes “Batman” (1989), “Ed Wood” (1994), and “Sleepy Hollow” (1999). Miller (“Happy Feet”) had nominations for his work on “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992) and “Babe” (1995). Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars to his credit for “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and “Schindler’s List” (1993) while Verbinski’s original “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy racked up 11 Oscar bids.

Dare to be a little different

Oscar-voting animators have yet to embrace rotoscope or motion capture, but they like distinct visual styles. That helped surprise nominee “Surf’s Up” make the cut in 2007. That computer-animated film about tropical penguins had “handheld” cameras and neat touches like water droplets on the lens. The stark, black-and-white “Persepolis” and blending of hand-drawn and computer-animated styles in 2002’s “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” and “Treasure Planet” also won over the animation branch. This year’s “Puss in Boots” has showy  tracking shots that might impress.

Beware sequel fatigue

There’s a prejudice against sequels with “Toy Story 3” the only one to prevail. That presents a challenge for a solid third of this year’s eighteen qualifying titles including “Cars 2,” “Happy Feet 2,” and “Kung Fu Panda 2.” One or more of those titles could be left by the wayside.

Review the odds at the category overview, read the category handicapping and then head over to our Oscar prediction center to place your bets.


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