Each year, a slew of films are nominated for an Academy Award. Most folks follow Best Picture, or have an actor they root for, but some of the best films can be found hidden in the lesser known award categories. Below are five films you may have missed from the Best Animated Feature category.
- When Marnie Was There – Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiaki Nishimura; 2015 Nominee
When Marnie Was There is a film about a young girl named Anna, who is sent to live in Hokkaido with her relatives. Lonely, Anna spends much of her time drawing and exploring her new home, and comes to befriend a blonde girl named Marnie. Marnie lives in an isolated mansion, and is surrounded by mystery, so Anna makes it her goal to discover the secrets around Marnie’s life.
Produced by Studio Ghibli (known for titles like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke), When Marnie Was There was the final film the studio released before they announced that the department had taken a short hiatus after the release of The Tale of Princess Kaguya (a 2014 nominee) and Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement. The Ghibli art design is beautiful and marked in this film, and the dynamic animation compliments the strong narrative. It may not be quite as magical as some of the studio’s classics, but Marnie brings its own life and joy to the Ghibli collection.
- The Boxtrolls – Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi; 2014 Nominee
Released in 2013 and produced by Laika (Paranorman, Coraline), The Boxtrolls follows the story of Eggs, a human boy raised by trash-collecting trolls, known as Boxtrolls to the town which they reside beneath. When someone begins stealing the Boxtrolls away and takes Eggs’ foster parent, Fish, Eggs braves the human world to bring his family back and show the people that the Boxtrolls are not to be feared.
Stop-motion animation is an under-appreciated art form, and is something that Laika does beautifully. Boxtrolls is no exception, and features a simple, but delightful narrative with expressive characters and a vivid world. From the small costume details to the large, steampunk-esque contraptions that appear, Boxtrolls is imaginative and fun, and builds an interesting world around a straight forward story.
- Song of the Sea – Tomm Moore; 2014 Nominee
The second feature film produced by Cartoon Saloon, Song of the Sea is a hand-drawn film that was released January 1st, 2014. The story is about a boy, Ben, and his mute sister, Saoirse, whom he blames for the apparent death of their mother. Ben discovers that his sister is actually a selkie tasked with freeing fairy creatures from the Celtic goddess, Macha, and tries to help his sister as the narrative progresses.
Beautifully drawn and filled chock-full of Celtic lore, Song of the Sea is a stunning visual experience that has its roots in the mythology, and also provides an energetic, heartfelt story. The characters are nuanced and vibrant, matching the magical world in which they navigate. Cartoon Saloon also utilizes hand-drawn animation, which gives their films a distinct, artistic quality that many films lack in the age of digital work, and lends to the emotive content they illustrate. Song of the Sea is a work of art in its own right, and illustrates just how magnificent animation can be.
- The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata; 2015 Nominee
Another film produced by Studio Ghibli, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a 10th-century Japanese monogatari (fictional prose narrative) about a girl born in a stalk of glowing bamboo. The bamboo cutter takes her home and raises her as his own, ultimately pushing to earn her noble status, due to her divine powers. The girl does not wish for this, however, and ultimately leaves her life on Earth behind to return to the Moon, from which she was born.
Visually, The Tale of Princess Kaguya adopts and uses brush strokes in a manner that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese painting styles. It has beautiful impact, and lends itself to the old, prose narrative source from whence the narrative came. Especially in movement, the film is stunning–a painting in its own right–and creates an old story anew.
- Ernest & Celestine – Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner; 2013 Nominee
Ernest & Celestine is a French animated film based of a children’s book series by the same name. In a world where mice are taught that bears are to be feared, the story follows a young mouse, Celestine, and her unexpected comrade, a bear named Ernest, as they struggle to find what they truly care about and how that fits (or doesn’t) with the expectations heaped upon them by others. The film illustrates the growth of their friendship and of themselves as individuals through the narrative, and ends on a sweet, high note, in spite of their struggles.
The film draws its visual inspiration from the book series, illustrating scenes with simple lines and shading, while providing a visual feeling akin to a watercolor paintings. Though simplistic, it’s a poignant look that still holds impact in emotional or high tension moments. Don’t be fooled by it’s children’s book source – Ernest & Celestine may be sweet and the narrative simple, but the film is cozy in and of itself, and tells the story of two unlikely friends living in unexpected harmony.
These are only a handful of films from the Best Animated Feature category the last few years, and all the nominees are worthy in their own right. So next time you’re itching to watch something that’s a little different, be sure to check the other Nominees up for Best Animated Feature.
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