Oscar Potential - Best Animated Feature 2012

There are five movies that are nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. They are Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Wreck-It Ralph. Three of the five are stop-motion. With the advancement of 3D computer animation, cinematic cartoons are seemingly life-like and even realistically tactile, but filmmakers this year didn't feel the need to create digital simulations. Instead, they created physical models that could actually be touched, and not just by the filmmakers. In the case of Frankenweenie, the models were put on display and the public-at-large could actually reach out to touch them.

Speaking of which, Frankenweenie feels like vintage Tim Burton, which also may be the problem. Frankenweenie is based on a short film Burton made early in his career. The story of a boy filmmaker and his dog apes that of Mary Shelley's classic as well as Stephen King's cult favorite Pet Sematary. Shot in black-and-white, the production design and overall direction at times literally echoes Burton's Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. The problem is that it isn't as funny. It's comically bizarre, but it doesn't have the kind of comedic anchor that Johnny Depp or a Johnny Depp-type would bring. It merely devolves into a cheesy, 1950s horror movie. One could argue that it works as a spoof of that. The film does have a line that I love. A father looks at his son and earnestly says, "It's easy to promise the impossible."

Disney also offered Wreck-It Ralph. The story imagines what happens if characters in video games at a video arcade were alive. In my review, I said that Wreck-It Ralph is a villain in one of the games, and all the other characters in that game treat him like a pariah, which makes no sense. Every indication suggests that the video-game characters are akin to actors, playing roles or else they're puppets being controlled by the children who play them. Therefore, I don't know why the other characters would fear Ralph or exclude him from things based solely on the role he plays. His villainy is clearly just an act, an act whose damage can be magically fixed. Unless the characters discriminate against him for his size alone, I don't get their behavior toward Ralph.

The oft-rewarded Pixar has its first film to feature a female character as its lead. Brave is visually the best film of all the nominees this year. The animation is nothing short of spectacular, but that might be an unfair comparison being that it is all CGI as opposed to the stop-motion of the others. Much like the old, funny witch in this film, it's a potion pulling ingredients from tales such as Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992) but centered instead on a mother-daughter relationship. Aside from that, the only notable thing about it is the fact that it's the first Pixar movie to show rear male nudity.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits comes from the creative team behind the Wallace & Gromit series. Aardman knows how to craft good animation in terms of visually compelling and even complex stop-motion sequences, as well as writing good one-liners and on-screen gags. Hugh Grant is pretty hilarious as the protagonist, but the adventure ends up being a lesser emotionally powerful version of Pixar's Up. It becomes about two people fighting over a rare bird, culminating in a fall from an airship.

Of the five nominees, I would vote for ParaNorman. Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, with the exception of Wreck-It Ralph, it takes ideas from the other nominees and truly spins them into a funnier, comedic adventure. Like Frankenweenie, it has things coming back from the dead. Like The Pirates! Band of Misfits, it has characters from that time period. Like Brave, it has a witch. Unlike any of the others, it actually deals with issues that are topical and relevant to what children and teens are facing today. It tackles bullying in an interesting way. It is perhaps the first, American, animated film to have an openly gay character. All while it has jokes and notions that adults can appreciate.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

Wreck-It Ralph
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for scary action and rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.


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