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Animated Feature Oscar Race Sports Wide Range of Movies

Though the number of eligible animated features hit an all-time high this year, rule changes could alter the mix that ultimately makes the cut. Oscar nominations in the category will be opened up to the entire eligible voting membership “willing to join the nominating committee, rather than a select craft-based group. Voting in the nominations round will now be preferential instead of based on a numerical scoring system.” The changes have raised debate in the toon community; nevertheless, here’s a robust sample of the year’s most promising toons, spanning a range of 2D and CG work, along with the first entirely hand-painted feature, “Loving Vincent.”

The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales
Directors: Patrick Imbert, Benjamin Renner
Voices: Celine Ronte, Boris Rehlinger, Guillaume Bouchede, Guillaume Darnault, Magali Rosenzweig, Elise Noiraud, Jules Bienvenu
Studio: Folivari
Distributor: GKids
Though technically three TV episodes stitched together, this irreverent collection of fables was co-directed by one of the talents behind Oscar-nominated “Ernest & Celestine” and matches the appealing hand-drawn style of Renner’s graphic novel.

The Boss Baby
Director: Tom McGrath
Voices: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Distributor: Fox
A zany, high-concept CG toon about a kid who’s convinced that his new baby brother is part of a dastardly plan to undermine his family, the half-billion-dollar B.O. hit could be too close to last year’s Academy-overlooked “Storks” to make the cut.

The Breadwinner
Director: Nora Twomey
Voices: Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia
Studio: Cartoon Saloon
Distributor: GKids
With executive producer Angelina Jolie behind it and a message of female empowerment amid harsh Taliban control in Afghanistan, this beautiful distaff-directed toon marks an impressive and important solo debut for the Oscar-nominated co-director of “The Secret of Kells.”

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Director: David Soren
Voices: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Distributor: Fox
Produced on a relatively modest budget by DWA standards, this jokey CG lark about a guy who fights crime in his jockey shorts rang up more than $200 million worldwide — although it’s more the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons than Oscar statues.

Cars 3
Director: Brian Fee
Voices: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo
Studio: Pixar
Distributor: Disney
Although a box office disappointment by Pixar standards, “Cars 3” remains the year’s fourth top-grossing toon — and could benefit from the rule changes.

Coco
Director: Lee Unkrich
Voices: Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal
Studio: Pixar
Distributor: Disney
Pixar’s most cross-cultural film to date, Mexico-set “Coco” delivers more of the emotional mojo audiences have come to expect from the computer-animation studio, and early reviews suggest it’s almost certain to land a nom.

Despicable Me 3
Directors: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig
Studio: Illumination
Distributor: Universal
The blockbuster franchise continues to delight audiences, earning more than a billion dollars worldwide, putting it at a definite advantage under the category’s new rules, whereby all interested members pick the nominees.

Ferdinand
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Voices: John Cena, Kate McKinnon
Studio: Blue Sky
Distributor: Fox
One of the most beloved children’s books of all time, previously adapted into an Oscar-winning short film by Disney, gets a fresh take and an all-CG polish from the studio behind the “Ice Age” movies.

The Girl Without Hands
Director: Sébastien Laudenbach
Voices: Anaïs Demoustier, Jérémie Elkaïm
Studio: Les Films Sauvages, Les Films Pelléas
Distributor: GKids
The category’s new rules will almost surely hobble the chances of this artistic indie adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale. It premiered in the Cannes Acid section, and undoubtedly ranks as one of the year’s more unique entries.

Have a Nice Day
Director: Liu Jian
Voices: Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai
Studio: Lejoy Animation Studio
Distributor: Strand
The director of China’s first independent animated feature, “Piercing I,” returns with another underground toon, crude in both appearance and content, yet a noteworthy alternative to safe, state-sanctioned fare. The darkly comic crime story debuted in competition at the Berlinale.

In This Corner of the World
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Voices: Non, Kira Buckland
Studio: MAPPA
Distributor: Shout! Factory/Funimation
This sensitive portrait of the ordinary citizens who endured amid American bombing raids (and later, the atomic blast at Hiroshima) upset popular phenom “Your Name” to win last year’s Japan Academy Prize. The simple hand-drawn look matches the graphic-novel source.

The Lego Batman Movie
Director: Chris McKay
Voices: Will Arnett, Michael Cera
Studios: Warner Bros. Animation, Animation Logic
Distributor: Warner Bros.
The year’s best-reviewed studio toon, this spin-off of Oscar-snubbed “The Lego Movie” offers a satirical alternate reading on DC’s brooding Batman character, focusing on the Caped Crusader as a lonely billionaire in desperate need of friends. It was also a hit at the box office.

Loving Vincent
Directors: Dorota Kobiela,
Hugh Welchman
Voices: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan
Studios: BreakThru Films, Trademark Films
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
In an attempt to match the master’s style, every frame is hand-painted in this inquiry into Vincent van Gogh’s death. Though far and away the most labor intensive of this year’s contenders, the film could be disqualified for using reference footage.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Voices: Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet
Studio: Studio Ponoc
Distributor: GKids
In response to the shuttering of Studio Ghibli’s production division, Studio Ponoc was formed by vets of the beloved 2D toon studio, including “Arriety” helmer Yonebayashi. Ponoc’s first feature, set in a Hogwarts-like magic school, is on par with Ghibli’s recent output.

The Star
Director: Timothy Reckart
Voices: Steven Yeun, Kristin Chenoweth
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Distributor: Columbia
The Nativity story as seen from the animals’ perspective, this modestly budgeted CG offering from the studio behind “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is targeted at the faith-based community.

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming
Director: Ann Marie Fleming
Voices: Sandra Oh, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Studio: Stickgirl Prods.
Distributor: First Pond Entertainment
Reminiscent of the Oscar-nominated “Persepolis,” which was based on the graphic novel of the same name, Fleming’s rudimentary-looking toon is an honorable underdog, financed in part via an Indiegogo campaign, and uses stick figures to tell the story of a Canadian girl who competes in a cross-cultural poetry festival.

Also in the Mix
The Lego Ninjago Movie (WB)
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (GKids)
My Little Pony: The Movie  (Allspark Pictures/DHX Media)
Napping Princess (GKids)
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (Gulfstream Pictures/Redrover/ToonBox)
Rock Dog (Mandoo Pictures/Huayi Brothers)
A Silent Voice (Eleven Arts)
Smurfs: The Lost Village (Sony Pictures Animation)
Spark: A Space Tail (Redrover/ToonBox)

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