Heart & Humor: The 2010 Animated Oscar Race

Rick DeMott looks at how the standard of heart and humor plays into which films might receive Oscar nominations.

Toy Story 3

The biggest factor in the 2010 Oscar race is only three films will be nominated in the features category. Fifteen films qualified and Academy rules are that sixteen films need to be in the running for five nods. Industry insiders with dogs in the fight look at Yogi Bear as the spoiler, but is it the film's fault it didn't have enough animation?

1) Toy Story 3

I've been making Oscar predictions for several years now and it always seems that a Pixar film is either at the top or close by. The third Woody and Buzz outing is the surefire lock in this category. The only questions are whether it's a surefire lock for Best Picture and a predestined winner in this category as a result.

How to Train Your Dragon

2) How to Train Your Dragon

DreamWorks' heartwarming tale of a boy and his dragon is the closest thing to a second surefire lock in this year's Oscar race. Heart and humor is a very good predictor of what is going to get nominated and this film has a genuine does of both.

Despicable Me

3) Despicable MeHere is where it gets tough. Illumination and Universal's first animated feature together was a bigger hit than anyone expected. It has a lot of admirers. It's humor and heart quotient is solid. Can Gru steal a nomination? It seems very likely at this point.

The Illusionist

4) The IllusionistSome have Sylvain Chomet's ode to Jacques Tati in the winner's spot. Artistically it is a beautiful film, but it's the humor and heart arenas that it leaves many viewers cold. It's not as funny as one might expect. In fact it's downright depressing. As for heart, it only crushes them with sadness. The nomination seemed a lock at one point, but I don't think it creates enough overall positive feelings to ensure a nomination. It's certainly on the bubble that's about to burst.

Tangled

5) Tangled

For Disney the lack of five nominations is I guess the biggest disappointment, because it would have given them two nominations. This hip twist on Rapunzel outperformed everyone's expectations. It's has the humor and heart factor, but one can use the adult factor as a tiebreaker. Despicable Me appeals to an older audience, which makes up the voting block at the Academy. It's the edge that keeps this fairy tale on the outside looking in.

Megamind

6) MegamindDreamWorks' superhero spoof has more admirers than many expected before it hit theaters. A nomination seems very unlikely though. It certainly has the adult and humor factors going for it, but it lacks the heart that the previously mentioned films have.

Idiots and Angels

7) Idiots and AngelsYou can't count Bill Plympton out of this race. His self-distributed feature has received many positive reviews. Some consider it is best work in years. It would be quite shocking if this little seen film pulls a Secret of Kells with only three slots for nominations.

My Dog Tulip

8) My Dog Tulip Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's indie animated feature is another example of a little seen film that has received positive reviews. This personal tale of a man and his German shepherd has heart, but it's probably too "small" to grab enough Academy voters' attentions.

Summer Wars

9) Summer Wars Despite receiving some great reviews in its qualifying run, Mamoru Hosoda's gamer saves the world tale arrives too late in the game to be a serious contender. Lovers of his work, such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, might get him some votes, but not enough.

Shrek Forever After

10) Shrek Forever After This came out this year? That's the problem. Out of the three films DreamWorks released this year, its venerable franchise is the one everyone forgets. In general, the film was better received than the previous installment, but others hated it. It's in the game, but that's about it.

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

11) Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’HooleWhile Zack Snyder's photoreal owl epic had some admirers, none were more than lukewarm. It's another wide release that has been forgotten already. And this one came out in the fall.

The Dreams of Jinsha

12) The Dreams of JinshaIt's the most expensive animated feature in Chinese history. It won't be nominated.

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue

13) Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue

Academy members know this is a direct-to-DVD title that gets a quick theatrical run and then entered in the Oscar race to help the field going to five.

Alpha and Omega

14) Alpha and OmegaThere are a lot of better films in the race than this one.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

15) Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty GaloreYogi Bear has a better chance of being nominated. For a live-action/animation hybrid to break past prejudices it will need to be really, really good. So you understand why this film is the least likely to get nominated.

Day & Night

The Short for Animated Shorts

1) Day & Night, Teddy Newton, director (Pixar Animation Studios)

Last year a Pixar film topped my predictions in both the animated features and shorts races and it does this year too. But unlike last year when Partly Cloudy failed to get a nod, this year I am confident that Day & Night will not be left behind. If there is any lock in this unpredictable category it's this one. I'm not the only one who thinks this is one of Pixar's best shorts.

2) The Gruffalo, Jakob Schuh and Max Lang, directors (Magic Light Pictures)

Having played on TV, this British CG short about a mouse that weaves a tall tale about a mythical beast is terrific. Charmingly animated and well told, the film has fans, which is rare in this category, because the films are rarely seen before hand.

3) Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary), Bastien Dubois, director (Sacrebleu Productions)

This film made the festival circuit in 2009, picking up prizes at Annecy and Ottawa. This travelogue of a trip to Madagascar fills the innovation quotient that usually exists in this category. The film magically combines hand paintings and CG into one seamless film.

4) The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, directors (Passion Pictures Australia) This CG adaptation of Shaun Tan's children's book won Best Short Film at Annecy. The beautifully animated film tells the tale of a boy who finds a bizarre-looking creature on the beach and tries to discover where it belongs. Heart is what this one has going for it.

5) Urs, Moritz Mayerhofer, director (Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg)

Speaking of heart, this is a story of a son who must carry his aging mother on a dangerous journey to find them a better home. Student films have been real competitors in this category lately. This one is gorgeous looking, combining remarkable 2D artwork with CG.

Coyote Falls

6) Coyote Falls, Matthew O’Callaghan, director and Sam Register, executive producer (Warner Bros. Animation Inc.)Every year it seems that a high profile short from a big filmmaker or studio is left out of the final race. In CG, Warner's recaptures some of the Looney Tunes magic, but will this film suffer the same fate as the Goofy short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, and be admired but not voted for because it doesn't feel fresh enough?

7) The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger, Bill Plympton, director (Bill Plympton Studio)

A Bill Plympton film is always in the running. This one takes his type of humor, but not his signature colored pencil style. It reminded me of how The Fan and the Flower was a great Bill Plympton short that didn't look like a Bill Plympton short. Fan didn't get a nomination.

8) Let’s Pollute, Geefwee Boedoe, story-design-animation (Geefwee Boedoe)

In a humorous way, the film runs down human's history with polluting the planet. In the style of a 1950s educational film, this one seems like we've seen it before. But the topical nature of the theme might make it the "important" film in the mix.

9) Sensology, Michel Gagne, director-producer (GAGNE International LLC)

This is a very good experimental film, but experimental films have a hard time winning over voters in big numbers. You never know (especially in this category) but it seems like a steep road from this one.

10) The Silence Beneath the Bark, Joanna Lurie, director (Lardux Films)

Very pretty looking with a unique style, this short suffers from a flaw that has dashed the chances of many other films in the past. At 11 minutes it feels really long. Unless you're Aleksandr Petrov, short and sweet is what you need to nab a nod.

* As is the case with any year in the Best Animated Short category, predictions chosen by expert panels and randomly picking names from a hat have the same accuracy. Last year I went two for five in shorts and four for five in features, hopefully I'll fare better this year.

Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.

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Rick DeMott
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