Oscar Breakdown: Best Animated Feature

By  · Published on February 22nd, 2011

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

There’s no secret that the certified sub-sections of “Best Picture” are not only somewhat backhanded, they’re getting increasingly more robbed of any shred of surprise at who the potential winner is as the Academy expands the number of films qualifying for the biggest prize. Increasing the number of nominees to ten whilst retaining the sub-categories of, generally, the same award (Best Animated *Film*, Best Foreign *Film*, Best Documentary *Film*…) seems nearly needless; especially in this particular category because Pixar has removed any degree of competitiveness the past two years.

It isn’t because Pixar has a stronghold on the award of Best Animated Film itself (despite their current 4 for 6 record and running on 3 consecutive), but mainly because now that the Best Picture category has been extended to 10 films they’re more likely to have already announced the winner of a sub-category film by having announced the nomination of one (and only one) of the sub-category films in the larger category.

It is still nice to see as many films as possible get deserved recognition even though there’s about as close to a guarantee that they will lose as can possibly be without actually being able to guarantee a guarantee. Though, assuming the illogical can actually occur it would be interesting to see the black hole in the Oscarverse that would develop if Toy Story 3 is not announced as the victor.

As such, the Winner (highlighted in red) and two “Waydagoers” are…


Filmmakers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois unite again to bring a little heart back in to Dreamworks Animation since the production company’s first film, Shrek. The company has been sporadic with the quality of its output since inception offering up pictures in varying degrees of entertainment with some noticeable highs (Kung Fu Panda) and noticeable lows (Shark Tale) with many falling somewhere in between.

Sanders and DeBlois injected many of the heartfelt, story and character elements from their last film together, Lilo and Stitch, to tell a story about a centuries-long rivalry between a village of vikings and the local dragon wildlife being turned on its head when a young, ambitious and intelligent viking with the ferociousness of a butterfly badly injures one of the dragon species and through attempting to get him back to health he learns more than he bargained for.

Why It Might Win:

As a benchmark for quality animation and storytelling Pixar Studios has established itself as the company that produces the films that every other animated picture gets compared to. How To Train Your Dragon may be the closest any American studio has come thus far to replicating the feeling of a Pixar film. Toothless (the dragon) may be the most lovable character of the year and the flight sequences stand toe-to-toe with the best of what Avatar was able to accomplish while displaying more heart in the meanwhile. Toss in that it was one of the most well-received films overall and a strong showing at the box office you have a picture with a strong case for being crowned cartoon king of 2010.

Why It Will Not Win:

Even if Toy Story 3 had not been nominated for Best Picture to dissolve any shred of mystery, or if Dragon had also been nominated for Best Picture, everything I just said positively about Dragon applies to Toy Story 3 cranked to eleven. It doesn’t replicate the heart of a Pixar film, it is a Pixar film with the heart of a Pixar film. Toothless may be the most lovable character, but Toy Story 3 has the most lovable cast. There are no flying sequences to compare to Avatar, but the escape sequence from the daycare can justifiably stand beside some of the greatest prison break pictures ever made. Toss in that it isn’t just one of the most well-received pictures critically and one of the highest grossing films of the year, it is THE most well-received picture critically and THE highest grossing film of the year and you have a picture that just walks in to the auditorium wearing the crown sewn to its head.


It’s been seven years since Sylvain Chomet’s last (and only, until now) feature-length picture and he chose to adapt an unproduced script written by famed French comic director/writer/actor Jacques Tati back in the 1950s. The film tells of a classic stage illusionist finding himself in the midst of a cultural transition in popular entertainment from classic stage performers to rock and roll musicians.

On one of his paying jobs to perform in a small community he encounters a poor, young girl enthralled with his magic and the two form a relationship as the entertainer finds himself equally entranced by the prospect of forming a meaningful relationship with one he feels he can be meaningful too.

Why It Might Win

The pedigree of the film alone is enough to garner the attention of the Academy. It’s an adaptation of a script written originally over fifty years ago by one of the greatest filmmakers in world cinema history and was done by one of the most intriguing storytellers working today. Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville was, at the time, considered a serious contender to upstage Finding Nemo in this same category back in 2003 due to its impressive display of artistry with its unique animation aesthetic and unconventional lack of dialogue, relying solely on the physical display of the animated characters to tell its story. The Illusionist is absolutely no different with a slightly more whimsical portrayal of a very moving relationship between two people forming a father/daughter dynamic, all the while commenting on the desires and desperate need for people to not only connect with others, but to maintain a purpose when your ambitions and love for what you do are at their most dire.

Why It Will Not Win

Because it’s 2003 all over again. Chomet is up against a powerhouse animated picture that is as well thought of as the picture he was up against and lost to back then, only this time the odds are stacked even higher in favor of the Pixar machine as their picture is nominated in a broader category for the same award, which all but solidifies its taking home of the smaller prize (for lack of a more on the nose, yet polite, term).

Unconventional is not exactly a word synonymous, historically, with Academy Award winners as well. The Academy likes to acknowledge the achievements of the outside-the-box pictures by nominating them, but rarely does something truly unique actually win. However, the additional exposure for the film to get people interested and the gorgeous animation and artwork should tattoo a sparkle or two in the eyes of the viewers to hopefully get them to watch this picture at some point in time. It’s an affecting film that doesn’t go to the most lighthearted of places, but where it does go resonates and can keep you transfixed emotionally for days.


The Pixar team has upped themselves once again. Not in that their latest picture is better than the films before it – though it’s certainly in the discussion – but that they managed to revisit a franchise against the desire for the majority of filmgoers to want to experience new Pixar creations and made us all eat our frustrations. With this latest installment in the Toy Story franchise Pixar has once again established itself as the most reliable studio on the planet to give quality entertainment full of everything that makes films memorable and significant. At this point they can do whatever it is they want to do and we will trust and anticipate something special as over the course of the last fifteen years they’ve reassured at every step of the way that they not only love doing what they do they go the extra mile, spend the extra money, and take the additional time to perfect their product so that they’re not only proud to have been a part of it, but proud that you enjoyed viewing it.

Why It WILL Win

Aside from the obvious announcement of victory by nomination in the category of the largest award Toy Story 3 meets every single point of assured victory. The overall consensus isn’t just that everyone likes it, everyone pretty much loves it. It’s not only the best reviewed picture of the year it was the most financially successful, offering the educated conclusion that audiences and critics felt exactly the same way. It’s clever, touching, joyous, adventurous, hilarious, and every other adjective one would consider contributing to enjoyment.

Why It May Not Win….?

Taking his latest project as seriously as possible, Pixar director Brad Bird is neck-deep into method directing to prepare for his first live-action venture in the upcoming Mission Impossible 4 and set the Best Animated Feature envelope to self-destruct upon disclosure; resulting in the break dance throwdown between Pixar and Dreamworks that we’ve all been waiting for, set to be animated by Sylvain Chomet fifty years from now.

Who do you want to win?

Check out our predictions for:

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Original Score

Best Lead Actor

Best Lead Actress

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