Almost every year since the Academy created the best animated feature Oscar category in 2001, there has been one film that was the clear frontrunner to take home that prize. Remember Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Rango (2011), among others?
This year, that is not the case.
The category is overflowing -- with mediocrity. There are lackluster sequels including Sony's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and The Smurfs 2, Universal's Despicable Me 2 and Pixar's Monsters University. There are standalone films that came and went without making a huge impression, in part because they seem a lot like films that came before them, such as Disney's Planes and DreamWorks' The Croods and Turbo. And then there's some grab-bag stuff, including GKIDS' French-language Ernest & Celestine and Drafthouse Films' live-action/animation-blender The Congress.
There is one film, though, that has the potential to break away from the pack: The Wind Rises, the first film in five years from 72-year-old Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki, who previously won the best animated feature Oscar for his masterpiece Spirited Away (2002) and was also nominated for Howl's Moving Castle (2005). Miyazaki is an immortal god in the animation community -- and probably seriously bolstered his prospects of being honored this year when he announced on Sept. 1 -- the same that The Wind Rises, his eleventh film, had its world premiere in Venice and North American premiere in Telluride, where I caught it -- his retirement.
The film has already received a commercial bounce from the revelation: it was released in Japan eight weeks ago and has been number one at the Japanese box-office ever since -- but this past weekend, the first since Miyazaki's announcement, THR reported that its gross increased 13.6 percent from the previous weekend, and it is now expected to soar past the $100 million mark next weekend.
Now the question is whether or not the news will make Academy members more inclined to celebrate Miyazak's swan-song, as well -- and I can't imagine how it wouldn't. Today, it was confirmed that the film will be in contention this year, as Disney's Touchstone Pictures, which owns its U.S. rights, will give it an Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles during the week of Nov. 8, and will then a platform U.S. release starting on Feb. 21. And with the power of Disney behind it, it will receive a strong shot.
But, it must be noted, the film's path to the Kodak is not entirely clear. Disney also has high hopes for another animated film, the computer-animated 3D production Frozen, which it will release on Nov. 27, and which may resonate more with American audiences. Speaking of which, there is already some controversy over the fact that The Wind Rises revolves around -- and basically celebrates -- the man who designed the Japanese planes that waged war against Americans during World War II, which could rub some voters the wrong way.
Still, The Wind Rises has some very powerful champions on both sides of the Pacific, including the Hollywood producers/power-couple Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who traveled to Telluride to introduce the film there and spoke gushingly about "Miyazaki San."
- Arts & Entertainment
- Hayao Miyazaki