In the innovative Netflix animated film I Lost My Body, a severed hand skitters across the streets of Paris trying to reunite with its missing anatomical companion. Whether that hand winds up grasping an Oscar is up to Academy voters, in a year when a record 32 contenders qualified for the Best Animated Feature race.
Walt Disney Studios once again finds itself in prime contention, with the fourth installment in the Pixar Toy Story franchise, which saw the addition of a new character, the spork Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, and an expanded role for Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Toy Story 3 (2010) remains the only sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (Toy Story 2 hit theaters before the Animated Feature category was created in 2002). Toy Story 4, directed by Josh Cooley, has made more than $1 billion worldwide.
Toy Story 4 faces stiff competition from Disney’s Frozen 2, with both films Golden Globe-nominated for best animated film. Frozen 2, which picks up the story of Nordic sisters Elsa and Anna three years after the events of the original film, earned a record-breaking $130 million in its opening weekend just before Thanksgiving and has quickly amassed more than $1 billion worldwide.
Disney could have entered a third contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but chose not to submit its photorealistic remake of The Lion King in that category.
DreamWorks’ hopes are pinned on two films, including the third How to Train Your Dragon movie, another Globe nomination recipient, which was named Best Animated Feature by the National Board of Review. Director Dean DeBlois says it was always conceived as a trilogy.
“Toothless [the dragon] growing up was part of the bigger picture of all three films,” DeBlois said at Deadline’s Contenders event in November. “Each film, the main idea was to write each one better than the last.”
DreamWorks’ other contender is Abominable, a co-production with China’s Pearl Studio and one of two animated films this year that feature Yetis. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, Abominable revolves around Yi, a girl in Shanghai who discovers a Yeti on her roof and endeavors to get him back to his home high in the Himalayas.
Chloe Bennet supplies the voice of Yi, while vocalizations for the Yeti named Everest come from actor Joseph Izzo.
“Everest didn’t speak so he really is represented by the noises he makes, but also this beautiful humming that he does,” producer Suzanne Buirgy notes. “Yi plays her violin for him and that brings out this humming and so they have this incredible relationship built on that music.”
Golden Globe nominee Missing Link, from Laika Entertainment and United Artists Releasing, tells the story of a quest to get another Sasquatch back to the Himalayas. Zach Galifianakis provides the voice of Mr. Link, while Hugh Jackson voices the English explorer who discovers the Yeti. Chris Butler directed the film, created through stop-motion animation.
Netflix has become a significant player in animation this year, with the aforementioned contender I Lost My Body. The French production directed by Jérémy Clapin won the Nespresso Grand Prize in the International Critics’ Week section of the Cannes Film Festival this year, the first animated film to claim that honor.
Netflix also released Klaus, a Santa Claus origin story directed by Despicable Me co-creator Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López, a film set on a frozen island above the Arctic Circle. Klaus has racked up seven nominations for the 2020 Annie Awards, including Best Animated Feature.
Almost a third of the 32 animated films to qualify for the Oscars this year were released by GKIDS, the New York-based distributor of sophisticated indie titles. Among their top contenders is Weathering with You, helmed by renowned Japanese filmmaker Makoto Shinkai. The film centers on a teenage runaway who encounters an unusual girl with the power to stop the rain and clear the sky.
GKIDS, known for distributing a range of animated films that appeal to adult sensibilities as well as children, is also behind Funan, Denis Do’s feature set amid the horrors of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. Funan won Best Feature Film at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2018.
GKIDS’ Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a rare biographical animated film about Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s effort to make the third movie of his career, Land Without Bread. Among GKIDS’ other films up for Oscar consideration are Another Day of Life, Promare, Marona’s Fantastic Tale, and Children of the Sea.
Universal sequel The Secret Life of Pets 2 makes a bid for Oscar attention, boasting a worldwide gross of more than $429 million. Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford and Tiffany Haddish lead the vocal cast, directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val.
Under the United Artists Releasing banner, MGM enters the Oscar picture with The Addams Family, starring Charlize Theron and Oscar Isaac. Spies in Disguise was developed by 20th Century Fox, but thanks to the Disney-Fox merger, that film has sprouted mouse ears. It will be released through Disney on Christmas Day, with Will Smith, Tom Holland and Karen Gillan in the voice cast.
The hopeful from Warner Bros. is The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which features the return of stars Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks. The original Lego Movie became a mega-hit in 2014, but surprisingly didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature (although its signature tune “Everything is Awesome” did score a Best Song nod).
Sony Pictures Entertainment is the defending champion in this category, having won in 2019 with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Its hopes for a repeat rest with The Angry Birds Movie 2, with voice stars Jason Sudeikis and Josh Gad.
But it’s Josh Gad’s other animated contender that could be the frontrunner. He returns as the lovable and daffy-talking snowman Olaf in Frozen 2, a fixture not only in movie theaters this holiday season, but on store shelves from Target to Walmart. The only question is whether bucktoothed Olaf will freeze out Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, and the multi-pronged spork from Toy Story 4.