Hey, you guys like regular features, right? How about a weekly rundown of the Oscar race as it heats up, with an emphasis on various categories and an overall assessment of how things are shaping up? Well, that’s what I plan on delivering here with “Statuesque.” (Clever, no?) This should also be a way for me to talk about stuff that I’m not really supposed to be talking about yet, but can anyway because this is more of an essay than a review, if you know what I mean.
For instance, take this inaugural entry. The other week, I saw a work print of Disney’s new animated film, ‘Tangled.’ I’m not allowed to review it yet because the print was only 60% complete and the movie is so far away from release (it’s out around Thanksgiving). Still, I can talk ABOUT the movie, like how I sincerely believe that it has a serious shot of being nominated for this year’s Best Animated Feature.
For the week before I saw ‘Tangled’ at a special holiday presentation that Disney put on in New York, I had been watching the new Blu-ray of ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’ Like, incessantly. I love that movie and I think that Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders created a wholly unique and wonderful universe. I was particularly taken aback by how grand the scope of the film is, and how great the design work is on lead dragon Toothless. I know that DreamWorks Animation is pushing hard, not only for a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, but also for a Best Picture nomination, which probably will be a tough sell. The two animated movies that have been nominated for Best Picture, ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ and last year’s ‘Up,’ have a strong emotional component that, sadly, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ lacks. (‘Dragon’ is instead a great ride with some fine sentimental beats.) But as I watched ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ more and more, it seemed to me that it has a Best Animated Feature nomination on lock.
The only other surefire nominee (and probable winner) is Disney/Pixar’s universally loved ‘Toy Story 3,’ although ‘Dragon’ could give it a run for its money.
Another likely nomination will, I believe, go to ‘Tangled.’ It’s Walt Disney Animation’s 50th animated feature, and you can feel the weight of the legacy pressing down on it. The story is a revamped version of the Rapunzel fairy tale. In it, a headstrong young girl (Mandy Moore) is stolen from her parents, the king and queen of the land, as a baby, because of the magic that her hair gives off. (This conceit is a little iffy, but it works.) She now resides under the controlling supervision of Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) in a tower, her hair now long and luxurious. Like ‘The Little Mermaid,’ she dreams of a life outside of the tower, and is granted that wish when a conniving thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) promises to take her back to the kingdom.
It’s all fairly standard-issue, romantic comedy fairy tale stuff, but the conviction with which it’s brought to the screen is kind of staggering. First of all, it has a beautiful, painterly visual style that modernizes the fairy tale look without ever betraying that legacy. Also, the character animation is totally outstanding. The array of expressions and body language is sort of unparalleled. And the story moves – it has a great energy and wit about it, without ever falling back into those cynical, ‘Shrek‘-ian clichés that have become so popular recently. It has great songs too, which always endear Academy voters to animated films. (It’s not being sold as a musical but very much is.) They leave you with a big bright smile on your face.
I’ll talk more about it when the movie approaches release, but I can tell you right now that it’s a real contender for the Best Animated Feature prize.
Last year, there were five nominees in this category. The year before, only three. This leads to my final speculation. If there are only three nominees, they’ll be ‘Tangled,’ ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’ If there are five nominees, you can add ‘Despicable Me,’ a movie that I didn’t care for but many others did. (It got a collective critical thumbs-up and made a whole boatload of money.) That leaves one more spot. What will it be? ‘Shrek Forever After’? Did anyone like this movie, much less see it? Maybe the Academy will skewer towards more adult fare like ‘My Dog Tulip’ or the Jacques Tati-originated ‘The Illusionist.’ That last one doesn’t have a current North American release date (although Sony Pictures Classics has picked up the rights), but could be brought out in an Oscar-qualifying run before the end of the year. Then there’s always ‘Megamind,’ which opens against ‘Tangled’ this November. Yeah, that doesn’t seem likely.