No offense to the people who toiled on other potential nominees for Best Animated Feature. But this year’s race is all about two, and only two, contenders: the green team and the red team. That is, it’s between the big green guy and his significant ogre, Princess Fiona, from Shrek 2 (created by DreamWorks’ Pacific Data Images studio) and the crimson-suited superfamily in The Incredibles (the latest from Pixar Animation Studios, still partnered with Disney despite a very public feud over their future together).
If box office were the deciding factor, the award would be a done deal: Shrek 2 by a mile. Although everybody expected good numbers for the sequel to the 2001 original (which grossed $268 million domestically), nobody thought it would become 2004’s No. 1 North American release, collecting nearly $440 million. While Incredibles has pulled in roughly $250 million, the total falls short of both Shrek 2 and last year’s Best Animated Feature winner, Finding Nemo — also from Pixar/Disney — which tallied about $340 million.
A good part of Shrek 2‘s universal appeal lies in its celebrity-culture topicality. The filmmakers uprooted Mike Myers’ slobby, vaguely-Scottish-accented version of Grumpy from his comfy swampland home and plopped him down in wife Fiona’s homeland, the glamorous kingdom of Far Far Away — a thinly disguised stand-in for Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where appearance-obsessed citizens live enviously, competitively ever after. ”It started as a thematic decision,” codirector Andrew Adamson told EW last spring. ”It became a comedic engine. There’s a lot to make fun of in the most image-conscious place in the world.”
The Incredibles, by contrast, aims at a subtler satirical target, unfolding in an alternate-reality American suburbia. Long-suffering dad Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), working incognito as an insurance-claims adjuster, rails against a society that has punished overachievers and rewarded the mediocre. As writer-director Brad Bird put it, ”When you rain down trophies on anyone that walks within 50 yards of the field, you’re denigrating achievement.”
Speaking of achievement and denigration, it would be hard to find an Oscar contest where more ego is at stake. The DreamWorks-Pixar/Disney rivalry runs deep, at least at the highest echelons: Disney’s Michael Eisner still controls Pixar’s distribution, and DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg was famously squeezed out of Disney over a decade ago. DreamWorks and Disney/Pixar first faced off at the Oscars in 2002, when the original Shrek beat Monsters, Inc. Now that the computer animation industry has become a behemoth — the most successful CG films routinely gross at least half a billion dollars worldwide before home video or toy revenues are counted — the question of who gets Oscar bragging rights isn’t just kids’ stuff.