Amid the big-budget Hollywood sequels jockeying for position, this year’s awards race has a sizable contingent of contenders from overseas, including both foreign-made films and co-productions. The pack is led by indie animation mainstay GKids, but Netflix has also entered the fray as a distribution partner and entries from China are slipping into the mix.
Pearl Studio and DreamWorks Animation’s “Abominable,” a family film set in modern-day China and featuring Chinese characters, is a major challenger. From its inception, the CG-animated Yeti adventure was a “true collaboration” between the two studios in terms of artistic leadership, according to Pearl chief creative officer Peilin Chou.
“It’s an historic co-production in the sense that we really worked side-by-side with DreamWorks in terms of creative decision-making,” she says.
From Spain, Sergio Pablos’ “Klaus” is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated contenders. The hand-drawn holiday feature, which arrives from Netflix on Nov. 8, reimagines the origins of Santa Claus in an inventive story that turns the legend on its head. From the beginning, the “Despicable Me” creator knew the project demanded a traditional approach, but for Pablos it’s not about making a return to 2D animation. “We’re not bringing it back. We’re bringing it forward,” he says.
Also from Netflix is “I Lost My Body,” the French 2D-animated film directed by Jérémy Clapin told from the point of view of a severed hand. One of the biggest hits of the 2019 festival season, it became the first animated feature to receive the Critics’ Week Grand Prix at Cannes, going on to win top prizes at Annecy. Breaking out of the arthouse market, “I Lost My Body” will be streamed to millions of Netflix subscribers globally, a fact not lost on Clapin.
“You cannot refuse a deal like that because now the film will be spread all over the world,” he says. “Now I can touch people who wouldn’t be able to see it in theaters.”
Chinese production “Ne Zha,” the country’s official international entry in the Oscar race, is looking to build on its commercial success with a nomination. Featuring the popular Chinese mythological character Nezha, the CGI fantasy adventure from Beijing Enlight Pictures is the highest-grossing animated film domestically and the highest-grossing non-U.S. animated film worldwide.
GKids has a whopping 10 films vying for a nomination, four of them generating significant buzz: Raúl De La Fuente & Damian Nenow’s ambitious dive into the chaos of war, “Another Day of Life” (Poland, Spain); Salvador Simó’s “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” (Spain), detailing the making of the surrealist filmmaker’s classic documentary, “Land Without Bread”; Annecy 2018 Cristal winner “Funan” (France, Luxembourg, Belgium), directed by Denis Do; and Japan’s entry for the international feature film category, “Weathering With You,” the highly anticipated follow-up to director Makoto Shinkai’s 2017 global hit, “Your Name.”
“GKids is really excited about the slate of 32 qualified films this year, with so many international and indie productions represented,” says president Eric Beckman. “Ninety-five percent of people live outside the U.S., so it’s great to see animation at the Oscars beginning to reflect the full range of human experience and expression.”