With only a handful of Oscar-nominated directors in the running for Best Animated Feature this year, the race feels wide open, with no obvious frontrunners and the potential for any number of up-and-coming helmers to break through.
Winning for Zootopia last year, Walt Disney Studios should be in the mix with Lee Unkrich’s anticipated Pixar entry Coco—a Day of the Dead- themed musical feature centering on a young boy’s journey through the Land of the Dead.
Another potential leader this season is 20th Century Fox‘s Boss Baby—which sees Alec Baldwin playing an egomaniacal toddler, while there’s also their December release Ferdinand, a tale of a fighting bull (voiced by wrestler John Cena) who does not want to fight at all. Based on a popular children’s book, previously adapted into an Oscar-winning 1938 Disney short, can Ferdinand take Fox as far?
Warner Bros. came out this year with The Lego Batman Movie, a spin-off of the Oscar-nominated Lego Movie. The film drew strong critical praise as Will Arnett reprised the role of the Dark Knight, facing off against Zach Galifianakis’ Joker to hilarious effect in Chris McKay’s first theatrically released feature.
As ever, international distributor GKIDS poses strong competition with a number of early frontrunners, including Mary and the Witch’s Flower, a Japanese anime directed by Oscar nominee and former Studio Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie was There) about a young English girl who stumbles upon a world of witches.
Other contenders from the studio include Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, a nightmarish look at lonely animals living in a post-apocalyptic society, and The Breadwinner, executive produced by Angelina Jolie. A tale in the tradition of Disney’s Mulan, the latter film follows a young woman growing up in Kabul who poses as a young man to provide for her family after her father is thrown in prison.
Coming off a strong year with Sing and The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination Entertainment returns with the third installment of the Despicable Me franchise, and more original music by Pharrell Williams, as supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) meets his long-lost twin brother Dru, teaming up in a criminal heist for the ages.
With so many strong features to consider, perhaps the most striking and unique contender this year is Good Deed Entertainment’s Loving Vincent, which tells the story of troubled Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh—in the painter’s own style. Hundreds of professional oil painters were commissioned to create a film where each frame is—quite literally—a painting, amounting to the first fully-painted animated feature in history.