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Kubo and the Two Strings

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MovieKubo and the Two Strings
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film, Visual Effects

For the Animated Feature Film category, the reigning formula has been 1-2 Disney or Pixar films, 1-2 Dreamworks or stop-motion film, and 2 foreign films. That fits this year. Kubo falls into your typical stop-motion film standard, save for one crucial element – the visual effects.

Kubo and the Two Strings follows the story of Kubo as his mother tries to protect him from his malicious relatives. It’s a tale that leads Kubo to various enchanted environments and through several trials. Giving more detail will spoil some surprises.

It has a classic epic journey structure that’s predictable but in a positive way. Some things don’t make sense at first, but if you stick through it, all your questions will be answered and you’ll be left smiling. It’s severely underrated and I’d recommend it to anyone and especially to anyone with kids. It’s not a kids film per say, but there’s so many cool things about it that children would love it.

The visual effects are STUNNING. Basically, they painstakingly meshed together CGI effects and stop-motion effects to create these vast environments and characters, while maintaining the stream-lined feel of a stop-motion movie. There are water effects throughout the film that LOOK like they’re stop-motion but they’re actually CGI. It’s incredible. There was a lot of work put into these effects. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend visiting this article about what they did to accomplish this feat.

Predictions
Sadly, I don’t think Kubo will win either of these categories. It’s possible there could be an upset win here in the Animated Feature Film category, but it’s unlikely.

Animated Feature Films: Moana and Zootopia

The reality is that the Animated Feature Film category is going to come down to these two. This is a difficult one to predict.

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Movie: Moana
What it’s up forAnimated Feature Film, Original Song

I was late to the Moana game and didn’t see it until January. Once I saw it, I immediately understood what all the fuss has been about. People have called it the best movie Disney has ever made. I’m not sure I would go that far, but it does have a pure storytelling perfection that has been lacking in recent years.

The basic plot is that Moana, the daughter of the village chief, sets out on an adventure to restore the heart of Tafiti, the Mother Goddess, in order to restore balance to the world. I don’t want to mention more than that because the less you know the better.

I would vote for Moana for Animated Feature Film. The story has a classic fairy-tale structure to it but provides enough unpredictability for it to fully engage the audience. It’s funny at just the right moments (I love Hei Hei. I don’t even care what you say.) and addresses some deep emotions without going overboard. It’s hard to describe the simple joy this movie brought me when I saw it.

The music is ridiculously catchy. It’s the best music from a Disney movie since The Lion King. Yes, I said it. Lin-Manuel Miranda did a great job providing his unique touch while still keeping to a classic Disney sound thanks to his partnership with Mark Mancina.

The song that Moana is nominated for is “How Far I’ll Go”. Here’s the video:

Now for the other Disney movie nominated:

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MovieZootopia
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film

Zootopia is awesome. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Netflix so go watch it. It’s clever and meaningful and in an entirely different category from Moana. It’s difficult to accurately compare the two because the genres are so different. Animated Features get lumped into this single category, but every animated film is not the same as every other animated film. They appeal to different audiences just like live-action films.

Zootopia follows Judy Hopps, a small-town bunny, who wants to be a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. She works her way into the ranks and immediately discovers the challenge of being the first bunny cop on the force.

The film addresses racism, police/civilian relationships, discrimination based on demographics, and stereotypes. This is done with very little subtlety. The heavy-handedness of the message is the one complaint I have with the film. It wasn’t so extreme as to ruin the movie, but certain parts broke the fourth wall a bit too much. This is especially true because it came out during a busy period of civil unrest in the US over police brutality. (It took two years to make Zootopia, so the timing of the release was more coincidental than intentional.) However, the messages are good ones that are made more accessible to kids because of the animated film format. I’m completely on board with being able to talk to kids more about stereotyping using the predators and prey of Zootopia to help drive the point home.

Overall, Zootopia is entertaining and well-made. If the subject matter of the movie had been something less relevant, however, I don’t think it would’ve been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. It would’ve fallen into the same category as Finding DoryMonsters University, and The Lego Movie (I’m still sore about that one) – movies that were GOOD but not good enough for an Oscar nod.

Predictions
It could go one of two ways – either the Academy votes for the movie with a message or they intentionally vote for Moana because they don’t want to seem like they’re just voting for a movie with a message. I’ll make a final decision eventually. I believe Moana is the better film overall.

Animated Feature Films

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the two “foreign” movies nominated for AFF each year will not be easily available before the Oscars themselves. This year, those two movies are Boy and the World and When Marnie Was There. However, I did manage to track down the other three. I’ve already discussed Inside Out, the likely winner of this category. Here’s a quick review of the other two.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

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Claymation always astounds me. The incredibly intense process makes any feature length attempt admirable. Shaun the Sheep is adorable and entertaining. Shaun, the sheepdog Bitzer, and the rest of the flock spend the movie trying to find their farmer who gets lost in the big city. Among the gags and non-verbal jokes, it creates some surprisingly deep and emotional moments. It’s definitely worth watching, especially for kids.

Anomalisa

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Every year, there’s one movie I regret seeing. This was that movie.

An admirable effort was put in to overcome the technical and production hurdles of this film. First of all, it’s stop-motion. Second of all, it’s stop-motion using rapid prototyping (aka 3D printing) – a still fairly new concept. Third of all, it was (at least partially) funded through a Kickstarter campaign.

The story follows Michael, a motivational speaker who looks for purpose in his boring and predictable world while on a business trip. It’s an adult film. It’s rated R. But the sex scenes weren’t even the worst thing about this film. The worst thing about the film was the lack of resolution for Michael. I suppose this was intentional since real life throws us problems without resolutions all the time. However, Michael leaves us with virtually no hope for himself or for humanity. My objection simply comes from an emotional and spiritual standpoint, as someone who wants the best for humanity.

The technical aspects of the film were spectacular. After a while, once I got used to the puppets, everything seemed natural. They are some of the most realistic puppets for stop-motion animation I have ever seen. The screenplay – aside from the moral problems – is well-done. The story itself almost becomes something fantastic. Everyone in Michael’s world has the same voice and the same face except for Lisa. The symbolic ideas behind this concept are incredibly intriguing and almost turn into an interesting story.

Predictions
It will be completely shocking if anything besides Inside Out wins. Especially because it was nominated for Original Screenplay.

Inside Out

Movie: Inside Out
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film, Original Screenplay

Sometimes when I write these posts, especially when it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, I put the movie’s soundtrack on in the background to transport me back. As I’m doing that now for Inside Out, I realize that I’m disappointed that Michael Giacchin0 didn’t get nominated for his score composition.

Inside Out tells the story of an 11 year old girl who moves across the country from the perspective of the emotions inside her head. The primary focus of the story-telling is to provide metaphors and colorful examples of how our emotions and memories affect us as people.

Some people criticized the simplistic nature of the main plot of the film (two characters get lost and need to find their way back). However, that basic story provided the foundation that Pete Docter and company needed to explore the human subconscious and take the time to analyze what’s going on in there. We’re led to different locations in Riley’s brain and each stop allows some new facet to be brought to the surface.

The other slight controversy that came with the film (since 2015 is unofficially the year of being offended by everything) is that it was scientifically inaccurate. To that I say…it’s a cartoon. It’s meant to be relatable on a basic level. I know that as a twenty-something woman who still remembers what it was like to be an 11 year old girl, it hit me in a very real way. I started crying at the beginning and basically didn’t stop till the credits. I absolutely LOVED the fact that it explained in a simple way how sadness is an important emotion and it helps you process certain things. That’s really essential for kids to understand.

That being said, I was thrilled to see Inside Out get nominated for Original Screenplay. I had not even thought about that being a possibility since it is so rare for animated movies to get nominated for “real” categories. I have not seen any of the other movies in this category yet, but it seems like there’s some solid competition here. I doubt Inside Out will get the Oscar, but it is fantastic that the Academy recognized it with a nomination.

As for the Animated Feature Film category…let’s be real, it’s hard to beat a Pixar movie. The one interesting conundrum in this category is Anomalisa, an adult-oriented, stop-motion animated movie that has an R rating. I’m trying my hardest to track that one down.

Predictions
Original Screenplay – At this point I can’t make a solid judgment, but the liklihood is low
Animated Feature Film – Highly likely

 

Animated Feature Films

First of all, I would like to again say….where the heck is The Lego Movie?!?!?! Honestly, I think it should not only be nominated, but it should’ve won the Oscar for this year. It had a well-balanced and engaging plot, had superb animation technique, AND was accessible to adults and kids. They were robbed, I tell you, ROBBED!!!

Big Hero 6

Anyone who knows or has been following me, knows that I have a bias towards Disney. Even with that bias, I probably wouldn’t pick Big Hero 6 as the best animated film of the year.

Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic book series by the same name. It tells the story of Hiro, his friends, and his brother’s robot Baymax as they run into trouble and form a superhero team founded on each member’s knowledge of science.

This movie typifies the basic structure of the first in a series of films based on comic books. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I know that general opinion received it less enthusiastically (outside of, you know, kids). It is heavy on the background information and focuses most of the character development on the main characters (in this case, Hiro and Baymax). Because of that, there are moments it can feel kind of slow and you’re left with wanting to know more about everybody else. However, I feel that this series will definitely keep going up in the same way that Captain America and Thor had better second movies than first movies. Overall, it was delightful and there’s plenty of Marvel and Disney easter eggs to find.

 How to Train Your Dragon 2

HTTYD2 takes off where the first one ended. The Vikings are friends with the dragons and Hiccup is learning what it means to be a leader.

The Dragon movies have never been favorites of mine. I respect the quality of the animation and the story-telling. They are good movies. Still…it’s kind of shocking that it beat out Big Hero 6, The Lego Movie, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life at the Golden Globes. They’re great at bringing depth in plot to animated films. Both were tear-jerkers, for sure (although I cry at almost any movie). I’m not sure why they’ve never stuck well with me. HTTYD2 was objectively good and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won since it won at the Globes.

The Boxtrolls

 A world of boxtrolls exists under a city and after a child is abducted, the authorities decide that the trolls need to be wiped out. As the child grows up as a boxtroll, he learns about the world above and tries to find a way to make peace between the two worlds.

Although I’ve always admired stop-motion animation, the style often employed in this element is a strange, grotesque caricature that physically repels my senses. I don’t know why this seems to be a constant theme. Aside from that, the story is cute and unique. It is well-balanced for both adults and children.

Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya

It looks to be virtually impossible to see these two movies, which is unfortunate. Both of them look interesting and I hope to see them in the future. It doesn’t really matter, though, for the blog’s sake because these movies were most likely products of the Oscar equivalent of affirmative action.

Prediction
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is most likely going to win. Big Hero 6 is its biggest competitor but since it didn’t win at the Globes, I feel like it’s not going to be Disney’s year.

Animated Films that aren’t Frozen

I wasn’t able to see Ernest et Celestine because it’s not out in the US yet. The Wind Rises just came out last weekend but I didn’t have time this week to venture out to the only cinema that has it. Frozen‘s blog post is here. Here are the other two nominated for Best Animated Feature Film:

Movie: The Croods
 This is my second favorite of the animated feature films I was able to see. I was more than skeptical about it. It’s a movie about a family of cavemen. Little did I know that Chris Sanders (who I know best from Lilo and Stitch and The Lion King) was the driving force behind this movie. It pulls at your heartstrings and makes you laugh all at the same time.

The story follows Eep, a teenage cavegirl, as she and her family are displaced from their home and forced to adapt to a new environment in order to survive. They’re joined by Guy, who is not a caveman and has a lot of new and exciting ideas – much to the dismay of Eep’s father, Grug.

The focus of the tale is on the relationship between Eep and her father, which is a focus you don’t see very often in animated movies. It was sweet and made me tear up a couple times. The script is clever and very well-written. Each character is developed individually and given just enough attention so that you are invested in each one. I would recommend watching it, especially since it is on Netflix now.

Movie: Despicable Me 2
 Ok, I think the Despicable Me franchise is funny, clever, and appealing to a wide audience. But I just don’t understand the obsession that follows the minions around. I don’t get it.

Despicable Me 2 follows where the first one left off. Gru is now the proud father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes. He gets recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help them find  a villain who has stolen a secret lab. He partners up with an agent named Lucy and together they stake out a local mall where the villain is believed to be hiding.

It is quite funny and has a complex enough plot to keep you guessing. The real strength in this franchise is the characters. They each have one or two really dramatic qualities that make you love them. I don’t get the love of the minions though. They’re sort of funny but I mostly just don’t get them. It was cute and got a lot of attention by the masses, but it’s hurt by the fact that Frozen came out more recently and DM2 has faded into the background.

Prediction
I will be shocked if Frozen doesn’t win. Really shocked. The Wind Rises might be a contender but it’s really doubtful with the groundbreaking animation and Broadway style of Frozen.

Frozen

Movie: Frozen
What it’s up for: Best Animated Feature, Music (Original Song)

Disclaimer: I take Disney movies very seriously.

I got to see Frozen with my sisters which was awesome and appropriate. Frozen, if you don’t know already, follows the story of two princesses in a land called Arendelle. The movie begins with Elsa, the older sister, being crowned queen. However, she is hiding a mysterious power over ice and snow from everyone – including her sister Anna.

Spoilers will truly ruin this movie for you if you haven’t seen it yet, so I will avoid them as much as possible.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of Frozen. It doesn’t matter where I go, if there are kids around and I mention Frozen, suddenly someone will start singing about snowmen or letting it go. It helps that it was basically the only kid movie in theaters through the holiday season. Now, I’m not saying that’s WHY it has almost beat The Lion King in box office stats, but it’s definitely a factor.

I…liked Frozen. I didn’t love it. For the first half of the movie, I felt this uncomfortable confusion over what was happening. For example, there’s a love song that Anna and Hans sing that seems like it’s supposed to be taken seriously at first but it’s not. Fortunately during this first half, I was distracted by several “Arrested Development” references, which was AMAZING. About halfway through, things turned around for me due to Olaf the snowman. The hilarious choice to make Olaf more of a background character who makes random comments that everyone ignores made a huge difference in the tone of the film. It definitely appealed to the YouTube/Instagram video/Vine generation’s sense of comedic timing.

There were good morals and lessons throughout for both characters, but those were pretty predictable. I keep comparing it to Wreck It Ralph and although there were more twists in Frozen, the overall emotion of Ralph was stronger because you didn’t know HOW they were going to solve the problems in Ralph’s world. That’s probably just me, though. My biggest issue was the lack of character development for Elsa and Kristoff. They are both VERY important characters who are not given much screen time to learn about what’s going on with them.

sort of SPOILERS START

The other thing that bugs me is that everyone keeps talking about how nice it is that the focus of the princesses is not on finding a prince but on learning the importance of familial love. I counted the other day, and out of the current official 11 Disney princesses, only 2 (or arguably 3) focus on finding a significant other. (Snow White and Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty. Ariel is the other arguable one but her original focus is on wanting to experience land life, so I don’t think she counts.) The other 9 (8) princesses find true love on their way to something else. Not to mention, familial love is a huge part of 7 of 11 princess stories (Merida, Tiana, Pocahontas, Mulan, Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel). NOT TO MENTION, focusing on the love between the princess and one of her family members as the cure to a curse is the EXACT theme of Brave. And if we add Anna and Elsa to the list of princesses, Anna would be added to the list of looking for true love in the form of a man, since she sings a whole song about it in the beginning of the movie.

SPOILERS END

I need to see the movie again. I think I’d like it more now after knowing what I’m walking in to. The soundtrack is amazing and it’ll totally be a political move if “Let It Go” doesn’t win best song.

Predictions

Animated Feature Film: Definitely.

Best song: Very possible.

Animated Feature Films

Alright, so I’ve seen all but one of the movies in this category, so it seems like a good place to start.

Brave
Disney/Pixar’s contribution to the 2013 lineup. If you haven’t seen it, the basic storyline follows Merida, a princess-of-old from Scotland on a perilous journey of self-discovery. I saw this movie a couple times and I…liked it. I did. I liked it. However, I thought the plot was way too predictable, ESPECIALLY for a Pixar movie.

ParaNorman
Saw it. Not much else to say besides that. I can’t even really describe the plot to you. I know it has something to do with a curse on a town and this kid named Norman, who can see dead people (I’m not kidding…they used that route again), has to save it. It was interesting enough that I finished it but it wasn’t incredible. The fact that it’s a stop-motion film isn’t even THAT big of a deal since there were 3 such films nominated this year.

Frankenweenie
I saw…half of this. Not gonna lie, I fell asleep in the middle of it. That may not necessarily be a commentary on the movie itself, though. It was probably more due to the fact that I went to see it at 10p after a long day of work. I’d be willing to give it another shot. It’s an interesting film (it IS Tim Burton after all). A young Victor Frankenstein discovers by accident how to bring his dead dog back to life. The concept is quite unique and I like the fact that it’s kind of a background story for how Dr. Frankenstein came to be. I thought the stop-motion animation for Frankenweenie was a lot less awkward than for ParaNorman.

Pirates! Band of Misfits
This is the one I didn’t see…

Wreck-It Ralph
This may be the only thing I will be cheering for HARD at the Oscars this year. I ABSOLUTELY love this movie. I’ve seen it 3 times already, and whenever I get a chance, I go and see it again. The basic storyline is that Ralph is a bad guy in the video game Fix-It Felix Jr but he wants to be a hero. The plot was complex and unpredictable. The animation was incredible and consistent. (Having the old school video game characters move in awkward pixelated movements? Priceless.) The writing was clever and reached multiple groups of people. I cried. A lot. It was absolutely fabulous.

Prediction
It’s down to either Brave or Wreck-It Ralph, for sure. I’m gunning for Ralph and I could see it winning. But I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Animated Feature Films

Movie: Rango

Rango, a pet lizard, gets separated from his humans while on the highway in the desert. To find water – and find who he is – he must journey into the desert to find and protect the town of Dirt.

The only thing I knew about this movie going into it was that it was some kind of Western where Johnny Depp plays a lizard. Unfortunately, due to my disc from Redbox being scratched and having to watch it at a bad time, I didn’t really enjoy it. I think under different circumstances, I would enjoy it. It was actually pretty good. The animation was FAN.TAS.TIC. It was so good, I couldn’t believe it. The fur looked real, the scales looked real, the water looked real. Holy cow. The plot was actually a lot less silly than I thought it would be. It was pretty clever and had a serious-ish feel to it. It was all about Rango discovering who he was. I’d watch it again to give it a second chance.

Movie: Kung Fu Panda 2

In a world where a fat panda is the Dragon Warrior, only he can save kung fu from the threat of a white peacock with knives….

I’d only recently seen the first Kung Fu Panda but I’m now totally on board with this series and look forward to the (probable) third one. I thought this one’s animation was even better than the first. It’s a different style than Rango, but arguably just as good. I like the complexity of the story-line. I think this series is underrated by critics. It’s seen as a movie primarily for kids, but it’s got a lot of content for adults as well. It’s unlikely to win against Rango but it’s still a great movie.

Movie: Puss in Boots

How the legend was born. An orphaned kitten grows up in an orphanage where he befriends an egg whose life goal is to find…ADVENTURE!

Oh, Dreamworks. What’s funny is that even in a year with no Disney nominations, they most likely still aren’t going to win Best Animated Feature. This movie deviated from their typical Shrek formulas. It was more serious and had less jokes. The jokes they did have, though, were pretty funny. It was a good movie but not particularly attention-grabbing. The animation was really good (it has continued to get better throughout this franchise) but not as good as Rango.

Movie: A Cat in Paris

This is a foreign film from France. The trailer is below. Obviously the animation style is much different from the American CG films. It looks interesting though. It’s about a girl whose just lost her father, her mother is a cop looking for the killer and her cat is in leagues with a burglar.

Movie: Chico & Rita

This is a foreign film from Spain. The trailer is below. Again, the animation style is a lot different from the American films. It’s about a man and woman from Cuba who fall in love. The girl becomes a singer and goes to America and they’re separated. It looks a lot more risqué than the typical kid films that land in this category.

Prediction
Rango all the way.

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