Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:
Today, Jay Cluitt of Life vs. Film, Deep Blue Sea: The Podcast and the shepherd of the LAMB is here to look at the nominees for Best Animated Feature.
The Academy Award for Best Animated Feature is one of my favourite awards, namely because it’s often one of the few where I’ve either seen, or am interested in seeing, all of the nominees. For this year’s Oscars that’s still very much the case, and not just because half of the nominees in most of the other categories still haven’t had a wide release in the UK (how they managed to get nominated, and indeed win, BAFTAs, I’m still a little hazy on, but that’s mostly irrelevant for this post). All of this year’s Animated Feature nominees are available for streaming on one platform or another, I’ve seen them all, so let’s dig in!
Over The Moon
Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Over the Moon, an American-Chinese production from Pearl Studio and Netflix Animation, is a pretty delightful, and delightfully pretty affair and is easily the most colourful film on the roster. The central premise follows young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), whose mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) passes away and, when Fei Fei’s father (John Cho) plans to move on with a new partner (Sandra Oh), Fei Fei hatches a plan to stop them by proving the existence of the moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo). Tagging along for the ride are her potential new step-brother Chin (Robert G. Chiu), Fei Fei’s pet rabbit Bungee and Chin’s pet frog.
This fits well into a classic Disney formula, with the cute sidekicks, young but gifted protagonist on a mission with clear cut morals and some decent songs along the way – Chang’e, it turns out, is quite the performer – but there was little to make it stick in the memory. The child audience it’s clearly designed for should enjoy most of what’s on show, especially once Ken Jeong’s exiled pangolin Gobi shows up, but there’s little here for adults and I’d say this is amongst the least likely to take home the award.
Over the Moon can currently be seen on Netflix.
This is the fourth film from Irish animators Cartoon Saloon, and their fourth to be nominated for this award, yet so far they remain empty handed despite all of their work being exemplary. Wolfwalkers continues the trend in quality, but of course it is yet to be seen whether their lack of winning streak will also continue. For me this is one of Cartoon Saloon’s more entertaining outings, following young English girl Robyn (Honor Kneafsy) in 1650 Kilkenny. She is the daughter of the town’s wolf hunter (Sean Bean), and finds herself embroiled with another young girl, Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who just so happens to be a wolfwalker, someone who transforms into a wolf at night.
As ever with Cartoon Saloon, the animation is utterly gorgeous and makes this essential viewing, even if it’s just to enjoy the sumptuous hand-drawn visuals and painted backgrounds. The stylised characters, fluid movement and depiction of magical elements are simply breathtaking. Story-wise there isn’t anything too innovative, but I think to date this is Cartoon Saloon’s best shot at winning the award, and I wouldn’t be upset if that were to happen.
Wolfwalkers can currently be seen on Apple TV+.
The first Pixar film of 2020 wasn’t one I was overly looking forward to, as it had echoes of Brave (set in a mythical, magic-adjacent world) and The Good Dinosaur (quest involving a deceased father), an overly convoluted world set-up that never really hooks you (what if mythical creatures didn’t have magic, they used electricity, except for the ones that kind of used magic now and then) and a story that lacked the Pixar spark. Plus the central casting of two A-listers, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, broke Pixar’s usual character-actor trend. Add to this a lack of memorable set-pieces or supporting characters (other than Mel Rodriguez’s glorious Officer Bronco, of course) and both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer getting far too little to do and you have an entertaining but relatively underwhelming film.
This is the first time in the history of this award that Pixar has had two films nominated in the same year. Whether that will help or hinder them is yet to be seen, but in the 19 years this award has been handed out, Pixar has been nominated 13 times and only lost on three of those. If there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain at this year’s awards, it’s that whilst Pixar may take home the trophy, it definitely won’t be for Onward. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the film and it’s the only one on this list I’ve seen multiple times (the most recent count is at four; my wife loves it), but critically it has been deemed lesser than the other nominated Pixar film, which tackles loftier themes in a more unique way.
Onward can currently be seen on Disney+.
Yeah, it’s looking like Soul is going to take this one. I guess I’m OK with that, but it also kind of feels like Pixar fatigue, y’know? Like every time they have a film that feels like it should win, it does. Those three time Pixar didn’t win were with Cars (Happy Feet took it, Monster House should have), Incredibles 2 (Spider-Verse justifiably won, and I’d have been fine with Isle of Dogs winning too) and Monsters Inc. (Shrek-fever won out, I guess), and other than the travesty of a year when Brave beat ParaNorman, FrankenWeenie and Pirates!, Pixar has released solid movies, and worthily taken home the trophy. It all feels a bit predictable, and frankly I’d like to see an upset and have Cartoon Saloon or Aardman get a surprise victory.
All that being said, Soul is pretty great. As with Onward, I was concerned with how similar it looked to another Pixar film I’m not overly fond of, Inside Out. I’m not going into it, now isn’t the time, it just wasn’t for me, moving on. In Soul, Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, whose shot at the big time comes along a little too late, and he dies before fulfilling his dream. Not content with this, Joe’s soul conspires to get back to Earth and live out his dream, gets tangled with cynical, Earth-hating soul 22 (Tina Fey), and hilarity ensues. As you’d expect the animation is incredible, both in the near-photo realistic depiction of New York and various dreamlike environments of the Great Before, where Joe’s soul winds up. There are whimsical, maddening aspects of the Great Before, and very real moments within the New York segments, but it all comes together for a film that will probably mean a great deal more to adults than younger viewers. That being said, I watched this a few months ago and haven’t felt all that compelled to revisit it. I’m sure I will one day, but other than the sumptuous visuals and beautiful soundtrack there’s not a lot drawing me back.
Soul can currently be seen on Disney+.
Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
The highlight of this year’s Oscar nominations was when Farmageddon was read out in this category. It got released way back in 2019 un the UK, and I’d no idea that it had been delayed so long for a US release so the nomination was a welcome surprise. Unfortunately, Farmageddon probably isn’t going to win. It’s under-seen and the British sensibility doesn’t always travel well, which is just code for me saying that if this doesn’t win it’s because the voters just didn’t get it, man.
Farmageddon is the sequel to the also-nominated Shaun the Sheep Movie, itself based on the TV series Shaun the Sheep, which of course was a spin-off from the character of Shaun (a sheep) who appeared in the Wallace and Gromit film A Close Shave. But you all knew that, didn’t you? The Shaun projects are effectively silent films, with no dialogue beyond unintelligible grunts and bleats, with the story and emotion told through visuals and incredibly effective character design. In this case Shaun and the rest of the flock have some misadventures with an alien, culminating in their farmer staging a self-made UFO-based theme park. I saw this in the cinema and was grinning from ear to ear throughout the whole endeavour. I know others who didn’t enjoy the film at all. I guess they just didn’t get it.
Farmageddon can currently be seen in the UK on Amazon Prime and elsewhere on Netflix.
If I were a betting LAMB, I’d put my money on Soul taking the prize. Personally, I’d give it to Farmageddon, if only so more people would watch the film (plus it’s sheep-themed, and this is the LAMB, come on), but also because it’s the most fun and unique film on the list, and Aardman’s Oscar for Curse of the Were-Rabbit must be lonely. This is never going to happen, so instead I’d opt for Wolfwalkers, and I think there’s a slim chance this might happen, but Soul is the safer bet.