List of Best Animated Film Academy Nominations
An anthropomorphic wooden boy and an anthropomorphic red panda, a charming shell with shoes and a charming feline with boots – this group of eccentric characters colored our screens in 2022 and have now made their way to nominate their respective films for the prestigious Oscars this year. Announced last week, the Academy nominations for Best Animated Feature have a particularly strong roster of contenders.
As expected, Disney-Pixar scored a nomination with their Turning Red (released on Disney+), although Disney’s other two projects, Light Year and Strange World, failed to score this awards season. A24 (which has already won numerous accolades with its smash hit, Everything Everywhere All At Once) marked its foray into animation with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, a delightful stop-motion treat. Netflix replicated Disney’s legacy this year earning not one but two nominations, one for their swashbuckling adventure The Sea Beast and the other for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. The dark horse this year was Puss in Boots from DreamWorks: The Last Wish, the sequel to the saga of the beloved feline from the Shrek universe. Initially creating little buzz, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish became a critical darling and a box office hit, setting DreamWorks Animations back on track as pioneers of dynamic storytelling.
A solid set of nominees – each film was a delight for this reviewer and made this list particularly difficult to rank. Nonetheless, I rank these five films here and make my humble prediction as to which film would win the coveted prize!
5. Beast from the Sea (Netflix)
Netflix’s most successful animated film to date, The Sea Beast, is a beautifully animated seafaring adventure that’s best described as Pirates of the Caribbean meets How to Train Your Dragon. Directed by Chris Williams (Moana, Bolt), The Sea Beast wins every moment of its two-hour runtime, starting with a gripping sea monster attack scene that’s instantly reminiscent of Dead Man’s Chest.
The film follows Captain Crow (an awesome Jared Harris!), a hunter who directs his invincible ship Inevitable to kill a mythical red monster, known only as “The Red Bluster”. He is accompanied by a valiant crew, including Crow’s disciple, Jacob (Karl Urban). But when their hunting expedition is hampered by a precocious girl, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), all hell breaks loose. As Crow becomes increasingly worried about hunting the beast, Jacob begins to rethink his actions as he spends more time with Maisie.
Williams continues her streak of capturing sea life with dynamism while continuing her legacy to pave the way for much-needed representation with a black protagonist in the form of Maisie. The film also has Foucauldian insight into how the creation of knowledge by the most powerful shapes our relationship with the present and the future. Despite this, the plot features a familiar rhythm that was already covered a decade ago by How to Train Your Dragon, and Williams somewhat repeats Moana’s message of harmony with the natural world. If only he had strayed a bit from the standard tropes, he definitely would have been higher on this list. Still, those looking for a lively sea adventure need look no further, as The Sea Beast delivers much of the genre’s thrills in one big message. Plus, HTTUD’s Toothless has a new cuteness contest with the movie’s giant red monster.
4. Going Red (Disney/Pixar)
Speaking of cute red monsters, Pixar Animations continued its streak of excellence with Turning Red, the studio’s first film released in 2022. Directed by Domee Shi, the film marked a breath of fresh air in pioneering the portrayal of the Asian diaspora in front of and behind the camera while simultaneously being a bold thematic element.
Set in Toronto’s Chinatown, the film follows Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a gifted nerdy navigating her new teenage years while doing her best to subscribe to parental expectations. But when a family curse turns her into a giant, fluffy red panda, Mei finds her world turned upside down. Little does Mei know that this curse might actually be a blessing in disguise and help show her the true path to being herself.
Domee Shi, who directed the Oscar-winning short film Bao (2018), continues his exploration of parent-child relationships, particularly as they relate to the Asian context. Shi further distinguishes his film from other Pixar efforts by drawing inspiration from films and animated shows, which gives the film a quirky kinetic aesthetic. Turning Red also happens to be the studio’s most realistic coming-of-age drama (despite a fantastic red panda plot!), discussing puberty, menstruation, and generational conflict with confidence. While Pixar’s Luca only hinted at the weird undertone of the film, Turning Red tackles topics considered taboo for a children’s movie. Even though the film’s overloaded finale might feel a bit bloated, Turning Red is nonetheless a breath of fresh air for Pixar and a highlight for the remarkable Shi.
3. Marcel the shell with shoes (A24)
Director Dean Fleischer Camp has taken the beloved talking shell of his YouTube shorts and turned it into a feature-length mockumentary that’s as adorable as it is heartbreaking. Dean plays a version of himself, an amateur documentary filmmaker filming in an Airbnb after a divorce. There, he soon meets Marcel (incredibly voiced by Jenny Slate), an inch-tall talking shell who wears adorable shoes. Dean befriends the talkative shell and her grandmother, Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). As he films Marcel’s wonderful life and uploads these adorable bits to the internet, Dean learns Marcel’s tragic story and important lessons about family, love and change.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes combines live action with stop-motion animation to deliver a quiet yet highly imaginative film. Seeing the world through Marcel’s tiny eyes, the film makes the most of that vantage point to turn the mundane into something oddly fascinating (think Toy Story or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). However, the film doesn’t fully cling to the lovable character of Marcel and gradually turns into a deep meditation on loss and the change it entails. Its existential probing isn’t quite as deep as other adult animated features like Anomalisa (2015), but it’s the sheer simplicity of its message that makes Marcel a standout entry. The mockumentary also touches on the issue of documentary filmmaking and the binary subject-filmmaker perception of the medium, but does not dwell any deeper into this investigation.
While all of the other animated nominees rely on the energy and fast pace of the medium, Marcel is decidedly quiet, making it one of the most heartwarming movies you’ll see this year.
2. Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro (Netflix)
If you thought Walt Disney’s 1940 classic Pinocchio with its underlying themes of slavery, child abduction and grooming was one of the darkest animated films, wait until you see the Guillermo del Toro’s reimagining of the beloved fairy tale. del Toro sets the fable of the talking wooden boy in fascist-era Italy to deliver a remarkable stop-motion odyssey that both adapts and subverts the original story. In the film, Pinocchio (voiced by Greggory Mann), a puppet sculpted by a grieving carpenter, Geppetto (David Bradley), is driven by a peculiar forest spirit. However, a naïve Pinocchio soon finds himself thrust into a world of temptation and must make his decisions wisely if he wants to impress his father. But it’s not easy in fascist-era Italy, where difference is not tolerated and conformity is expected.
Co-directed by Mark Gustafson, the stop-motion animated film is clearly a labor of love for its creators, having taken several years to complete. The themes of deviance, war and belonging, which have often colored the work of the author, return in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio but with the intelligence that one expects from the master. Deeply human in spirit and furiously anti-war, this harrowing adaptation is definitely a glorious addition to Guillermo del Toro’s filmography.
1. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (DreamWorks Animation)
To be honest, nobody asked for a sequel to Puss in Boots (2011), a spin-off from the Shrek franchise. While the underrated 2011 film was a clever western about the iconic outlaw, it quickly faded from public memory and no one batted an eyelid when the sequel was announced. But here we are! Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a wildly inventive adventure that is one of the best films of the year. In the film, Puss in Boots (a fantastic voice work by Antonio Banderas) realizes that he has lost eight of his nine cat lives and must travel to an enchanted forest to locate an answering star. the wishes. In this chase, he’s joined by his old love, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault reprising her role from the 2011 film) and an eccentric therapy dog (show stealer Harvey Guillén). The trio must race against time as they are pursued by a ruthless band of fairy tale characters and a mysterious, haunting wolf who wants to kill Puss.
While the first film cemented Puss in Boots’ status as a heroic yet rather pompous outlaw, The Second Wish deconstructs the mythical character to give our hero a deadly quality. Director Joel Crawford further infuses his film with so many distinct animation styles and settings that every frame in this sequel is a sight to behold. It’s also a tightly scripted film featuring a host of memorable characters voiced by actors like Banderas, Hayek, Olivia Coleman, Florence Pugh, Ray Winstone, John Mulaney, and most importantly, Wagner Moura as the mysterious wolf.
It’s one of the boldest and most joyful animated films of the decade and my favorite pick among the nominations.
Which film would win the Golden Statue?
Based on my personal ranking, I would really like to see Puss in Boots: The Last Wish win the Oscar. But judging by the season of this award, it’s highly likely that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio will win the prize. The film has already won awards at the Golden Globes (where we also heard del Toro’s remarkable speech that “animation is cinema”) and also at the Critics Choice Awards. The Academy is expected to continue in the footsteps of its predecessors and award the trophy to the stop-motion reimagining of the classic fairy tale. Considering only one stop-motion film has ever received the Oscar, this would be a significant win for the medium (not to mention the film is incredibly deserving). If anything upsets this victory, I just hope it’s our beloved outlaw feline from DreamWorks Animation.