×

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

  • Mammoth Films Festival to Open With

    'In Fabric' to Open Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

    Director Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” starring “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie is set to open the fifth Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, the organization has announced today along with their film lineup. The festival in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., will take place May 22-26 and feature several films’ U.S. debuts. In addition to the narrative feature [...]

  • Kristen Stewart'JT LeRoy' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Kristen Stewart: 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot Is 'Woke' but Still 'Funny and Weird'

    “Charlie’s Angels” has made the jump to 2019. Kristen Stewart, who stars in the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot as one of the Angels, says the classic ’70s franchise has been updated to modern times without losing its pulpy action. “At one point I think we said it was woke and grounded, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, [...]

  • Calamity Jane

    Indie Sales Acquires Remi Chayé's Female-Driven Animated Feature 'Calamity' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales (“My Life as a Zucchini”) has acquired Rémi Chayé’s animated film “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” the French helmer’s follow up to his critically acclaimed feature debut “Long Way North.” “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” tells the story of the 12-year-old Martha Jane who must [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson on 2020 Election, Avengers

    Scarlett Johansson on Running for Office: 'Maybe at Some Point'

    President Scarlett Johansson, anyone? While she may not be running for office at the moment, Johansson says a campaign may be in her future. “Maybe some time in the future,” she says when asked if her political activism has inspired her own aspirations. “I think the greatest way to effect change is in local politics. [...]

  • Circus of Books

    Netflix Acquires Tribeca Doc 'Circus of Books,' Exec Produced by Ryan Murphy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has acquired worldwide rights to the documentary “Circus of Books” ahead of its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Rachel Mason wrote and directed the pic, and also produced it along with Kathryn Robson, Cynthia Childs, Camilla Hall and Adam Baron. Ryan Murphy, Josh Braun, John Battsek, Rhianon Jones and Gerald Herman executive produced. [...]

  • Santa Fe Studios Netflix

    Santa Fe Studios Competes With Other New Mexico Stages for Streaming Business

    Albuquerque Studios entered the spotlight last October when it was purchased by Netflix. While the complex is clearly the jewel in the crown of New Mexico’s production infrastructure, with eight soundstages totaling 132,000 square feet, 100,000 square feet of production offices, a large backlot and support space, it’s not the only modern studio facility in [...]

  • Jennifer Kaytin Robinson Someone Great

    'Someone Great' Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson on Reimagining the Rom-Com

    Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, creator of the MTV series “Sweet/Vicious,” recently made her feature debut with “Someone Great,”  now streaming on Netflix. The film follows three friends as they navigate relationships and work in New York City.  Here, the writer-director opens up on reimagining the rom-com, and women changing the face of Hollywood. The three young [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content