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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 03/ 5/2010

OSCARS 2010: Best Animated Film: 'And the winner is...'

By Michael Cavna


NOTE: Some weeks back, we handicapped the animation nominees for the Golden Globes. Today, we update our picks for the Academy Awards...



Foxes and frogs, 2-D wolf-girls and 3-D robo-dogs. The Oscars race for feature film animation doesn't need any freaky-blue "Avatar" interlopers to get interesting -- it already is a showdown that doubles as a stylistic throwdown.

At Sunday's Academy Awards, this category pits not only narratives and cinematography, but also technology: Stop-motion vs. "hand-drawn" animation vs. cutting-edge CGI.

The five films nominated for feature animation are: "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Coraline" (both stop-motion, the latter in 3-D); "Up" (CGI and 3-D); Disney's old-school 2-D "The Princess and the Frog"; and the really old-school import "The Secret of Kells," a myth-heavy tale that features "perspective-less" 2-D animation.

Let's peer closer at the drawing board -- and the odds board:


"CORALINE":


What "Coraline" writer NEIL GAIMAN tells us: "I loved that everything was handmade. Everything. It was so personal.What I [also] loved about 'Coraline' and [director] Henry Selick is that Henry used the 3-D in Coraline as a storytelling tool. I also hope that people won't try and make everything in 3-D."

Why it could win: Other than the beguiling characters and spellbinding story and dazzling palette and charming movement, "Coraline" doesn't have so much going for it.

Why it won't win: There's a subterranean "Fox" that could sneak off with Oscar -- but mostly, it's an airborne "Up" that looms as the high-flyin' favorite.


"FANTASTIC MR. FOX":


What "Fox" filmmaker WES ANDERSON tells us: "I grew up on the Rankin-Bass animated specials. I'm 40, and I cannot express how revved-up my brother and I were when the holiday specials [came around]. ..... For me, there's nothing quite like actual, old-fashioned stop-motion. Which is why we were using digital cameras -- there wasn't even a movie camera [on set]. It all goes into the hard drive -- our [technology] was about as high-tech as you get outside of NASA."

Why it could win: (a) George Clooney's voicework; (b) warm old-timey charm; (c) Meryl Streep's voicework; (d) wry wit and precious sets; (e) the Oscar-winning pedigree of George Clooney and Meryl Streep's voicework.

Why it might not win: "And the award goes to ..... Pixar" is (deservedly) heard so often in Hollywood, one could imagine the geniuses at Pixar's Emeryville studios having built an entire army of utterly charming robot-voters. The microchip that spews that phrase never wears out. Neither, it seems, does Pixar's invention and soul.


"THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG":


What "Frog" filmmaker RON CLEMENTS and co-director/writer JOHN MUSKER tell us: "Depicting Disney's first African American princess? Why, we felt no pressure -- no, NONE at all."

Why it could win: Three reasons: nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia.

Why it won't win: Some transporting scenes (and a coupla Oscar-nominated songs) do not the majesty of Disney's "The Lion King" make.


"THE SECRET OF KELLS:


"The Secret of Kells" filmmaker TOMM MOORE tells us: "Nothing against 'Avatar' or 'Up' ..... but I would just hope that 'Kells' reminds people of the magic of handcrafted 2-D animation."

Why it could win:This beautiful dark-horse of an indie film has already proved unpredictable -- perhaps it holds yet more luck of the Irish.

Why it won't win: even Moore doesn't think it can: "But just to be nominated is attracting interest."


"UP":


What "Up" co-director BOB PETERSON tell us: "You tell the truth of how people would react. ..... We're always concerned about the relationships -- are we telling the truth? Jokes are one thing, but we sacrifice thousands of jokes if they get in the way of the emotional narrative."

Why it will win: By knowing when to shut the heck up. "Up's" near-wordless sequence of a lifelong romance told in montage (and sweet, sweet music) is a minutes-long masterpiece-within-a-movie. In a competitive race with "Fox" and "Coraline," that sequence should seal the deal for "Up."

Bottom line: Pixar is the Midas of animated motion: Most everything it renders seems magnetically to attract some gilded hardware. Give young Russell a scout honor and an "Ellie" badge -- and then the Oscar.

THE RELATED READ:

The 'Riffs Interview: WES ANDERSON introduces his fantastic 'Mr. Fox'.

NEIL GAIMAN recalls his first impressions of San Diego Comic-Con.

The 'Riffs Interview: Pixar's BOB PETERSON on his path to co-directing "Up."


Lastly, our favorite factoid related to "Up," courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter:

"You'd have to have about a 2 million-cubic-foot balloon to lift a house like that. There are cluster balloons that do operate with small balloons. Only a handful of people are doing it. When they want to come down, they just pull a balloon on the cord and pop it, and it starts their descent. When they start coming down close to the ground, they'll throw out a little bit of sand to even out that descent. The way they did that in the movie (by tossing off the contents of the house) was pretty realistic."

-- Don Kissack, president, Southern California Balloon Assn.

By Michael Cavna  | March 5, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  The Animation, The Holly Word  | Tags:  Academy Awards, Bob Peterson, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, John Musker, Neil Gaiman, Oscars, Princess and the Frog, Ron Clements, Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore, Up, Wes Anderson  
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