The past year was a good year for animated films. Epic, Monsters University, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 were all fine entertainment, reasonably well liked by critics and financially successful. None of them made the cut for Oscar nominations.
Of the films that did make it on the Oscar ballot I'm delighted to say that there are two excellent, foreign, hand-drawn animations that are competing with the computer-animated behemoths from Disney, Universal, and DreamWorks. Although one of those hand-drawn films is a behemoth in its own right, the other is a small thoroughly charming story that you should absolutely see but has little chance of winning.
Here is a countdown of the nominees, in order of likeliness of winning.
5. Ernest & Celestine
All ages, recommended for children over 6
Ernest & Celestine is a French animated feature about a mouse who dreams of one day meeting a bear and the unlikely friendship that develops when her dream comes true. The hand-painted animation, which is evocative of a children’s book illustration brought to life, is beautiful, fun and a breath of fresh air in a medium dominated by computer animation.
Ernest & Celestine is a worthy film to win the Oscar but, unfortunately, it is an extremely dark horse in what is becoming a big-money race (see The Croods). Regardless of the outcome you should seek it out and share it with your family.
4. Despicable Me 2
Rated PG, recommended for ages 6 and up
Arch villain Gru has given up his life of crime to raise his three adopted girls and finds himself recruited by the good guys. I don't know why I'm telling you this; you've already seen it.
I am not a fan of the first Despicable Me but I found this one to be fine. It leans heavily on the Minions, the main reason to see a Despicable Me movie. Look for Despicable Me 3 to be pretty much nothing but Minions. Popular as it is with audiences I don't think it's going to be able to beat the front-runners at the Oscars.
3. The Croods
Rated PG, recommended for ages 8 and up
Giant piles of money are being thrown into Oscar advertising for The Croods. If you're familiar with the background of Shakespeare in Love you'll know that when a studio dumps a truckload of cash on an Oscar campaign it can pay off.
Regardless of what you think of The Croods, it may have a good chance to win if money talks. When considering movies like Ernest & Celestine and The Wind Rises, though, it would be a shame if DreamWorks ended up buying the Oscar.
Rated PG-13, recommended for ages 13 and older
This controversial film about the engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane of World War II was going to be Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki's final film (he has since retracted this statement).
Whether or not he makes more movies Miyazaki, creator of My Neighbor Totoro, is always a force. His films are visually rich and the stories emotionally complex. If this was indeed his last film he might have taken the Oscar as a sentimental favorite.
As it is, I think this movie has the most to offer of any of the nominees in terms of visual inventiveness, engaging story and emotional impact.
Rated PG, recommended for ages 6 and older
Frozen has become a phenomenon. One indication: Theaters are now staging sing-along screenings for the legion of fans who somehow know all the words to the songs.
Even without the film's runaway success Anna was slated to join the ranks of the Disney PrincessTM franchise early last year, which guarantees it would continue to be consumed by a certain young audience and their possibly begrudging parents.
As it happens Frozen is in a position to become the first non-Pixar Disney 3D animation to win an Oscar. Considering its broad appeal and popularity it's likely it will win.