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Added by Andy Goulding on 7 Sep 2012 05:05
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Best Animated Feature - Winners and My Choices

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People who added this item 8412 Average listal rating (5361 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.9

OTHER NOMINEES: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

Monsters, Inc.

MY CHOICE: Monsters, Inc.

The first Oscar for Best Animated Feature went to a wildly popular film which spawned a run of equally popular sequels. Audiences everywhere seemed to take 'Shrek' to their hearts and praise it for its satirical brilliance. Somehow though I never quite shared in the enthusiasm. For me, 'Shrek' is a vastly overrated franchise which unsuccessfully attempts to both satirise and revel in the fairytale schmaltz of its targets. There are moments of promise, such as the famous Gingerbread Man torture scene, in which the punches are not pulled but ultimately 'Shrek' just stumbles towards a completely predictable, unoriginal message about inner beauty which blunts it edge and proves to be a regularly intrusive drag factor in the film's already weak plot.

As you can probably tell, I'm not a big 'Shrek' fan. I'm in a minority here but I actually prefer 'Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius', Nickelodeon's tale of a young inventor who's pre-pubescent innovations indirectly result in aliens abducting all his town's adults. It's a charming, fun little feature but in both story and design it feels more like a pilot TV movie than a proper film. Ultimately, this is the purpose the film served, spawning a couple of popular television spin-offs.

My choice for this year is undoubtedly Pixar's 'Monsters, Inc.'. Quite an underrated film in the Pixar canon, 'Monsters, Inc.' was retrospectively overshadowed by the brilliant innovations of later Pixar films. But this tale of a community of monsters who must harvest the screams of children as an energy source is extremely inventive, very funny and gorgeous to look at. While 'Shrek's often impressive visuals were widely praised, 'Monster's, Inc's visuals were even stronger, particularly the celebrated, dazzling mastery of the cuddly Sully's fur, which seems real enough to reach out and touch.

'Monsters, Inc.' also features a good dollop of sentimentality but, unlike 'Shrek's awkward stab at depth, it feels completely earned thanks to Pixar's much-lauded skills with emotional engagement. Add to this mix a great voice cast (Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn) and a dazzling chase finale involving thousands of flying doors and you have my emphatic choice for 2001's Best Animated Feature.
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People who added this item 4403 Average listal rating (2834 ratings) 8.4 IMDB Rating 8.6
WINNER: Spirited Away


Lilo and Stitch

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Treasure Planet

MY CHOICE: Spirited Away

Poor old Disney. The Best Animated Feature came too late for them. Had it existed in the early years of the Oscars they would surely have won year after year after year. Even if it arrived in the early 90s, Disney still turned out some films that would undoubtedly have triumphed. Unfortunately, by the time the category was instigated, Disney's second golden age was well and truly over and they've been struggling to claw back some prestige ever since.

Most of the Disney nominees in the category have seemed like token inclusions but perhaps we can make an exception for 'Lilo and Stitch'. Among the studio's latter day efforts it is undoubtedly one of the more charming and inventive, merging a sci-fi comedy plot with a family drama and one of the studio's most memorable creations of the 21st century in the shape of alien genetic experiment Stitch. By contrast, Disney's other nomination for this year, 'Treasure Planet', is a feeble attempt to combine 'Treasure Island' with a sci-fi epic. The film is clearly aiming to be an elaborate Disney classic but too much is thrown at the wall and embarrasingly little sticks. A poorly conceived cyborg Long John Silver is a major drag factor but the script, with its unconvincing breaking and mending of allegiances and layering on of superfluous characters, is the true culprit that makes this financial flop truly unworhty of consideration for this award. Surely the Disney name is the only reason it's here.

Blue Sky Studios' 'Ice Age' is another overrated franchise which nevertheless has its saving graces. Notable amongst these is the character of Scrat, an obsessive Squirell/Rat whose unfulfilled quest for an acorn has tied together all four of the 'Ice Age' films, as well as two shorts and numerous advertising campaigns. It's easy when thinking back to 'Ice Age' to delude oneself that the entire film is a charming and amusing as this character's adventures. But watching it again, you realise that Scrat's comic interludes are merely ingenious cameos in a fairly flimsy, sentimental storyline involving a trio of not-so appealing characters on a journey characterised by trying-too-hard comedy set-pieces. 'Ice Age' is enjoyable enough and has been popular with audiences but its continuing popularity seems evermore reliant on the undiscerning child audience.

One of the last of Dreamworks' traditionally animated films, 'Spirit: Stallion on the Cimarron' is something more ambitious that the aformentioned nominees. The tale of a wild stallion who is captured by humans and drawn reluctantly into the American Indian Wars. 'Spirit...' is not without its flaws, including some dated early attempts at computer animation and a horribly obtrusive soundtrack by Bryan Adams. But the film rises above this, mainly in its brave rejection of anthropomorphism in favour of a more realistic depiction of animals. The horses' expressions are still often caricatured but, aside from an occasional narration of his thoughts, Spirit remains silent, making for a fairly unique animated experience. The story is well told and engaging. For all its flaws, I may well have picked 'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron' as my winner for this year...

...had it not been for Hayao Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away'. Since this miraculous film won the Oscar, Japan's Studio Ghibli has become world famous, with animation fans finally getting the opportunity to discover the studio's exquisite catalogue through subsequent DVD releases. Among all of Miyazaki's many great works, 'Spirited Away' stands as his masterpiece. A mind-blowing and impossibly beautiful work of unprecedented invention, 'Spirited Away' follows a young girl's quest to save her parents from a magic spell that has transformed them into pigs. This results in her taking a job in a spirit's bathhouse and encountering numerous fascinating characters. Of course, there is a well-documented 'Alice in Wonderland' influence here but 'Spirited Away' transcends that and creates a world all of it's very own. Sumptuously animated (as is the Studio Ghibli way), 'Spirited Away' was quickly and rightly hailed as one of the all-time classics of the animated feature. There could not have possibly been another winner this year.
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People who added this item 8064 Average listal rating (5281 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 8.1
WINNER: Finding Nemo


The Triplets of Belleville

MY CHOICE: The Triplet of Belleville

Three years into the Animated Feature category, Pixar won the first of what would ultimately be many Oscars. The winner was one of the studio's most popular films, 'Finding Nemo' but despite the film's continued popularity I've always found it to be one of Pixar's more conventional, least remarkable films. It's still a solidly enjoyable family film and there's much to be celebrated in the mastery of realistic water effects but compared to the Pixar masterpieces that surround it, 'Finding Nemo' isn't quite up there in my book.

Disney's token nomination this year is barely worth mentioning. 'Brother Bear', the story of a young man who is turned into a bear as part of a vision quest, is one of the studio's flattest, least engaging films of all. As well as a limp plot, 'Brother Bear' features stock character types who arrive fully formed and do not develop in any way from their rigid moulds. The result is an emotionally flaccid film that basically goes "Look at the funny moose, now look at the cute bear, this is the part where they bond despite no prior hint that this was possible, now here's the lesson, oh, that's the end"! It's another downwards stumble in a depressing downwards trajectory from the studio that gave us some of the greatest animated films of all time.

Into this fairly bland year for the Animated Feature Oscar came one Sylvain Chomet. Chomet had previously been nominated for a Short Animation Oscar for his wonderful film 'The Old Lady and the Pigeons'. It should have won but didn't and Chomet suffered the same unfortunate defeat with his first feature, the utterly unique and grotesquely beautiful (or beautifully grotesque) 'Triplets of Belleville'. A funny, intriguing, bizarre film, 'The Triplets of Belleville' has a plot so stuffed with strange characters, unusual twists and booming belly-laughs that to attempt to sum it up would both do the film an injustice and rob viewers of the delights of seeing it unfold themselves. What I will say is that 'The Triplets of Belleville' is a jaw-dropping animated masterpiece that delivers on the promise of Chomet's original short film and then some. Perhaps Oscar voters found it that little bit too strange but for me it's clearly the best film of this year.
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People who added this item 6735 Average listal rating (4516 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 8
WINNER: The Incredibles


Shrek 2

MY CHOICE: The Incredibles

This year saw two Dreamworks films battling it out with a Pixar film and predictably Pixar came out on top. Inevitable sequel 'Shrek 2' is a serviceable little film and, as sequels go, it keeps up the so-so standard of the original. There are some genuine laughs along the way and it's not boring but the likelihood is that if you weren't won over by the first 'Shrek', the second one will underwhelm you just as much. Dreamworks other nominee, 'Shark Tale', is probably one of the worst nominees in this category's history. Ugly to look at and misfiring all over the place in its attempts to parody gangster films, 'Shark Tale' obviously suffered from unfair comparisons with the previous year's 'Finding Nemo' but even judged on its own merits its a weakly realised project.

The clear winner this year is Brad Bird's 'The Incredibles', a fantastically witty, fast-paced superhero satire which follows the adventures of a family of superheroes trying to live a normal suburban life and keep their powers under wraps. Inevitably though, yearnings for their glory days and the arrival of a genuinely troubling supervillain named Syndrome force the family to unleash their powers. Bird's script and direction are superb, squarely hitting that much saught target of across the board appeal for all ages. Like his traditionally animated debut feature 'The Iron Giant', Bird's'The Incredibles' was an instant classic and continued to highlight Pixar's reputation for excellence.
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WINNER: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


Howl's Moving Castle

MY CHOICE: Howl's Moving Castle

The award this year went to regular Oscar contenders Wallace and Gromit in their first full length feature 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'. As a huge fan of Aardman Animations and Nick Park's previous work, I was very excited to see the film. It's an enjoyable adventure with all the wonderful little touches you'd expect from these characters but... to me, 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit' mainly highlighted the fact that Wallace and Gromit work better in smaller scale stories told across 25 minutes or so. The script often seems to be trying too hard to achieve the whimsical magic of the earlier short films. Ultimately, 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit' comes nowhere near being as unique, funny or cinematic as the true Wallace and Gromit masterpiece, 'The Wrong Trousers'.

Another hotly anticipated film this year was Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride', a beautifully animated stop-motion fantasy about a hapless young man who finds himself inadvertently married to a dead woman. The film is visually wonderful and full of inventive characters. It is only let down by slightly ponderous plotting. With a stronger story 'Corpse Bride' could've been a classic but instead animation fans must make do with the ample consolation of its riveting visuals and that one unforgettable scene of Bonejangles the skeleton singing the brilliant 'Remains of the Day'.

Once again though my choice for winner is the Studio Ghibli nominee, 'Howl's Moving Castle'. Like 'Spirited Away', the film was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and the jaw-dropping invention of that film is once again evident in 'Howl's Moving Castle', especially in its array of shape-shifting characters and the animation's reflection of their inner feelings and torments. Miyazaki once again conjures a sense of magic and wonder which, good as they are, is somehow missing from the other two nominees from this year. A good year for the category then but 'Howl's Moving Castle' is, in my opinion, the clear winner.
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People who added this item 2657 Average listal rating (1604 ratings) 6.1 IMDB Rating 6.5
WINNER: Happy Feet


Monster House

MY CHOICE: Monster House

YIKES! What happened THIS year?!! By far the worst year for the Animated Feature category, 2006 saw the headache-inducing dancing penguins picture 'Happy Feet' waddle off with the Oscar. This obnoxious, desperately over-egged pudding is one of my least favourite animated features of all time. Remember those highly irritating karaoke epilogues from the end of 'Shrek' films? Imagine those but stretched out to 108 minutes. This excruciating film somehow charmed audiences and critics alike, despite weak characterisation, so-so visual and Robin Williams at his most annoying. Listening to him rant and rave in the role of Ramon, the Genie in 'Alladin' suddenly seems like a very long time ago!

Unfortunately Pixar were alarmingly off-form this year too, hitting their first bum-note ever with the underthought, overcooked 'Cars'. Based on a crappy, unoriginal premise about anthropomorphised automobiles, 'Cars' has a boring story (which, many have noticed, was ripped off from Michael J. Fox film 'Doc Hollywood), bad characters and lacklustre voice acting. It gave the world Mater, one of modern animations most irritating characters, and it even spawned a sequel (Pixar's second bum-note!). By the time that one arrived, no one was pretending anymore and it failed to get a nomination.

I never thought I'd be awarding the Oscar to any animation that Robert Zemeckis was involved with. Since he adopted animation as his primary medium, Zemeckis has been responsible for directing some of the ugliest animated features ever seen on the big screen. Fortunately, Zemeckis only served as producer here and, though I went in with low expectations, 'Monster House' is actually a nice little film. Although it uses Zemeckis's favoured performance capture technique, 'Monster House' is nowhere near as grotesque in appearance as Zemeckis's own animations. It's not especially gorgeous either but the film pulls off a neat trick of evoking live action family films of the 80s, the kind Zemeckis once excelled at. With an overstuffed, unfocused but amusng script, 'Monster House' is a little Halloween treat that scoops my vote for this year.
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People who added this item 4421 Average listal rating (2937 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 8
WINNER: Ratatouille


Surf's Up

MY CHOICE: Persepolis

This year began an amazing run of quality from Pixar who would hold the Best Animated Feature title for the next four years. The first of these instant classics was Brad Bird's 'Ratatouille', the story of a rat who develops a more discerning palate than the rest of his species and puts this to good use when he finds himself in the sprawling culinary utopia of Paris. Fast paced, very funny and just a little bit silly (my girlfriend still maintains that the crucial hair-puppetry plot point is detrimental to the whole film), 'Ratatouille' is a phenomenally entertaining piece of whimsy with several clever touches (Peter O'Toole's villainous restaurant critic Anton Ego is particularly winning).

The other computer animated film of this year couldn't hold a candle to 'Ratatouille'. Sony Pictures 'Surf's Up', a mockumentary about surfing penguins, is typical of lesser computer animations of the 00s with its depthless characters and focus on a bombardment of jokes over anything else that might justify its length. I still prefer it to those godawful singing penguins who somehow grabbed the Oscar in 2006 though.

Much as I loved 'Ratatouille', my choice for this year would be Marjane Satrapi's more unusual and visually striking 'Persepolis'. Based on her own autobiographical graphic novel and retaining its style and tone, 'Persepolis' is a coming of age tale set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, tracing Marjane's life from age 9 up until 24. The human and political sides of the film are balanced beautifully and the purposefully simple black and white line drawings that dominate 'Persepolis' are every bit as beautiful to look at as 'Ratatouille's Parisian vistas, albeit in a completely different way.
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People who added this item 5069 Average listal rating (3416 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 8.4


Kung Fu Panda


Of this year's nominees, it is Dreamworks' 'Kung Fu Panda' that I like the least. I can see why people enjoy this film about Po, an overweight, nerdy panda who longs to join kung fu masters The Furious Five and, through a twist of fate, gets the opportunity. It does have decent visuals and some amusing scenes but too many of the jokes and concepts have been done before and better. Jokes about Po's weight and laziness feel like weak retreads of old 'Simpsons' gags and even the film's best gag, the fact Po's father is of a completely different species, was done years before and far more effectively in 'Rocko's Modern Life'.

Pixar's 'Wall-E' was a certainty to win this year. Critically lauded and controversially ignored as a potential Best Picture nominee, 'Wall-E' is a wonderful visual feast of a film told with minimal dialogue and maximum charm. Wall-E the character is remarkably expressive and the story unfolds slowly without making concessions to commercial demands for a pacey plot. Instead the film revels in its vaudevillian set-pieces and sweet-natured belly laughs.

But much as I loved 'Wall-E', I'm part of a minority group who actually thought that there was a better film nominated this year. Disney's 'Bolt' saw the studio back on top form after their feeble former nominations 'Treasure Planet' and 'Brother Bear'. In contrast to the humourous but often serious-minded artistic aspirations of 'Wall-E', 'Bolt' simply aims to be a funny, fun and exciting family film and it succeeds on all counts. The tale of a TV star dog who believes he has super powers, the film zips along like an actual lightning bolt but, unlike the joke-stuffed but plotless computer animations flooding the market, it also features satisfying, well-rounded characters and emotional development. Add to this some great visuals and 'Bolt' is perhaps one of the most underrated nominees in the Animated Feature category.
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People who added this item 4491 Average listal rating (3021 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 8.3


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess and the Frog

The Secret of Kells

MY CHOICE: Fantastic Mr. Fox

What a phenomenal year for the category this was! After they realeased the brilliant 'Bolt' the previous year, Disney had another nomination with their return to traditional animation 'The Princess and the Frog'. Notable mainly for featuring Disney's first black princess and a good set of songs by Randy Newman, 'The Princess and the Frog' falls down on a wandering plot and too many characters at the expense of strong character development. Likable enough, it's easily the year's weakest nominee.

Disney were thoroughly upstaged in the hand-drawn stakes by surprise nomination 'The Secret of Kells'. An Irish-French-Belgian independent animation inspired by Irish mythology, 'The Secret of Kells' is a magical little film which I would have had no hesitation of awarding the Oscar in a less remarkable year for the animated movie. Unfortunately it was up against three of the best animated films of the 00s.

Poor old Henry Selick directed one of animations 90s landmarks in the masterpiece 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' and then had to see the world mistakenly give all the credit to Tim Burton. After two poor follow-ups ('James and the Giant Peach' and 'Monkeybone'), Selick was back on exquisite form with the creepy, unusual 'Coraline'. Unfortunately, as it was advertised as being from 'the director of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'' many people attributed it to Burton again. 'Coraline', adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman, follows the story of a moody young girl who finds a doorway to an alternative reality. Selick realises the whole thing with a genuine sense of the otherworldly, tapping into magic and wonder as well as nightmarish dread.

After the critical smash that was 'Wall-E', Pixar went a step further and released what many consider to be their greatest film to date. 'Up' is a truly terrific film and it deservedly became only the second animated film to bag a Best Picture nomination (after 1990's 'Beauty and the Beast'). The story of an elderly widower who sets about keeping a promise to the love of his life by flying his whole house to South America, 'Up' reached new levels of real human emotion in animation. The opening ten minutes which take in the central couples entire lifetime together are some of the most touching scenes in recent memory and the air of melancholy this creates hangs over the whole of 'Up' even as it also reaches equally high levels of hilarity. A beautifully judged, deeply moving, extremely funny piece of filmmaking, 'Up' is Pixar at its heart-melting best.

So why is this almost perfect film not my choice for this year? Because it happened to be up against a film that struck all sorts of chords with me and was the work of one of my favourite directors of recent times. Wes Anderson's Roald Dahl adaptation 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' exceeded all expectations. I've lost count of how many times I've watched this gem of a film but I enjoy it just as much every time. Purposefully employing a rough-around-the-edges stop motion approach (complete with scraggly puppets inspired by one of the earliest animation classics 'Le Roman de Renard), 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' filters Dahl's story through Anderson's own unique sensibilities to create a quirky, hysterically funny film which tends to appeal to adults more than children.
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People who added this item 3658 Average listal rating (2425 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 8.3
WINNER: Toy Story 3

OTHER NOMINEES: How to Train Your Dragon

The Illusionist

MY CHOICE: The Illusionist

It occurs to me at this stage that for the last three years I have voted against every glorious Pixar winner in their spectacular run of well-earned wins. I'm not trying to be anti-populist, those films are very dear to me too and are among my favourite animated movies. I see it not as a negative thing however but rather testament to the continuing inspiration on display in the world of animation.

Bearing this in mind, I think it's a matter worthy of celebration that I'm once again going to vote against one of Pixar's best loved classics. But first I feel I should pay tribute to Dreamworks who, this year, came up with an absolute belter! While Dreamworks have been responsible for some of my least favourite animated films, including the vastly overrated 'Shrek' series and the genuinely awful 'Madagascar' films, their gorgeous 'How to Train Your Dragon' was an animated highlight of this year. Pacey, funny and filled with the emotion that their previous films lacked, 'How to Train Your Dragon' is a soaring adventure film that was unfortunate to find itself competing with two of the best films ever nominated.

'Toy Story 3', the third and final part of Pixar's celebrated trilogy and the third animated film to score itself a Best Picture nomination, is a fittingly classic end to one of cinema's finest and most consistent trilogies. The first film was an animation landmark but with the two sequels Pixar opened up and expanded the concept of the original to take in adult themes of loss, the pain of rejection, the death of childhood etc. The trilogy format allowed these films to explore their themes thoroughly, sensitively and without cliche. Although 'Toy Story 3's Oscar win felt like a well-deserved recognition of the entire trilogy, the film more than earned it as a stand-alone work. With a clever, fast-paced, exciting and ultimately deeply moving plot, it may well be the best of the three films and is certainly one of the best Part 3s in cinema history.

But again there's a film that I loved a little more this year and it stands alongside 'Spirited Away', 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' and next year's 'Chico and Rita' as one of the greatest among my choices for Best Animated Feature. Sylvain Chomet's 'The Illusionist' is an adaptation of an unproduced Jacques Tati script about a magician who strikes up a relationship with a young girl who believes his powers are real. I've never been a big Tati fan but filtered through Chomet's extraordinarily beautiful animation this is a singularly gorgeous experience. Featuring an animated protagonist modelled on Tati himself, 'The Illusionist' is a rich experience that rewards numerous viewings. Mirthful but melancholy, it differs significantly from Chomet's also excellent 'Triplets of Belleville' (which I awarded the 2003 Oscar), preferring a quieter, less comically-grotesque approach. The result is an immersive, simply stunning film.
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People who added this item 1934 Average listal rating (1219 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 7.2


Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

MY CHOICE: Chico & Rita

Yet another cracking year and a year of several surprises in terms of my expectations. There were three nominations this year which I thought I wouldn't like. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' and 'Puss in Boots' were a sequel and a spin-off respectively of Dreamworks films that I wasn't keen on. 'Rango', meanwhile, I just didn't like the look of from trailers.

Well my narrow-mind be damned because all three films surprised me with their quality. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' still suffers from the predictable fat and lazy jokes of the first film but it is bolstered by a better, more action-packed plot and has far more genuinely funny moments to balance it out. 'Rango', which won the Oscar for this year, is an off-the-wall Western full of grim, gruesome, violet characters. Its dark tone took me by surprise and made for a far more entertaining film than I'd expected and the animation was also great but overall it's an overlong and slightly annoying experience.

The biggest surprise of all was 'Puss in Boots'. I disliked the 'Shrek' franchise so much that I never held out any hope of enjoying this prequel that focuses on Antonio Banderas's Puss, a character I wasn't particularly enamoured of to begin with. When I finally saw it, however, 'Puss in Boots' totally blew me away. It was well plotted, fast paced, extremely funny and in no way like the 'Shrek' films I disliked so much, with an edgy wit replacing the tired old fart gags and blunt-edged fairy tale satire. Zach Galiafanakis's Humpty is a particular highlight.

The outside bet this year was traditionally animated French crime comedy thriller 'A Cat in Paris', a charming film that caused a rush of nostalgia in me as it so strongly resembled the sort of angular, oddball animations that used to be on TV a lot when I was little. Although there are a few problems with plotting and character, it's such a beautifully animated, determinedly old-school piece that animation fans like myself will enjoy every minute.

But I have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in choosing the luscious Spanish animation 'Chico and Rita' as not only the winner for this year but as one of my favourite animated features of all time. A sensational period piece set in the 40s and 50s against international backdrops of Havana, New York, Las Vegas, Paris and Hollywood, 'Chico and Rita' focuses on a tempestuous romance between a young jazz pianist and a beautiful singer. As we watch their relationship unfold and unravel, we're also treated to a brief history of 40s and 50s jazz, with music and animated cameos from many of its main practitioners. Throw in an original score by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and some bold, gorgeous animation and 'Chico and Rita' emerges as a masterpiece for music and animation lovers everywhere.
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People who added this item 1798 Average listal rating (1191 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 7.1

OTHER NOMINEES: Frankenweenie

Wreck-It Ralph

The Pirates! Band of Misfits


MY CHOICE: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

This year's batch of nominees is full of films I was very excited to see but mildly disappointed with once I did. That's not to say this isn't a very entertaining set of nominees, just that few live up to the greatness of the best films to appear in the category. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was Tim Burton's 'Frankenweenie'. This twist on 'Frankenstein' was actually based on an early live-action short that Burton made before finding fame with his feature films. I was never keen on that original short but it at least stuck to its premise, seeing the 'Frankenstien' parody through to the end. This new version of 'Frankenweenie', while beautifully animated and filled with good characters, ultimately tries to open the story out by introducing a series of rampaging monsters derived from household pets. At this point the story contracts a severe case of 'Third-Act-Madness'; that is, the desire to provide a memorable finale by throwing too much into the pot. So a formally sweet and promising film becomes a mess of nonsensical events, ultimately deflating into the disappointingly tacked on happy ending, one element of the original film that really should have gone unpreserved.

'ParaNorman', another stop-motion horror about a kid who can speak with the dead, was another film that looked extremely promising but ultimately didn't quite work. Again, the animation is great and there are moments of real wit but unfortunately these were mostly used in the trailer, leaving a fairly predictable experience for the rest of the film that played like a mixture of 'Monster House' and 'Jimmy Neutron' but not quite as good as either. This year's winner, meanwhile, was a mixed bag for me. I actually went to see Pixar's 'Brave' expecting to be disappointed. It's trailer made it look crude and predictable and far below the quality expected of the Pixar brand. The film itself, however, was quite delightful. True, it was far behind the Pixar classics, the plot was a tad scattershot and confused and some of the jokes felt like they'd be shipped in from a Dreamworks film, but the animation was often breathtakingly beautiful, the characters were strong and amusing and, while I didn't feel it was quite deserving of its Oscar win, 'Brave' certainly warrented its nomination and is a film I'd gladly watch again.

The remaining two nominees are head-and-shoulders above the rest in my opinion. Disney trumped Pixar in the computer animated stakes with 'Wreck-It Ralph', a loving homage to the arcade games of old. Although its concept seemed a tad well-worn and merely an excuse for a collection of computer game references and jokes, 'Wreck-It Ralph' ultimately included much more, including a well-worked out plot to thread together its reference points. It's a film full of great heart and consistent characters who are not altered for the sake of a joke. Its warmth, strong storytelling, voice acting and animation should ensure that 'Wreck-It Ralph' becomes a family favourite, even if it may find itself dating quickly as those nostalgic for old arcade games die off.

My emphatic choice for this year however is 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits', a film I absolutely loved from the moment I saw it. With its bold, sometimes surrealist script, wonderful stop-motion animation and strong, swashbuckling plot, 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is the film I have been waiting for Aardman Animation to make while sitting through disappointments like 'Arthur Christmas' and 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit'. 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is a film filled with big belly-laughs, great groaners and, in the role of the Pirate Captain, by far the best performance I've ever experienced by Hugh Grant. The whole thing feels like a studio back to the early form of their classic 90s shorts and I loved every second. The film sadly seems to have fallen quickly into obscurity even as the lesser nominees from this year become more popular. While I may watch 'Brave' again when it comes round on TV and I'd certainly enjoy seeing 'Wreck-It Ralph' again, 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is the one film from this year's nominees that I'll watch repeatedly for the rest of my life.
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People who added this item 1660 Average listal rating (1186 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 7.5
WINNER: Frozen


Despicable Me 2

Ernest and Celestine

The Wind Rises

MY CHOICE: Ernest and Celestine

This year was the year of 'Frozen', the first Disney film to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. 'Frozen' went on to become the highest grossing animated film of all time and the fifth highest grossing film of any kind (not adjusted for inflation). It also brought an avalanche of critical praise back to Disney which was largely unmatched since 'The Lion King', with talk of another Disney Renaissance on the cards as a result of the film. Bearing all this in mind, it was almost inevitable that 'Frozen' win the Oscar.

And yet... I am in a small minority of those who don't think it deserved it. People seem to have got very overexcited about 'Frozen' and, of course, the kids love it which is not to be overlooked as an important factor. But I found 'Frozen' to be a rather bland story, not very well told and with the most grafted-on comedy sidekick in recent memory. Everyone loved Olaf the snowman but his presence in the film seemed utterly superfluous and for the most part he seemed to be conducting his own separate film on the sidelines, like Ray Winstone in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'. Another element of 'Frozen' that people went wild for was the soundtrack, with the song 'Let It Go' by Idina Menzel becoming a smash hit. Again, I was unconvinced by this showy soundtrack, with its pompous bluster failing to recapture the charm of the classic Disney hits and other big songs like 'Love is an Open Door' proving to be utterly forgettable. All in all, I wouldn't say 'Frozen' is a bad film, just an average child-pleaser that somehow caught the public imagination, its Christmas-appropriate snowy settings probably playing a large part.

DreamWorks had another crack at Oscar glory this year with their average 'The Croods', an amusing enough stone age tale with a handful of nice moments and a lot of predictable sub-Flintstones gags merging modern day references with early-era settings. As with many DreamWorks films, I enjoyed it while I was watching it but emerged with no desire to see it again. The hugely popular 'Despicable Me 2' was probably 'Frozen's strongest competition for this year, with the slow-building popularity of the Minion characters growing massively, helped along by the film's great teaser trailer in which they sing 'Barbara Ann' using only the words 'banana' and 'potato'. While the apparent 'genius' of these characters has been grossly overstated, 'Despicable Me 2' did improve on its so-so predecessor significantly, giving the Minions more to do without letting them take over the whole film, and finding room for plenty of good jokes along the way. I personally enjoyed it a lot more than 'Frozen'.

To my surprise, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the Studio Ghibli effort for this year. Ghibli have managed to be overlooked for nomination for many great films but Hayao Miyazaki's 'The Wind Rises', the great director's much-trumpeted final film, seemed to lack the appeal and narrative skill of his previous films. The glorious artwork associated with the studio is there and the film is sumptuous to look at, although this time round the animation seemed somehow less flowing and the story not as engaging. Miyazaki was obviously aiming to make a more adult-orientated film but the story of a young aeronautical engineer and his dreams to build beautiful aircraft seemed to meander aimlessly for much of its lengthy runtime and then petered out. 'The Wind Rises' is certainly interesting and beautiful enough for me to watch it again sometime but I wonder if its dry meditations will have any more impact on me the second time round.

As is so often the case, the best film of the year was the dark horse.Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar's 'Ernest and Celestine' tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a starving, brutish bear and a curious, adventurous little mouse. Although it may look like a twee little parable on the power of platonic love and friendship conquering all, 'Ernest and Celestine' in fact retains much of the edge of Aubier and Patar's previous (though extremely different) animated film 'A Town Called Panic', with the plot taking in elements of the fugitives-on-the-run crime genre. The impeccable storybook style of the artwork captures the mood perfectly and the pacing is gentle but engaging, perhaps betraying the influence of a third directorial collaborator Benjamin Renner. 'Ernest and Celestine' is an instant classic of the medium and left me incredibly excited about what Aubier and Patar will do next.
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People who added this item 1084 Average listal rating (822 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 7.8
WINNER: Big Hero 6


How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

MY CHOICE: Song of the Sea

Let me begin by saying that Disney's 'Big Hero 6' is not a bad film. It's not a great film either but it's a solidly enjoyable, impressively animated film which provides a likable experience and attempts to address some serious topics like loss of a family member. However, it must also be noted that, in a year where there were at least two truly remarkable nominees, 'Big Hero 6's win confirms how little regard is given to the animation categories at the Oscars and interviews with a cross-section of the voters confirmed this, with many admitting (proudly, in some cases) that they hadn't even bothered watching all the nominees. 'Big Hero 6' is a safe, predictable choice in what is becoming an embarrassing run of similarly underthought winners.

'Big Hero 6' is probably the second weakest entry this year, with Dreamworks' 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' proving to be a solid but predictable sequel to one of the studios best films, suggesting that it may have been better to leave it as a stand-alone work rather than an inevitable franchise. Tellingly, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' was actually the favourite to win the award for much of the race. A much better American animation nominated this year was 'The Boxtrolls', a beautifully made stop-motion fable by Laika, the studio who made the excellent 'Coraline' and the disappointing 'ParaNorman'. As has often been the case with Laika, the visuals are better than the storytelling and 'The Boxtrolls' occasionally seems so caught up in aiming for laughs that it gets a bit baggy, but ultimately the delightfully tasteless adventures of these characters are fun for all ages and greatly enhanced by the amazing sets and stop-motion puppets.

But it is the remaining two films that were most deserving of the Oscar this year, the very same two films that so many Oscar voters dismissively refused to watch. On first seeing Isao Takahata's 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' I was convinced that this was the film that should have won the Oscar. Takahata's first nomination, this was the fourth Studio Ghibli film to receive a nod from the Academy, after three of Hayao Miyazaki's films had previously been nominated (including 'Spirited Away', which won in 2002). With a stylised, beautiful sketchy look, 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' is certainly the most impressive of this year's nominees to look at and its retelling of a 10th century Japanese folktale is flawless, even if the story itself gets a little weird towards the end. I was surprised, then, when this modern animation classic became my second favourite animated feature of the year, after Tomm Moore's 'Song of the Sea'. Moore had been nominated previously for his wonderful debut 'The Secret of Kells' but with this second feature he outdoes himself with a warm, involving family fantasy adventure that recalls all the best things you loved about cartoons as a child and wraps them up in a beautiful traditionally animated package that viewers of any age can enjoy. I can't understate just how deeply I fell in love with this exquisite film and how much I would have liked to have seen it win the Oscar. With this sort of competition, 'Big Hero 6' looks like a very dubious choice and has called the integrity of this Oscar category into question.
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