These are curious days for feature animation. Netflix scaled back its plans in the arena, while two years of releases straight to Disney+ during COVID and under Bob Chapek seem to have seriously devalued the once unstoppable Disney/Pixar animation empire. Universal, though, enjoyed one of the biggest hits ever with the near $1 billion juggernaut “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and also landed the year’s second-biggest animated release with “The Bad Guys.”
Still, animation at the box office and animation in the awards race are two very different things, and it’s unlikely that Academy voters will be checking the grosses as they review the 27 qualifying films in this year’s Best Animated Feature race at the Oscars.
Those 27 include movies from big, traditional studios like Disney/Pixar, Universal’s DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros. and 20th Century (now part of Disney) – but also a handful of international productions from GKids, the indie-animation distributor that is remarkably successful at the Oscars. They include a pair of films from auteurs known more for live-action, Guillermo del Toro and Richard Linklater, and one film that a legendary stop-motion artist has been shooting in his spare time over the last 22 years.
The directors looking to return to the roster of Oscar nominees include Pixar’s Domee Shi, WB’s Jared Stern and former Disney/Pixar chief John Lasseter, now at Skydance. They also include indie animators Nora Twomey from Cartoon Saloon and Henry Selick, who left Laika and is now one of many Netflix filmmakers.
Voting in the category is done by volunteers from all branches of the Academy, not just the Academy’s Short Films and Feature Animation Branch. Each voter has been given a list of nine films as required viewing and must watch all the films on that list in order for the vote to count. But the emailed instructions do allow some leeway, reading, “Please view as much as you deem necessary to make your professional judgment as to whether or not each film is Oscar-worthy.”
The 27 eligible films in the Best Animated Feature category are one more than last year’s total but five shy of the record 32 entrants in 2020.
Here are the eligible films.
“Apollo 10 ½: A Space-Age Childhood”
“Boyhood” and “Dazed and Confused” director Richard Linklater’s film is set in Houston in the summer of 1969, and it spends as much time detailing life for a kid in that era (from TV shows to rotary phones) as it does telling the story of a fourth-grader recruited by NASA for a secret, pre-Apollo 11 moon mission. The film was shot in live action and then animated, which initially caused the Academy to rule it ineligible before reversing that decision in November.
“The Bad Guys”
The second-highest-grossing eligible film of 2022, at $250 million, is Universal’s release of DreamWorks Animation’s heist comedy featuring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina and Craig Robinson. Pierre Perifel makes his feature directorial debut in a film inspired by Aaron Blabey’s series of children’s books.
“The Bob’s Burgers Movie”
More than a decade after the animated television series “Bob’s Burgers” began its run on Fox, after two years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 20th Century Studios released Loren Bouchard’s feature spinoff from the series. Many of the TV voice actors showed up, including Kevin Kline, Aziz Ansari, Zach Galifianakis and Nick Kroll.
Originally premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in 2021, this work of indie animation from Tahir Rana and Éric Warin features the voices of Keira Knightley and Marion Cotillard. It tells the true story of Charlotte Salomon, a Jewish artist in Nazi Germany, and is based around Salomon’s creation of her adventurous and autobiographical series of paintings, “Life? or Theatre?”
“DC League of Super-Pets”
Warner Bros. went to its DC library for a superhero comedy where the superheroes include dogs, guinea pigs and turtles. Jared Stern, the co-director of “The Lego Batman Movie” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” directed and co-wrote with John Whittington, while Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart star as Superman’s pet Labrador and Batman’s pet Boxer, respectively.
One of five Netflix films in the race, this is a story about two 11-year-old boys who find themselves floating in the ocean after venturing into a deserted housing complex. The film was part of Netflix’s deal with Japanese animation company Studio Colorido.
This animated documentary about the 2002 takeover of Chinese TV stations by members of the persecuted Falun Gong movement was also Canada’s entry in the Best International Feature Film category. Jason Loftus’ film, which is based around the drawings of comic-book artist Daxiong, failed to make the shortlists in the documentary and international categories, ending its chance to score a trifecta that “Flee” accomplished last year for the first time ever.
“Goodbye, Don Glees!”
GKids, the indie animation company that has had a remarkable 13 films nominated for Oscars in as many years, has three films on the list of qualifying features. “Goodbye, Don Glees!” is a Japanese anime film about the misadventures of a trio of teenagers who as children had formed a club called the Don Glees.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”
A longtime devotee of the stop-motion format, del Toro spent more than a decade trying to get this dark version of the classic Italian story off the ground. Co-directed by stop-motion vet Mark Gustafson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”), the film was also shortlisted in the song and score categories.
The highest-profile of the GKids entries is Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa’s musical about the friendship between a deformed dancer and a blind musician. The film was a rare work of animation to receive a premiere at the Venice Film Festival, which it did in September 2021.
Writer, lecturer and documentary filmmaker Alexander Kronemer collaborated with animator Brandon Lloyd for this drama about a teenage Syrian refugee who is transported to a dream world when she finds a book of poetry by 13th-century poet Rumi.
On paper, the fifth entry in the “Toy Story” franchise that has been nominated for 11 Oscars and won four (including a Special Achievement Award), “Lightyear” isn’t really a sequel. Instead of continuing the story of Buzz Lightyear, one of the franchise’s most popular characters, it’s a sci-fi adventure that presents itself as the movie that Andy, the kid in the original “Toy Story” film, watched to become a Buzz fan to begin with.
“Little Nicholas, Happy as Can Be”
This is a French film by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre (the Oscar-nominated “I Lost My Body”) that mixes sequences from the “Le Petit Nicolas” children’s books with scenes from the life of those stories’ creators, writer René Goscinny and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé.
Former Disney Animation head John Lasseter returned to the race for the first time since he left that company in 2018 after allegations of sexual misconduct. His 2019 hiring as the head of Skydance Animation caused Paramount to pull out of its deal with Skydance, but Apple stepped in and acquired the rights to “Luck,” a Peggy Holmes-directed comedy about a perpetually unfortunate young woman who discovers the Land of Luck.
The strangest production among the contenders may well be “Mad God,” an experimental horror film from Oscar-winning visual effects artist Phil Tippett (“Jurassic Park,” “Return of the Jedi”). Tippett returned to stop-motion, the technique he’d used to create the chess game in the original “Star Wars,” for “Mad God,” which he’s been making on weekends since 1990.
“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”
In 2010, director Dean Fleischer Camp and actress-writer Jenny Slate collaborated on a series of shorts about a tiny shell named Marcel who wears, you guessed it, shoes. Twelve years later, Camp and Slate created this feature-length mockumentary about a filmmaker, Camp, who rents an Airbnb and encounters Marcel, a one-inch creature longing for family.
“Minions: The Rise of Gru”
If you’re looking at box-office numbers, the fifth entry in the “Despicable Me” franchise blows away every other animated film from 2022. The Universal/Illumination film, about an aspiring supervillain named Gru (Steve Carell), made over $939 million worldwide, more than the next four highest animated releases combined.
“My Father’s Dragon”
This fantasy film from Cartoon Saloon, Mockingbird Pictures and Netflix brings together some formidable filmmakers. Director Nora Twomey also directed “The Breadwinner,” co-directed “The Secret of Kells” and produced “Wolfwalkers,” all of them Oscar nominated; and writer Meg LeFauve is also responsible for the Oscar-winning “Inside Out.”
“New Gods: Yang Jian”
Filmmaker Ji Zhao, who has also worked as an editor on “The Grandmaster” and the 2010 “The Karate Kid,” made the second in a planned trilogy of animated films adapted from Chinese mythology with “New Gods: Yang Jian.” It is the third of the GKids entries.
In a year that has given us a bumper crop in stop-motion animation (“Pinocchio,” “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” “Mad God” and “Wendell & Wild”), the Dutch film “Oink” uses the technique to follow a 9-year-old girl who receives a pet pig as a present from her grandfather. It is the feature debut from director Mascha Halberstad.
“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”
Ricky Gervais, Michael Cera, George Takei, Michelle Yeoh and Samuel L. Jackson provide voices for this comedy adventure originally developed by Sony Pictures Animation but eventually released by Paramount. Another voice actor involved in the project? Mel Brooks, whose 1974 Western comedy “Blazing Saddles” provided the model on which this film was loosely based.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”
The second movie about Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots character is also the sixth film in the “Shrek” series, and it features that franchise’s typical use of famous voices (Banderas, Salma Hayek, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman and a scene-stealing Harvey Guillén) as mix ‘n’ match mythical characters.
“Run, Tiger Run!”
This Chinese film borrows a title from a 1984 John Woo film, adds an exclamation mark and goes back to the Ming Dynasty for the story of a young boy who trains to become a dart master in an attempt to bring back his long-missing parents.
“The Sea Beast”
A Netflix production from director Chris Williams (“Bolt,” “Big Hero 6,” “Moana”), “The Sea Beast” is set in a land where hunters take to the ocean in search of giant beasts. Karl Urban provides the voice for one of the main hunters, with Zaris-Angel Hator as a young girl who stows away on the boat.
“Strange World” is the solo directorial debut from veteran Disney Animation director Don Hall, whose past work includes being part of directing teams on “Winnie the Pooh,” “Big Hero 6,” “Moana” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid and Gabrielle Union provide voices for this sci-fi journey that draws from “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” among others. When it was released in November, much of the attention went to Disney’s first openly gay lead character and to the poor box-office performance.
Disney and Pixar have won a rather insane 14 of the 21 awards handed out in the Best Animated Feature category – 15, if you include its U.S. distribution of the Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away.” The company’s best hope this year is probably this coming-of-age story from Domee Shi in which a girl’s coming-of-age includes turning into a giant red panda when she gets upset. It’s a metaphor for adolescence, along with boy-band songs from Billie Elish and Finneas.
“Wendell & Wild”
Henry Selick takes his time between movies, with “Wendell & Wild” being only his fifth feature in a career that began with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” 30 years ago. But he’s a legend in the stop-motion world, and he delivers a characteristically and stylishly creepy horror-comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (who is also a producer).