Enter the ‘Dragon 2’: How did it become the Oscar frontrunner?

Just one month ago “How to Train Your Dragon 2” didn’t look like it had a prayer to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but now it’s the overwhelming favorite. What happened?

On Jan. 10, only one of our Experts picked “Dragon” to prevail. It was in distant third place with 4 to 1 odds behind frontrunner “The Lego Movie” (backed by 19 Experts, who gave it 3 to 2 odds) and “Big Hero 6” (1 expert; 7 to 2 odds).

Then two dramatic things happened: “Dragon” slayed “Lego” at the Golden Globes on Jan. 11 and, four days later, “Lego” failed to get nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

Huh? How is that possible that “Lego” got skunked? At the outset of awards season, everything looked awesome for the Warner Bros. release that reaped a 96 score at Rotten Tomatoes and earned $247 million in the U.S. plus $211 million overseas.  “Lego” had won the animation award from the New York Film Critics Circle and was nominated by the Producers’ Guild. Everybody seemed to adore the film with that joyous spirit and can’t-stop-humming theme song.

Everybody, that is, except Oscar most voters.

“That movie’s biggest problem is that title,” one voter told me. “It makes it seem like an hour-and-a-half commercial for Lego toys or else the biggest product placement ever.”

One day after Oscar nominations came out, “Dragon” emerged as the clear prediction fave among the Experts at Gold Derby and has remained out front ever since. Soon thereafter, it swept the Annie Awards, winning Best Picture, character design, storyboarding and music. Now 20 out of our 23 experts pick it to win the Oscar, giving it 2 to 9 odds.

Clearly “Dragon” deserves to triumph according to the appraisal of film critics (92 score at RT) and moviegoers ($177 million in U.S. plus $441 million overseas). But, beyond all of that, it has a special appeal to Oscar voters, who are predominantly male (76%) and, ahem, mature (average age 63). “Dragon” tugs at their heart strings, inevitably making them recall the thrills of their own boyhoods

What boy hasn’t dreamed he could fly – and believed he could do it? What boy hasn’t had a beloved pet at his side as he faced the terrors of the real world advancing upon him as he grows up?

The genius of this film is that his pet is a fabulous monster that flies – oh, if only the boy could tame him. That happens, of course – hooray — and so much more that we can be certain that many more future installments of the movie franchise will follow. Many of them swooping down on the Oscar derby, too.



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