×

Oscars: Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Arrives as the Animated Feature to Beat

By now Pixar pretty much has it down to a science, both on the screen and on the circuit. With an all-hands method of cracking story, the Emeryville, Calif.-based studio thrives in the marketplace (racking up more than $11 billion in worldwide box office receipts) and consistently dominates the 17-year-old animated feature category at the Academy Awards (claiming eight wins and 10 nominations so far).

The Disney subsidiary’s latest, “Coco,” fits in snuggly with a canon of moving and emotionally resonant storytelling. It also enters a lively animated Oscar race as the one to beat … naturally.

Other top contending films include independent handmade gems like Gkids’ “The Breadwinner” and Good Deed’s “Loving Vincent,” as well as critically approved big-studio efforts like Warner Animation Group’s “The Lego Batman Movie” and DreamWorks’ “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” But few are likely to strike the same balance as “Coco,” a movie that, like so many previous Pixar efforts, makes a strong case for recognition outside just the animated feature frame.

The original screenplay by Matthew Aldrich, Jason Katz, Adrian Molina, and director Lee Unkrich, effortlessly building on theme and character from beginning to end, ticks with a sort of clockwork precision. Its pitch might even be too perfect; Variety critic Peter Debruge wondered aloud whether the filmmakers really believe in the film’s tidy messaging or are simply “spouting the platitudes that audiences want to hear.” Whatever the case, it’s a script built to succeed.

In the briefest description, the film tells the story of a young Mexican boy’s undying (and forbidden) passion for music, and the Inferno-like journey he takes through the Land of the Dead on the annual Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos. Built into the narrative are ideas of legacy and family that give it the kind of dimension that tends to elevate Pixar from the fray.

It’s fair to pine for something more electrifying or unexpected, but in the simplest terms, this is the kind of disciplined craft writers respect and aspire to. That said, the original screenplay category is murder this year, overflowing with legitimate contenders. It could be a tough field to crack.

The music branch may have a field day, however. One of the film’s original songs — “Remember Me,” penned by Oscar-winning “Frozen” songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez — is sure to be a strong candidate, particularly given how expertly utilized it is within the narrative. Meanwhile, Michael Giacchino’s rich compositions, drawn from traditional marimba, mariachi, and cumbia music, could go far with a group that has awarded world music scores like “Life of Pi,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Babel,” and “Frida” in recent years. (Giacchino’s soaring work on Matt Reeves’ “War for the Planet of the Apes” is also in contention this year. He previously won for Pixar’s “Up.”)

Best picture, however, seems out of reach for any animated film lately. Pixar landed “Up” and “Toy Story 3” in the top field, but ever since a procedural switch that has voters ranking five films for best picture instead of 10, no toon has cracked it. If “Inside Out” couldn’t manage it, it really seems like nothing can.

Other animated features in play this year include Blue Sky’s “Ferdinand,” Illumination’s “Despicable Me 3,” DreamWorks’ “The Boss Baby,” Sony Animation’s “The Star,” and Pixar’s own “Cars 3.” Gkids, meanwhile, has six qualifying titles in addition to “The Breadwinner,” including “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children,” “The Girl Without Hands,” and “Marry and the Witch’s Flower.” The New York-based indie distributor’s offerings often appeal to traditionalists in the animation branch, quietly accounting for a whopping nine nominations over the last eight years. But with the Academy recently opening up the nominations process to anyone in or outside the branch interested in joining the committee, it’s unclear how much of a foothold smaller films will maintain.

The Academy will announce this year’s list of animated feature film submissions later this week. There are expected to be at least 16 eligible contenders, the minimum required for a full slate of five nominations.

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content