Oscars: Will ‘Luca’ become Pixar’s 12th animated feature winner?

With its unparalleled mixture of dazzling visuals and literate screenplays, Pixar Animation Studio remains the gold standard in feature film animation. Critics have raved and audiences have flocked to most of the 24 feature films produced by the studio since 1995. With such adulation, awards attention has understandably followed, and Pixar’s success in garnering industry honors is unrivaled by most contemporary animation studios. From the studio’s 24 features, Pixar films have been nominated for 53 Academy Awards, winning 18 Oscars along the way. What may be most impressive, however, is Pixar’s success in the category of Best Animated Feature. In the 20 years since the category was first introduced, 11 Pixar films have won that coveted award. Hoping to make it number 12 this year is Pixar’s latest entry, “Luca.”

Directed by Enrico Casarosa (who was Oscar-nominated for his 2012 animated short “La Luna”), “Luca” is a sun-filled fable set in the summer of 1959 in the Italian coastal town of Pontorosso. Coaxed by his mischievous buddy Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), shy 12 year-old Luca (“Room’s” Jacob Tremblay) sneaks away from his undersea home, and, gathering his courage, ventures into town, soon catching the eye of the intrepid Giulia (Emma Berman). Luca and Alberto, however, share a secret — when they return to the ocean, they revert to their form as sea monsters, creatures of which the townspeople are terrified.

In one sense, “Luca” marks a departure from the traditional Pixar formula. The simple fable-like quality of the film’s screenplay by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones stands in marked contrast to several of the high-concept films so associated with the studio. Reflecting that simplicity in approach, the animation style of “Luca” also marks a departure from look of many Pixar classics, eschewing the realistic approach to depicting facial features and opting instead for a more stylistic and rounded take for the characters.

As strikingly different as “Luca’s” visual style might be, its heart is still all Pixar. Like many of the studio’s best films, “Luca” speaks to the kid who feels like he doesn’t fit in and offers the important lesson that what makes you different is what makes you special. The intimate scale of the storytelling helps to make the characters’ crises and betrayals hit home even more profoundly, to the point where, as several critics have noted, tears may be shed. (It’s Pixar, after all.)

Critics have applauded “Luca,” with Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times noting, “‘Luca’ is Pixar, Italian Style — and one of the studio’s loveliest movies in years.” Peter Travers of ABC News gushed, “There’s no denying the pure enchantment of the visual, comic and subtextural dazzle in this tale.” And Leonard Maltin of leonardmaltin.com raved, “‘Luca’ doesn’t look or sound like any movie that Pixar has made before. It has a charm all its own and captures our imagination from the moment it begins. I found myself on the verge of tears in the closing moments in this wonderful, disarming film.”

In addition to its critical acclaim, “Luca” has received eight Annie Award nominations, including Best Animated Feature, and from around the country, the film has earned Best Animated Feature nominations from 24 critics groups to date. Still, the road to the Animated Feature Oscar is a challenging one this year, with potential contenders from Netflix, GKIDS, Universal and Pixar’s stablemate Disney providing “Luca” with very formidable competition. According to our readers, however, the Oscar nomination chances for “Luca” appear promising, with the film currently sitting in second place with 4/1 odds.

The previous 11 Pixar films that won Best Animated Feature Oscars were:

“Finding Nemo” (2003)
“The Incredibles” (2004)
“Ratatouille” (2007)
“WALL-E” (2008)
“Up” (2009)
“Toy Story 3” (2010)
“Brave” (2012)
“Inside Out” (2015)
“Coco” (2017)
“Toy Story 4” (2019)
“Soul” (2020)

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