‘Secret’ of Oscar animation noms

Surprise selection among diverse field

Stop-motion jumpstarts Neil Gaiman adaptation, giving kidpic real adult appeal
Why it’ll win: Another inspired and beautifully crafted 3D stop-motion tale from veteran director Henry Selick (“James and the Giant Peach,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas”). Based on the sinister Neil Gaiman book, this adaptation (which grossed more than $75 million) is more adult-friendly than kidpic with its disturbing story about a girl who crawls into a weird parallel world. Should appeal to all voters with a slightly twisted sense of humor.
Maybe not: Unfortunately, the film was released a full year ago — an eternity in Hollywood — and may have a tough time competing against fresher releases.

Traditional 2D tale with twists features a groundbreaking heroine
Why it’ll win: With “The Little Mermaid’s” Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm, Disney’s late-year release took the old-fashioned 2D route with a charming, hand-animated revamp of the classic fairy tale. Ironically, while using “Bambi”-era animation techniques, the team scored some very modern firsts by setting the story in New Orleans and putting a resourceful African-American girl in the lead.
Maybe not: Despite glowing reviews, there was a perception that the G-rated film was made for very young girls, and it failed to connect with older audiences.

Streep and Clooney give voice to Roald Dahl’s animal yarn
Why it’ll win: It has star power to spare (the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep), and director Wes Anderson (“Rushmore”) makes his animation debut with this adult-friendly tale based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book. It endearingly combines low-tech puppets, stop-motion and painted backdrops with an edgy soundtrack powered by the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Maybe not: While Anderson’s quirky, ironic style adapts surprisingly well to an animation project, this retro, labor-intensive fable about talking animals might not appeal to voters more impressed with the shiny, state-of-the-art 3D surfaces of “Coraline” and “Up.”

This toon is a surprise nom only to those who haven’t seen it
Why it’ll win: Its gorgeous hand-drawn 2D animation, which is so retro that it looks like a direct descendent of the medieval illuminated manuscript tradition, perfectly complements its tale of a 9th-century Irish boy who learns the intricate and painstaking art of illustrating the gospels. A tour-de-force from first-time feature helmer Tomm Moore.
Maybe not: It’s the big surprise of the noms draw: Compared with the big guns of Pixar et al., it’s very much the underdog. And while strikingly original and different in tone and look from its competitors, its earnest, joke-light approach may dull its appeal to voters.

Disney/Pixar does it again — and crix, auds and voters get carried away
Why it’ll win: One of the best reviewed — and top-grossing ($293 million) — films of last year. Directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) who co-wrote it with “Finding Nemo’s” Bob Peterson, “Up” looks like the overwhelming favorite thanks to its rich 3D animation and touching story about an unlikely hero: a sour old widower and ex-balloon salesman who pilots his house to South America for one last adventure.
Maybe not: Even Oscar voters like occasional change, and they may want to loosen the apparent lock that Disney/Pixar has on the category.

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