Sunday, May 26, 2024

GKIDS’ History At The Oscars And What It Means For “The Boy And The Heron”

Founded in 2008, GKIDS is an American film distributor that focuses on independent animation. “The Secret of Kells,” the debut film of Irish animator Tomm Moore, earned the distribution company worldwide recognition in 2010 when it garnered a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 82nd Academy Awards. They’ve since distributed highly acclaimed, largely hand-drawn films from overseas to North American audiences, such as the works of the independent Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli.

GKIDS has had an outsized influence in the animated feature category before, earning Oscar nominations for the previously mentioned “The Secret of Kells” in 2010, “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” in 2012, “Ernest & Celestine” in 2013, “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” in 2014, “Boy & the World” and “When Marnie Was There” in 2015, “My Life as a Zucchini” in 2016, “The Breadwinner” and “Revolting Rhymes” in 2017, “Mirai” in 2018, and “Wolfwalkers” in 2020. However, the company has yet to win a single Oscar for its efforts.

They’ve previously distributed three Ghibli films in North America, with celebrated director Hayao Miyazaki’s final film for the studio, “The Boy and the Heron,” slated to be released by GKIDS later this year, becoming the fourth film distributed by the studio. There’s an interesting tendency to note regarding the Academy’s handling of animation when looking at how these three films fared throughout past awards seasons and what it might tell us about how “The Boy and the Heron” performs this year, considering how overly confident many pundits seem to be about its chances at this stage in the year.

The animation committee has a penchant for dismissing independent animated films and rewarding more commercially successful films. They tend to be backed by bigger studios with larger campaign budgets or have more visibility through wider distribution. Considering this bias has recently declined in response to criticism associated with the category, GKIDS, which consistently gets Oscar nominations but misses out on wins to larger companies, may have a better chance of winning Academy Awards in the future. Thus, understanding the Oscar prospects and trajectory of “The Boy and the Heron” in the upcoming award season requires looking at the developing relationship between GKIDS and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

FROM UP ON POPPY HILLFrom Up On Poppy HillGKIDS’ first Ghibli release was the 2013 film “From Up On Poppy Hill.” The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki, with a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa. It garnered favorable reviews from critics overall; many noted it wasn’t very innovative but was effectively beautiful, as one would anticipate from any Ghibli production. “From Up On Poppy Hill” earned $1,002,895 in North America and $60,456,530 in other territories for a total of $61,459,425 worldwide. It received a runner-up prize from the UFCA and three nominations from various critics associations for Best Animated Feature. The film received just one screenplay nomination from the Annie Awards, a relatively indicative representation of how AMPAS might respond to it. However, it fell short of recognition from many major precursors and ultimately failed to receive an Oscar nomination.

One of the many reasons why “Poppy Hill” failed to obtain recognition from the Academy was likely because it was up against another Ghibli film, “The Wind Rises,” which received significantly better reviews, was more commercially successful, and had a stronger narrative, with Miyazaki referring to it as his farewell film at the time. Compared to “Poppy Hill,” which was more of a slice-of-life kind of film, “The Wind Rises” covered a fundamentally broader and culturally important story. “The Wind Rises” was distributed in North America by Walt Disney Studios, which obviously has a strong track record with Oscar nominations and wins, and the narrative surrounding the film provided voters an opportunity to show their respect for Miyazaki’s legacy. “From Up On Poppy Hill” was not directed by Miyazaki and had little buzz or momentum over the year, losing out on animation prizes from major critic organizations to “The Wind Rises.” GKIDS did nothing wrong this award season; it was just overshadowed, which showed the Academy typically chooses to acknowledge more substantial films or distribution companies that are more widely recognized. If Disney had distributed “Poppy Hill,” it likely would’ve been nominated for the Oscar.

GKIDS has a perfect awards season candidate this year, given that they can capitalize on the sentimental narrative behind “The Boy and the Heron,” considering “The Wind Rises” successfully played on the same awards season narrative of being Miyazaki’s final film in its campaign. Early reactions linked “The Boy and the Heron” to “The Wind Rises” in scale and tone while distinguishing it from the unsuccessful “From Up On Poppy Hill.” This, along with the film’s farewell narrative for Miyazaki, has the potential to overcome its modest campaign budget and propel it to an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYAThe Tale Of The Princess KaguyaLate in 2014, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” premiered in North America in the “Masters” section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics in the US, who dubbed it a contemporary animated classic. One critic noted they would rank it above “Spirited Away,” a film that won the Academy Award in 2003, declaring it an artistic triumph. Despite receiving no other big nominations in the more meaningful precursors, it received many critics’ animation prizes, and the film was eventually nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Like “Spirited Away,” this film was likely nominated due to its widespread acclaim and the positive word of mouth it garnered within the industry. It’s clear the Ghibli and possibly the GKIDS name gained a great deal of recognition during this time, to the point that even their most experimental films were capable of receiving Oscar nominations. The film was also recognized alongside “Song of the Sea,” which GKIDS distributed that year. This further implied GKIDS was now fully capable of campaigning and getting nominations at the Oscars. However, in terms of winning, the Academy is still prone to choose the safer animated film over the more critically acclaimed animated film. Case in point, the winner that year was “Big Hero 6” (notably after the presumed frontrunner, “The LEGO Movie,” failed to receive a nomination that year).

Some early reactions to “The Boy and the Heron” noted the story and direction are unlike anything Ghibli has done previously, paralleling the inventiveness of “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” If the Academy has grown away from its populist mindset within the animation category, this could aid the film’s Oscar prospects enormously. Additionally, as was done with “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” screening the film at various fall film festivals could generate enough buzz to boost the film’s chances of winning or receiving nominations in above-the-line categories. GKIDS has previously used film festivals as an effective starting point for its award-winning journey. In fact, “The Boy and the Heron” has now been named the opening film of the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, which could considerably expand its audience and solidify its standing as an awards contender.

WHEN MARNIE WAS THEREWhen Marnie Was ThereOn May 22nd, 2015, GKIDS announced they were handling distribution for the North American release of “When Marnie Was There.” The film had its world premiere at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. Although “When Marnie Was There” was well-received, several critics deemed it fell short of Ghibli’s high standards because it lacked a compelling or coherent narrative. The film only received three Annie Award nominations, missed the majority of critics groups, yet still received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The ability of “When Marnie Was There” to achieve this was likely due to the name recognition Ghibli and GKIDS had achieved up until this point, establishing they were household names. It was also a generally poor year for mainstream animation: two of the five nominees that year were foreign animated films (GKIDS distributed both), and an additional one was Charlie Kaufman’s R-rated, deeply mature, and existential stop-motion film “Anomalisa.” However, the main prompt for this film’s Oscar nomination was the rising criticism and an altering relationship between the Academy and independent animation, represented by GKIDS.

When examining the awards prospects of “The Boy and the Heron,” “When Marnie Was There” is an important comparison to look at because it represents a shift in the Academy’s perspective that films from smaller distribution companies may be just okay, yet still receive Oscar nominations as most Disney movies do. This changing tide has been demonstrated by the Academy’s relationship with GKIDS, given that “From Up On Poppy Hill” was received similarly and had comparable commercial success. Yet “When Marnie Was There” was nominated while “From Up On Poppy Hill” was not. Instead, with a greater emphasis on quality rather than financial earnings, future independent animated films, such as “The Boy and the Heron,” will not be dismissed from consideration based on their popularity or commercial success, even if these are still factors worth considering. This places less pressure on “The Boy and the Heron” to perform in this manner and helps strengthen its Oscar prospects.

THE BOY AND THE HERONThe Boy And The HeronGKIDS’ Oscar success is intriguing because, unlike most Disney films, which would likely receive consideration regardless of their quality, many GKIDS films only have a shot at an Oscar nomination depending on the landscape of animated films that year. Though Studio Ghibli receives nominations based on name recognition, with “When Marnie Was There” as an example, it hasn’t always been enough to get a film on voters’ minds. Before this point, the studio’s popularity with the Academy was arbitrary, as are most independent animated films. Despite previously held Academy bias against independent animation, GKIDS has proven to be exceptionally adept at the awards game. Even smaller animation production companies receive nominations through GKIDS’ distribution and campaign strategies.

The likelihood of “The Boy and the Heron” winning depends on whether the Academy will be swayed by its unique narrative or continue rewarding popularity. Although, in this case, the “popular” film, “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse,” would also be considered a victory for this category given its innovation within the animation medium. Despite this, it seems GKIDS has the perfect film to not only receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature but also obtain a win. “The Boy and the Heron,” unlike “Poppy Hill,” is said to have a massive scope and, like “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” which helps it stand out from the rest of the studio’s catalog. The narrative behind “The Boy and the Heron” has already been demonstrated to succeed, with “The Wind Rises” riding on the same justification for its Oscar nomination, and there’s a shifting tide within the Academy’s mindset towards animation (aided in no small part last year by last year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar recipient Guillermo del Toro and his continuing push for the industry to recognize “animation is not a genre, it’s a medium”) with a greater emphasis on honoring independent animation.

The Best Animated Feature category would benefit greatly from either “The Boy And The Heron” or “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” winning the Oscar because both films are important to the medium’s continuing push toward gaining industry respect. It can be interpreted that “The Boy and the Heron” winning the Oscar would be seen as a shift by the Academy from disregarding lesser-known animated films over the last decade. Alternatively, they may reward “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” for its box-office success and originality. Currently, it feels safe to predict “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” to win the Oscar and “The Boy And The Heron” to receive a nomination until more audiences see the film later this fall and winter. However, with the Academy’s changing attitudes toward animation, an already successful built-in Oscar narrative as Miyazaki’s swan song, and general faith in the legendary director’s ability to deliver, “The Boy and the Heron” could potentially rival “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” and overtake it within the Best Animated Feature Oscar race. When looking at what has helped GKIDS succeed in the past, “The Boy and the Heron” has an ideal formula to achieve Oscar glory.

Do you think “The Boy And The Heron” will be nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature? Do you think it will win? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. And please check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Max and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @@maxoutfilm

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