Disney has won two of the last three Oscar races for Best Animated Feature and its spring hit “Zootopia” could complete the hat trick. This comic caper, set in a city of anthropomorphic animals, merits a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the eighth-highest Disney film overall. And it surpassed the $1 billion dollar mark to become the 24th highest-grossing film and fourth highest-grossing animated feature of all time. All of this success, critically and financially, makes “Zootopia” the current frontrunner in our Oscar odds, based on predictions of both our readers and experts drawn from major media. But remember “The Lego Movie.” That critical darling of the animated world was also a box-office smash and the ’guaranteed’ winner; it failed to earn a nomination.
Currently in second is “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a heartwarming story of a young boy who must find a magical suit of armor worn by his late father to defeat a vengeful spirit. This fourth feature from Laika earned rave reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes). Each of their first three stop-motion films — “Coraline” (2009), “ParaNorman” (2012) and “The Boxtrolls” (2014) — contended in this category. Could fourth time be the charm?
It is no surprise that Pixar, the pioneer of the recent resurgence in animation, has another strong contender at the Oscars this year with “Finding Dory,” which currently sits in third place. Pixar’s sequels might not be their best films (let’s forget about “Cars 2,” please) but it’s still Pixar and they are very popular with the academy, having won this race eight times, including for “Finding Nemo” in 2003. “Finding Dory,” which focuses on friendly but forgetful blue tang fish (Ellen DeGeneres) as she searches for her long-lost parents, was met with positive reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) and has recently just surpassed $1 billion world wide.
“Moana,” which has yet to be seen, sits in fourth place. An adventure comedy, the film revolves around a young woman who uses her navigational talents to sail for a fabled island, along with a legendary demigod named Maui. Their is plenty of hype for the film and expectations are high. There are plenty of big names involved as well, with Dwayne Johnson voicing Maui and Nicole Scherzinger voicing Moana’s mother, Taika Waititi (director of “What We Do in the Shadows” and the upcoming “Thor: Ragnorak”) credited as co-screenwriter and Pulitzer/Tony/Emmy-award winning Lin-Manuel Miranda (of “Hamilton” fame) composing music and songs for the picture. The filmmakers went to very detailed lengths to give the film authenticity (the tattoos featured in the movie are all hand-drawn). And if reviews match expectations then it will be a major player.
“The Red Turtle,” which premiered at Cannes, is a dialogue-free film about a castaway on a deserted tropical island populated by turtles, crabs and birds. The directorial debut of Dutch-British animator Michael Dudok de Wit, it is co-produced by Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli. The latter, which turns out brilliant anime films that earn a lot of awards attention, contended in this category last year with “When Marnie Was There.” This film could fill that slot for artsier animated fare. such as last year’s nominees “Boy and the World” and “Anomalisa.”
Of course, these are not the only five films to be in with a great chance this year. There are plenty of others to consider. “Miss Hokusai” is an episodic anime film based on a Manga series with original segments inserted between the short stories included in the film and has been with good reception. “Sing,” “Storks” and “The Secret Life of Pets” (produced by Illumination Entertainment, Warner Animation Group and Annapurna Pictures, respectively) are all popular, cutesy studio films with great casts and a solid following. Likewise for “The Angry Birds Movie,” produced by Sony Pictures Imageworks, and “Trolls,” produced by DreamWorks Animation. Seth Rogen’s “Sausage Party” could be a real challenger here and a chance to shake up this often PG category. And, Netflix’s entry “The Little Prince” is another well-made production from the online streaming service/ original-production heroes.
Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. How do you think “La La Land” will do with academy voters? Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.