Wednesday, September 17, 2014

OVP: Animated Feature Film (2013)

OVP: Best Animated Feature Film (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, and Kristine Belson, The Croods
Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin, and Chris Meledandri, Despicable Me 2
Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner, Ernest & Celestine
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Peter del Vecho, Frozen
Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, The Wind Rises

My Thoughts: All right, the OVP is now briefly back to films that you've actually seen (well, three of them anyway).  After a quick dalliance with the Short films, we've got a crop of five animated films, including one of the most successful movies of all-time to tackle and so let's get to jumping.

I debated whether to start, end or shove Frozen into the middle, but in keeping with the theme of the short films, I'm going to once again start with the film you were most likely to have seen.  The tale of Anna and Elsa was a MASSIVE success for Disney (one I have a feeling even the Mouse House didn't expect would be quite so big after the decent but not gargantuan returns of Princess and the Frog and Tangled).  It's hard not to see why-the movie is a pure joy from beginning to end, with catchy numbers, female empowerment, and in a twist most adults would have seen coming (but probably scarred children for life), an evil handsome prince.  The comic timing of all of the actors involved worked perfectly (Jon Groff, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, even Josh Gad-the cast list reads like it was selected for a Pixar film with such care put into every actor onscreen, not filled with stunt voices), and it helped that they all could actually sing in a film that unabashedly loves that it's a musical.  There are certain touches here and there I would have changed (Kristoff is the only character that really expands his personality enough to match wits with a Belle or Aladdin from old school Disney where character development was more important), but overall this was one of the most gleeful experiences I had last year at the movies.

I'm going to admit right now that I don't really get the appeal of the Despicable Me films.  This movie was a MASSIVE hit as well (nearly hitting the $1 billion mark worldwide), and clearly there's a likability in the characters (particularly the Minions, who like the Penguins in Madagascar or Scrat in the Ice Age films, are operating in a whole different level of enjoyability than the rest of the movie), but the film as a whole leaves me cold.  The story notes are too predictable even for a children's film, and the plot I found a bit patronizing and offensive in a heteronormative way (isn't Gru enough for these three girls-does he have to also find a woman to complete his family?).  The movie also was too long and not particularly funny when the Minions weren't onscreen.  Overall, this seems like an odd movie for AMPAS to break its streak of not nominating the sequels to films that it didn't honor the original with a nomination.

The Croods was the other major blockbuster with a nearly $600 million take (though it’s worth noting that The Wind Rises made $130 million internationally, which is pretty damn awesome for a foreign language film, though on Saturday we’ll be discussing a foreign language film with an even greater international take that many of you probably haven’t heard of), but unlike Despicable Me 2, I have to say this film ages better in my mind.  The plot is still silly and the color palette seems like it was chosen by a four-year-old with a 64-pack of Crayolas, but the lighting is sublime (Roger Deakins, y’all), and the action sequences are riveting.  This is the sort of film that probably I would have liked better if I had seen it on the big screen (the only of these five nominees that I didn’t), as its excess would have seemed impressive rather than busy, but I didn’t and films need to be able to play well in both avenues these days.  Still, though, a better film the further you get away from it and not an unworthy nominee considering the dearth of competition.

Ernest & Celestine is another film that is made a lot better by its animation-I love the way that the drawings don’t seem complete and digitized to within an inch of its life: you’re clearly watching an animated film, and it’s almost like you’re lost in an unfinished Monet picture book.  The plot of the film is a bit disjointed and I didn’t like the dream sequences (this film doesn’t wear well in the old noggin in the same way that The Croods does, though I do remember the brilliant artwork being the best of these five films, which is saying something up against Croods and The Wind Rises).  All-in-all a worthy choice to fill out a slim five-wide field, but not as special as it was initially made out to be.

I started with Frozen and will end with The Wind Rises, the only other film of the quintet that remotely had a shot of taking the win with the Oscars (though honestly, there was no chance it would lose considering that Box Office).  The movie is one of Miyazaki’s best, in my opinion, and its message, while interesting and controversial at the time, still seems quite resonant a few months later when the knee-jerk reactions and nitpicking have subsided.  Of the five films, this is clearly the best scripted film and the most fascinating plot.  Honestly, as I’m writing this I’m not sure if I’ll give this film the award or Frozen, but there’s a lot to offer here that would make the unthinkable (skipping Olaf!) seem pretty reasonable: I love when filmmakers take a principled stand in their work while staying grounded deeply in something artistically interesting and beautiful, and that’s what Miyazaki does here by questioning the very idea of war.  It’s a really special movie, and if he truly is retiring, this is a great way to exit the stage.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes avoided all of the fuss around five nominations and stuck to three, so they went with nearly a carbon copy of Oscar (skipping the two foreign language films), with Despicable Me 2 and The Croods losing out to Frozen.  The Annie Awards usually find room for everyone, and they did here, along with Monsters University and A Letter to Momo.  Pixar was probably in sixth place, and its absence both with HFPA and AMPAS (the first time one of their films missed both) makes me curious: is Pixar just an automatic win if it gets nominated (see Brave winning when it could just as easily gone with Frankenweenie or Wreck-It Ralph), but the Academy gets super choosy when it misses critically on the gimme noimination?
Films I Would Have Nominated: I didn’t see Letter to Momo and didn’t like Monsters University, so I’m fine with this list, though I have difficulty believing that Momo wouldn’t trump Despicable Me 2 in my mind (if anyone’s seen it share your thoughts in the comments).
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar finally gave Disney a prize in the category it somehow had missed in since the start: Frozen trumped The Wind Rises.
My Choice: In 2009 I went against the grain and gave Coraline the trophy over Up….but I just cannot quite get there again.  Frozen is the most fun I had in theaters in 2013, and that has to count for something, particularly when the score and casting are so damn entertaining.  I’m going to give it the trophy by a hair’s breadth (damn it-why didn’t I figure out a way to include ties in the OVP?!?), with The Wind Rises right behind.  Coming after are Ernest, Croods, and way in the back, Despicable Me 2.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  When you get objective, is it hard to pick Frozen over The Wind Rises, or are you Team Olaf for life?  Are you part of the (clear minority) of filmgoers that doesn’t care for the Despicable Me films?  And what animated film was the overall best of 2013?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Animated Feature Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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