Your everything-but-Disney guide to the 2020 Oscars' Best Animated Film nominees
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
First of all, no shade to Toy Story 4.
Between Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, the Mouse House typically dominates the animation field year after year, not only in mainstream attention but in awards glory. Last year, however, something unexpected but welcome happened at the Oscars: something non-Disney-related won Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards ceremony, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This year, as the 2020 Oscar nominations were unveiled Monday morning, Disney finds itself again the minority in a category the company routinely owns.
In a surprising turn, Frozen II, the highly anticipated sequel to the Oscar-winning Frozen, did not receive a nomination, so Toy Story 4 became the sole Disney/Pixar title among these honorees. Netflix received two Oscar nominations for animated features with Klaus and I Lost My Body, while Laika Studios’ Missing Link and DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World made up the other two.
Let’s get to know these contenders a bit more.
Director: Sergio Pablos
What it’s about: Netflix brought us a new animated Christmas tale, this one with a new origin story for Santa Claus. Kris Kringle — a.k.a. Klaus (J.K. Simmons) — is still a toymaker, but it’s only when the lonely carpenter from the woods is approached by postal academy student Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) that the Christmas toy business booms. Klaus donates his handmade trinkets, while Jesper delivers them, even as Grinch-like locals want them to stop.
Why it’s significant: Aside from an uplifting message about the spirit of Christmas, etc. Pablos tapped into 2D animation instead of the 3D (and now even 4D) most theatergoers are used to. He wanted to do something more than have his characters look like “stickers” placed on animated backgrounds, as he put it in a featurette for the film. “The aesthetic is something that a few years ago would’ve been considered impossible,” he said. “We are picking up traditional animation where it was left off which was sometime in the ‘90s. I thought, ‘What can we do to the traditional animation pipeline?'”
Director: Chris Butler
What it’s about: This sprawling, global adventure takes Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) on a journey to find Sasquatch, but “Susan” (Zach Galifianakis) is anything but a beast. He’s lonely and dreaming about joining his cousins, the yeti, at their home of Shangri-La. Thus, begins Lionel’s mission, along with a former love Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), to find a place in this world for Susan.
Why it’s significant: Laika made a name for itself in the industry through its use of stop-motion animation and CGI. You see it in their past work: Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Each of these films have been nominated for Oscars in the past, but none actually won an Academy Award. Rumors swirled in the past about how long Laika could continue operating without bigger box-office successes, considering how much work is needed to pull off the kind of work they’re determined to do. But Missing Link marks the studio’s first film to win a Golden Globe for animation, which sets their Oscar prospects high. And if an Oscar win means they can keep their lights on, that’s worth it.
I Lost My Body
Director: Jeremy Clapin
What it’s about: This is about as far away from Disney as one can get. The severed hand of pizza boy Naoufel awakes on the ground, escapes from the Parisian laboratory where it finds itself, and embarks on a journey across the city to reunite with its body. Along the way, it fends off various pests, including pigeons and rats, and all manner of hazards that would impede a body-less limb.
Why it’s significant: The film has a lot of name recognition in certain circles of cinema. Guillaume Laurant, the scribe behind the acclaimed 2001 French film Amélie, penned I Lost My Body, which won previous big awards from the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival. By itself, it was surprising to see such a human story in a movie about a hand. The animated appendage faces an intense sense of deja vu as certain motions resurrect memories from when it had a body. It’s in these memories, which include moments of Naoufel’s love Gabrielle, where the secret to how it got severed in the first place lies.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Director: Dean DeBlois
What it’s about: The third chapter in the children’s movie trilogy sees the return of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon pal Toothless, only this time they realize Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury out there. They encounter a Light Fury, who leads them to a hidden world of dragons in need of better dragon leadership. When these creatures find themselves under attack again, Hiccup is faced with the fact that his long-time buddy may need to fly solo from here on out.
Why it’s significant: Each film in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, popular at the box office, has been nominated for an Oscar, while How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the only one to win a Golden Globe. For the finale, DeBlois and his team of animators take advantage of the technological advances from over the years to create something striking with vibrant colors, a sense of brilliance, and dramatic flourishes.
Correction: An earlier draft of this story incorrectly stated How to Train Your Dragon 2 won an Oscar. It won a Golden Globe.