By Jed Wells
In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced an award to honor the Best Animated Feature of the year. The award would celebrate the best animated films each given year and the inaugural winner was “Shrek.” Before this award, animated movies had been recognized by the Oscars in the form of Special Achievement Awards, given to films such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Toy Story.” However, as the rise of animation in the film industry continued, so too did pressure on the Academy to formally recognize these films. While the Academy eventually created this category, the 19 years since this first award has shown an undeniable truth: The Academy has a Pixar problem.
Since the Academy first began recognizing animated features, there have been 79 total films nominated, with either three or five movies nominated each year, depending on the number of films submitted to the category. In this time, films made by animation studio Pixar have been nominated 13 times, leading all other studios, with Disney Animation films close behind with 11 nominations. But the real presence comes in the win column. Of the 19 total Best Animated Feature winners, Pixar movies have won 10 times or 58% of all awards. Lost fish, cooking rats, toys that have come to life (twice), it seems that almost any film made by Pixar becomes the overwhelming favorite to win Best Animated Feature. They have only lost the award three times; “Monsters Inc.” lost to “Shrek” in 2001, “Cars” lost to “Happy Feet” in 2006 and “Incredibles 2” lost to “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in 2018.
So, will Pixar win again? Their new film “Soul,” centering around a musician who has lost his life and is stuck in an in-between state, is definitely the prohibitive favorite and has been for the majority of the year, going back to even when it was announced. It remains atop most critic’s best-animated lists and is even garnering tentative nods towards a possible Best Picture nomination. If so, it would join “Beauty and the Beast,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” as the only animated films to be nominated for Best Picture. This would be a great honor for “Soul” but it would also guarantee it a win in Best Animated Feature.
However, should it not qualify, it will be up against some heavy hitters in the Best Animated category, primarily Irish film “Wolfwalkers,” which garnered heavy praise following its debut at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival. “Soul” will likely not be the only Pixar nominated film, with “Onward,” a neo-fantasy starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt vying for contention. Other possible nominees include Netflix’s “Over the Moon,” “The Willoughbys” and the Dreamworks sequel “The Croods: A New Age.” This is not to say that “Soul” will win purely because it is a Pixar movie, and by all accounts, “Soul” is one of 2020’s best films, but more than historically, it has seemed that the bar has been set lower for Pixar films than for any other. Whatever the case, look to see a (hopefully) tight race in the Best Animated Feature category, and possibly even an upset. But if not, don’t be surprised. It is a Pixar film, after all.
“Soul” is expected to receive at least one nomination outside of Best Animated Feature and if it lands an Original Screenplay nomination, then it’s game over for the competition. However, those clamoring for something fresh in the race might be putting their passion behind the critically acclaimed “Wolfwalkers” which would give Apple their first Academy Award win. What will happen at this point is anybody’s guess as there is still a lot of season ahead of us but one thing is for sure…”Soul” has been the frontrunner since the beginning of the season. How long will it take for everyone to start feeling fatigued about its anointed win status?
Have you seen “Soul” or “Wolfwalkers” yet? What do you think should win Best Animated feature this year? Check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Jed and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JedWells