ABE: It’s always a pleasure to talk awards with you, and I’m excited to dive in to the Animated Feature race this year. While I wish that we could have been discussing out-of-the-box choices like Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, Eternal Spring, or Little Nicholas, Happy as Can Be or even mainstream fare that for some reason didn’t click like Lightyear and The Bad Guys, there are five worthwhile nominees that did make the cut. I know that I had to seek out The Sea Beast once nominations were announced since I hadn’t yet streamed that title, while the other four didn’t come as much of a surprise. Going into this race, it feels like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is the clear favorite. But it didn’t net any other Oscar nominations, which many thought it would. Neither did any of the other nominees, however, so maybe we’re back to square one…
Before we get into which films could compete with that theoretical frontrunner, do you have a favorite from among the nominees?
CARLOS: Great to chat with you again. We usually talk about the Emmys so it’s refreshing to be discussing the Oscar contenders. And what do we have here?
Before we go on any further, I would have to confess that my excitement for this category decreased exponentially once they changed the voting process in the mid-2010s. They used to only allow the Animation Branch to vote for the nominees for this category, allowing us to have lesser-known gems like The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, Boy and the World, and My Life as a Zucchini. Now that they’ve opened the voting to all members, we have consistently seen more mainstream US fare, so the feeling of discovery is almost gone. I can only think of this year’s The Sea Beast as a surprise nominee since 2017 and it was never far outside the the realm of possibility. Or maybe I’m just being nostalgic.
Still, I am happy to report that I loved all of the nominees (to varying degrees). In each film the storytelling voice of the respective creators is in full bloom.
For the longest time, my favorite was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. But catching up with all of the nominees, I would actually have to vote for Turning Red (Domee Shi). What a thrilling and moving adventure into a journey so specific yet intensely universal. A witty coming-of-age story that doubles down on the humor while treating its themes – generational conflict, cultural displacement and assimilation, adolescent desire – with grounded maturity and sensibility. Terrific character design, music, and screenplay too.
While I am in agreement with the growing Disney/Pixar exhaustion in this category, I also cannot deny the impact this film had on me. But how about you, Abe? Which one is your favorite from Oscar’s five?
ABE: I do have a clear favorite: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Dean Fleischer Camp). My wife is a fan of the shorts that inspired it and I wasn’t able to see it when it first came out. I finally caught it at an FYC screening towards the end of the year and loved it. It’s such an entertaining, creative, and unexpectedly sweet look at the life of a shell with terrific voice work from Jenny Slate. It’s a film that I know Nathaniel thought might be declared ineligible for a while given that it’s not fully animated, but, to me, that’s one of the best things about it. It’s appropriately understated, and you forget that you’re watching something that definitely isn’t real. It’s seamless and great to look at, and that’s a sincere treat.
I’ve been wondering whether its popularitycould catapult it to a win, but I’m still not convinced that Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has enough going against it to allow for that kind of upset.
Sure, Pinocchio was expected to get nominations for score and song, and could have easily placed in another race, too. But those omissions doesn’t necessarily weaken its chances for Animated Feature (since the category is often entirely its own thing). I don’t think Turning Red has enough momentum to benefit from a vote-split between those two films, and I would be shocked if either of the remaining two nominees got enough votes.
I did like Pinocchio, I just wasn’t entirely amazed. What’s your take on it? Is it winning for sure?
CARLOS: I just want to echo what you said with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. While I probably love it a bit less\, I did find it to be a warm and poignant tale of connection of all forms – human-to-human, human-to-shell, shell-to-shell. Its formal inventiveness shines even if you’re not fully on its wavelength. I totally understand the passionate support. Bu tI too am surprised the Academy declared it eligible for this category.
As for Pinocchio (Guillermo del Toro & Mark Gustafson) I thought it was a stunning retelling of an oft-told story, given a darker edge in its foray into fantasy and marriage to history. Like Marcel, the film utilizes stop-motion technology and visual effects smartly to create an entire visual language. I would admit that it took me a while to warm up to its charms, but I was eventually sold given the strong world building and effective character work that proves the spine of this retelling. There are real stakes here. Plus the technical accomplishment is just on full display – production design, sound, score, visual effects, etcetera.
I get why this is the perceived frontrunner. It also feels closest to “prestige” of the five (I remember Netflix pushing this as a Best Picture contender). Even if no other nominations materialized, its presence in the shortlists suggests respect from the craft branches. So it feels like the frontrunner by default? I don’t feel it’s a secure lock though. Weirder things have happened, even in this category, than a potential loss.
But what about the two other films – Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Joel Crawford) and The Sea Beast (Chris Williams)? What do you think of those films? And do you think any of those two have a shot at winning?
ABE: I appreciate your comments about Pinocchio and should note that I saw that and Marcel in a theater, which I think is helpful for both, but not remotely indicative of what Oscar voters will think since many surely just watch screeners. I hadn’t seen most of the Shrek franchise but opted to watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish after hearing nothing but rave reviews. I did enjoy it, particularly the “Fearless Hero” song, but I would stop very far short of saying it’s anything groundbreaking or wondrous. I guess its reward is that it did end up getting nominated, which was far from guaranteed.
As for The Sea Beast, I feel similarly: it’s a good movie with solid animation, but I’m not sure what distinguishes these two and elevates them to the level of “Oscar nominee”. I get why Turning Red is here and don’t begrudge its presence. Representation in stories is very crucial, and Turning Red does an excellent job of that. What’s more it’s underdiscussed topics upset some people enough that it only drew more positive attention back to itself.
You made a good point about Pinocchio’s presence on the shortlists to indicate its continued strength even despite its eventual nomination snubs. Any parting comments before we declare this race officially over?
CARLOS: I’ll just say that I did love both Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Sea Beast. There’s probably the element of me not expecting anything when I watched those two, but I had a blast with those two.
Watching Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was one of my most enjoyable experiences this year so far with its unhinged humor that pulls several comedic styles and strategies, sometimes several within one scene. There’s also the completeness of its arc for its titular character as well as surprising maturity in handling death (and Death, a truly terrifying antagonist).
As for The Sea Beast, I was immediately taken by its stunning animation work, an oddball pairing that works a lot, adorably off-kilter character design, and unexpected pointedness in dealing with the monarchy and othering. I would agree that there are probably more substantial films worthy of nomination — but as it stands, I do not have any ill feelings towards these nominees.
The safe money is on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio winning. But with all of them being lone nominees, I wouldn’t count out the Disney/Pixar strength of Turning Red and the palpable passion behind Marcel the Shell with Shoes On just yet as upsets. But yeah, maybe the race is officially over, Netflix finally wins its first Oscar in this category, and we will see del Toro on that stage come Oscar night.