Eye on the Oscars: Animation Preview

TOONS IN CONTENTION

With 18 pics submitted, there’s a chance of five noms — and thanks to a new rule, even if fewer than 16 qualify, four can advance. Either way, it’s a bigger field than last year’s three-way race.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (Paramount/Weta)
The Story: The cowlicked Belgian comics hero gets the cutting-edge treatment in a globe-spanning race to locate a pirate’s buried treasure.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Why It Would Get Nominated: Rollicking thrill ride signifies not only a return to “Raiders”-era Spielberg, but also a leap forward in mo-cap animation.
Why Not: There’s still a small risk that this overseas hit could flop in the States.

ALOIS NEBEL (Negativ Films)
The Story: Adult-skewing, black-and-white graphic novel adaptation follows a train dispatcher haunted by his past.
Director: Tomas Lunak
Why: Like “Persepolis” and “Waltz With Bashir” before it, this Czech pic was also tapped for foreign-lingo consideration.
Why Not: The toon branch tends to turn its nose up at rotoscope and motion-capture techniques.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (Fox)
The Story: The helium-voiced trio find themselves stranded on a desert island in the latest chapter of the $800 million-grossing franchise.
Director: Mike Mitchell
Why: Third time’s a charm? Even “The Lord of the Rings” series didn’t get its Oscar due until the third installment.
Why Not: The Acad has yet to nom a live-action/animated hybrid.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Sony/Aardman)
The Story: Santa is getting lazy in his old age, leaving awkward son Arthur (James McAvoy) to deliver a present overlooked on Christmas Eve.
Director: Sarah Smith
Why: The Academy loves the quirky Aardman sensibility, and going the digital route raises their game in this slick outing.
Why Not: Voters snubbed the studio’s last CG effort, “Flushed Away.”

CARS 2 (Disney/Pixar)
The Story: The series shifts gears to international spy movie when Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is mistaken for a secret agent.
Director: John Lasseter
Why: The artistry is much richer this time around, meaning “Cars 2″ could take back the title it lost to “Happy Feet” five years ago.
Why Not: One shouldn’t auto-matically assume that Pixar will make the cut. Competition is tough, and many reviews were unkind.

A CAT IN PARIS (GKids/Folimage)
The Story: A French alley cat divides its time among the neighbors, visiting a sweet little girl when it isn’t playing accomplice to a thief.
Directors: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
Why : Since each film is graded individually, small foreign toons often prevail over expensive studio efforts in this category.
Why Not: Despite pic’s lovely hand-drawn visuals, its style may seem a bit rudimentary compared to the competition.

CHICO & RITA (GKids/Fernando Trueba Prod./Estudio Mariscal/Magic Light)
The Story: The music carries the show as a passionate jazz pianist pursues his muse from Cuba to New York.
Directors: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando
Why: This colorful, cultural lark has found international fans since its 2010 Telluride fest debut. Also, Trueba helmed the Oscar-winning “Belle Epoque.”
Why Not: Coarse technique begs the question why they didn’t use live-action instead.

GNOMEO & JULIET (Disney/Starz Animation)
The Story: What plaster hearts in yonder garden break? The Bard’s tragic romance loosely translates to a comic CG tale between gnomes in rival yards.
Director: Kelly Asbury
Why: Appealing, inexpensively produced toon was a surprise hit, earning just shy of $100 million in the U.S.
Why Not: Can voters get behind a film that doesn’t even take itself seriously?

HAPPY FEET TWO (WB/Animal Logic/Dr. D)
The Story: As global warming continues to threaten the dancing penguins of Antarctica, Mumble (Elijah Wood) and his flock find themselves trapped in a pit.
Director: George Miller
Why: The 2006 original beat “Cars” for the animated feature prize.
Why Not: If the sequel skews too much toward kids, voters may squawk.

HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL (Weinstein Co./Kanbar)
The Story: There are puns aplenty in this computer-animated riff on Little Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway) and other fairy-tale characters.
Director: Mike Disa
Why: It’s short.
Why Not: A critical and box office disappointment, pic earned only a fraction of the original, despite being in 3D.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 (DreamWorks Animation)
The Story: Po (Jack Black) learns the secret of his past while fighting a peacock with a gunpowder-based weapon.
Director: Jennifer Yu Nelson
Why: The Acad doesn’t mind sequels, previously nominating “Shrek 2″ and “Toy Story 3.”
Why Not: Though plenty charming, this worthy follow-up doesn’t exactly rep a giant leap forward.

MARS NEEDS MOMS (Disney/ImageMovers Digital)
The Story: When his mother (Joan Cusack) is abducted by aliens, a 9-year-old must travel to Mars to save her.
Director: Simon Wells
Why: Mo-cap guru Robert Zemeckis produced both this and 2006 nominee “Monster House.
Why Not: Pic was a colossal money-loser at the box office and never really found its audience. Toons in Contention A rule change by the toon branch now allows for the possibility of four nominees, so even if three of the 18 pics listed here are disqualified, the category will be bigger than last year’s three-way race. If at least 16 advance, five will compete for the animated Oscar.

PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks Animation)
The Story: Shrek’s swash­buckling sidekick (Antonio Banderas) reveals his cat-burgling roots in a scheme to steal the Golden Goose.
Director: Chris Miller
Why: More than just a spin-off, this ogre-less outing charmed auds, earning much stronger notices than the past couple “Shrek” sequels.
Why Not: With two strong contenders in the mix, DWA could split the vote among its supporters.

RANGO (Paramount/ILM)
The Story: A pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) stranded in the desert wanders into a water-deprived Old West town desperately in need of a hero.
Director: Gore Verbinski
Why: The first toon from the vfx pros at ILM, computer-animated “Rango” boasts a look and feel entirely its own.
Why Not:Satirical hipster sensibility may go over heads.

RIO (Fox/Blue Sky)
The Story: After being kidnapped by poachers and absconded to Brazil, a rare macaw (Jesse Eisenberg) wishes he’d learned to fly.
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Why: In visual terms alone, “Rio” is Blue Sky’s most stunning feature yet.
Why Not: t> Blue Sky (nommed only once before, for 2002’s “Ice Age”) doesn’t have the support that Pixar and DreamWorks do in the branch.

THE SMURFS (Sony Pictures Animation)
The Story: In attempt to elude evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), the little blue creatures cross over into the real world — namely, New York City.
Director: Raja Gosnell
Why: The critics may not have been kind, but pic still managed to adapt the Hanna-Barbera 2D designs to “realistic”-looking CG.
Why Not: As with “Alvin,” hybrids tend to get overlooked in this category.

WINNIE THE POOH (Disney)
The Story: The storybook bear undertakes a series of new adventures in the classic hand-drawn style of Disney’s earlier 1977 feature.
Directors: Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall
Why: There’s something to be said for Disney going the old-fashioned 2D route with one of its most beloved characters.
Why Not: Even if the box office was a soft $27 million. A song nom seems more likely.

WRINKLES (Perro Verde Films)
The Story: Tackling a real-world issue and targeted at adults, pic could trump the category’s preponderance of kiddie fare.
Directors: Ignacio Ferreras
Why: No one has seen it yet, so quality is a question mark. Plus, it still needs to screen theatrically to qualify.

RELATED LINKS
Traditional helmers adapt to animation
Studios setting tales far, far away

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