The Oscars in Retrospect: 2010 Best Animated Feature

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This year was very strong in terms of nominees, but ever since the reviews for the eventual winner came out in early June of this year and it became a lock for a Best Picture nomination, the race was over and there was absolutely nothing that could have changed it. In fact, the nominees were pretty much decided by then as all of these had already premiered, whether in theaters or in film festivals. It was thought that one of the nominees was on shaky ground because it was very French, but as nominations for foreign like The Triplets of Belleville and Persepolis showed that the Academy was very much willing to nominated these kinds of films even when the number of slots was limited to three. Even so, there were other contenders, so let’s take a look at them.

In the “no way in hell” category we have Alpha & Omega (terrible reviews, box office, and animation), Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (duh) and Dreams of Jinsha (just look at that awful animation).

In the “Thanks for playing but we’re going to have to pass” we have Shrek Forever After (better than the third film, but too little too late), Megamind (great premise poorly executed), and Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue (these films aren’t bad, but it’s obvious category filler).

Then there’s the “No chance and it’s a damn shame” we have Idiots & Angels (Bill Plympton at his most esoteric), and Summer Wars (great entertainment that just wasn’t going to play with the Academy).

Now on to the ones that did have a shot, no matter how small it was.

Despicable Me– No one really expected anything of this other than a few laughs and maybe some heartfelt father/daughter relationship stuff, and that’s pretty much what we got. But there’s one thing no one saw coming: the Minions. The presence of these gibberish-speaking yellow tictacs made the movie blow up to be one of the highest grossing movies of the year. However, despite its success, artistically it was ultimately overshadowed by the artistic achievements of other big studio films.

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole– This is quite possibly the unlikeliest of the contenders as it was directed by Zack Snyder, he of 300 and Watchmen fame, who would go on to become a punching bag for fanboys after making Man of Steel. There’s not much going on storywise as it is a simple good vs. evil hero’s journey stuff but with owls. But one thing set it apart from the best: it looks incredible. Snyder goes for broke when it comes to creating epic images, and it almost seems as if the owls are real.  Had the magic number been reached to have five nominees, I think this would have made it in just based on that.

My Dog Tulip– Despite this film’s low profile, for many this was one to watch out for. It is a very artsy and mature film about an author’s relationship with his dog, which was, according to him, the most meaningful relationship he ever had with any living creature. It was acclaimed not only for its animation, but because how matter-of-fact it is about the facts of life.

Tangled– This was probably the one that got barely left out. It was back then a technological ground breaker (they had to create band new software to animate Rapunzel’s hair), had fantastic animation, and to top it off, was a ton of fun. But also despite its decent box office take, its budget of nearly $300 million, kept it from being a stand out in that area and that kind of took the conversation away from the quality of the film. Thankfully, none of that matters now as it’s now one of the most beloved films Disney has made.

But like I said, despite the best efforts of these films’ campaigns, the race was decided before most of them were even released.

The Contenders

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How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois)

On any other year How to Train Your Dragon would have won the Oscar in a heartbeat. This movie gave us hope that DreamWorks, the house that Shrek built, had finally come of age and would finally be a worthy competitor to Pixar. Alas, the studio would eventually go back to its old ways and they wouldn’t be rewarded for their best effort to date since it went against the juggernaut that was Toy Story 3. With that said, the movie has stood the test of time very well.

The reason why this movie was such a surprise back in 2010 is that the marketing promised something completely different, something more akin to the studio’s other works. Plus, despite the fact that they were probably in production concurrently, it felt as if by having flight sequences with dragons it was ripping off Avatar. But then people saw it and were greeted by a mature, tender, and emotional coming of age story about tolerance and expanding your horizons. Though it still features some of the typical DreamWorks dialogue and humor, directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois take things very seriously, which allowed the film to rise above these trappings.

However, this might not have such a profound effect if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was a technical marvel. The animation obviously doesn’t strive for photorealism, but the textures in the clothing, dragons, and the environments are o detailed and vivid that you just want to reach out and touch them. This is then in turn used expertly in those classic, breathtaking flight sequences (I so regret not seeing this in theaters and in 3D). Then mix in John Powell’s iconic score (the one that finally got him an Oscar nomination), and you have one of the best animated experiences of the century so far.

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The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet)

Although a previous nominee in this category was about the effects the Iranian war had on it’s people and it’s culture, The Illusionist was by this point the most sobering nominee. Sylvain Chomet’s previous film, The Triplets of Belleville, was equally mature as this, but it was made more enjoyable by the bizarre and grotesque shenanigans. But this one, based on an unproduced screenplay by the legendary Jacques Tati, has very little time for silliness as it gradually turns into an unexpected heart-breaker of a film.

Tati wrote the screenplay as a sort of apology to a daughter that he never spent any time with due to his career. The story is actually that of a magician whose career is being brought to an end against his will as audiences just don’t believe in illusions anymore. But then he meets this young woman who believes that he is a real magician, and tags along on his journeys, and seeing how she seems to be the only one that believes in him, he tries to maintain that illusion alive by giving her everything she wanted, even if it means working in other jobs that have nothing to do with entertainment.

Throughout the film, we see how the realities of the world takes its toll on not only Tatischeff, but on other artists that we see on screen. The life of an artist is difficult, particularly when your art is seen as antiquated. Tatischeff tries to provide for his ward, to keep her innocent, but when the deck is stacked against you, more often than not you simply have to let things go before actual damage is caused. Two images from the ending stick out in particular as a visual representation of this, and they are emotional sucker punches.

Being a Jacques Tati script, this was originally meant to be a live action vehicle for him. However, being made with hand-drawn animation at a time when this particular art is almost dead only made the story more poignant. It’s a masterpiece.

The Winner

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Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

Well, what can I say about Toy Story 3 that hasn’t already been said by me or by basically every critic upon the film’s release. It was my favorite film of 2010 and ranks as my number five film of the decade so far. It may cover similar ground as Toy Story 2, but it does so in such an entertaining way, and with deeper emotion. And then there’s of course the last 20 minutes or so. I have sat through them many times now but it never fails to make me cry. Although there’s a Toy Story 4 coming in two years, this is the perfect ending for this always unexpectedly moving about growing up. It’s a masterpiece.

Did the right one win? Indubitably.

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? I haven’t seen everything that interests me from the list of contenders. I’ve been eager to watch Idiots & Angels and My Dog Tulip since I heard about them, but they aren’t very easy to come by. But from everything else I’ve seen, I must say that this is the best set of nominees that we could have gotten.

Up Next: A chameleon must save a town; a panda must save kung fu; Puss in Boots must save his reputation; GKIDS saves independent animation.

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3 thoughts on “The Oscars in Retrospect: 2010 Best Animated Feature

  1. I think Tangled is better than The Illusionist, which I felt was trying to do a Death of a Salesman story but the lead was kept at such a distance it didnt work for me. The animation was great but I definitely didnt think it was as good as Triplets or a masterpiece. Toy Story 3 is a wonderful movie if a little intense for kids

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