UPDATE! Big Hero 6 is the winner! The movie captured our hearts, and that of the Oscar voters as well.
First I need to get this out of the way: there were many deserving films, but The Book of Life without a doubt deserved to be nominated for an Oscar. The exquisitely animated movie with a Day of the Dead theme was not a box office success and seems to have escaped critical acclaim as well, but here I recognize it as a masterpiece celebrating everything wonderful about Mexican culture. That being said, here are mini reviews and links to longer reviews of all the nominees for Best Animated Feature.
Song of the Sea
GKIDS is the distributor behind many remarkable independently made animated films, including those from Japanese Studio Ghibli, and last year’s Best Animated Feature nominee Ernest and Celestine. Now they bring us Song of the Sea, a beautifully animated film with a modern, hand-drawn style. It is the tale of Saoirse, who is no ordinary girl. She is a selkie, and her magic is responsible for keeping the fairy world alive. But she slowly starts losing her magic when she is taken away from the sea by her grandmother, who doesn’t know her true identity as a selkie. You can check out my full review here.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Another amazing accomplishment by the famed Japanese Studio Ghibli, this time by director Isao Takahata. The movie is hard to find but is available on DVD from Amazon. Beautifully hand drawn with water colors in pastel shades, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on a Japanese legend about a bamboo cutter who finds a tiny baby inside of a cane he cuts. He and his wife adopt her and name her “Princess.” Yet when she comes of age, and Okina discovers treasure that he believes is her dowry, he determines that she will marry a man of rank. But Princess has other ideas. Will she be able to follow her heart? Full review here.
The painstaking stop motion animation makes this a visual work of genius. The story is another matter, mostly the stuff of nightmares. The premise is very creative: the Boxtrolls, literally trolls who live in boxes, collect the discarded “treasures” of the humans at night. A wicked man called Snatcher tries to portray them as evil, convincing the citizenry of the town that the Boxtrolls intend to terrorize them, when nothing could be further from the truth. The young hero Eggs and his new friend Winnie are determined to reveal the truth about the Boxtrolls’ gentle nature. However, it seems that the filmmakers were so focused on artistry that heart for the story somehow got lost, and that is what it’s missing. (Gruesome portrayal of Snatcher’s disgusting food allergy was also a turnoff.) Full review here.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: PREDICTED WINNER
This movie has it all: a crowd pleaser and box office success with a great story and thrilling action sequences. With Disney juggernaut Frozen the winner last year, it seems likely that this movie from Dreamworks will follow in its footsteps. This movie ideal for older kids (probably too intense for preschoolers) follows heartfelt relationships: the bond of friendship and the love between parents and children. Having faith in others and overcoming the unfairness of life with determination and love are major themes here. The story of which dragons will be on top is thoroughly riveting. Full review here.
Big Hero 6
Huggable Baymax is an instant favorite with young kids. The robot resembling a marshmallow and his five friends are at the center of a potential Marvel franchise for kids: together they are Big Hero 6. The brilliant young Hiro must thwart the efforts of a masked villain who stole his extraordinary invention and started using it for evil. This movie has heart to spare, kid friendly humor, bracing action sequences, and even a surprise twist at the climax. Maybe it’s not quite enough for Best Animated Feature Oscar gold, but it’s a fun movie the whole family can enjoy. My full review is here.