A Big Year for Small Animated Features

8:20 AM 12/21/2016

by Carolyn Giardina

Among the Oscar contenders in the category for best animated feature are some notable indies.

'The Red Turtle'
'The Red Turtle'
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
  • 'April and the Extraordinary World' (GKIDS)

    Courtesy of StudioCanal

    This is a hand-drawn film based on the work of graphic novelist Jacques Tardi and produced by Je Suis Bien Content, the animation studio that made the Oscar-nominated 2007 animated feature Persepolis. Set in 1941 Paris, April introduces an alternate steampunk world where progress has been stinted by the disappearance of the world's great scientists. The title character, voiced by Marion Cotillard in both the French and English versions, comes from a family of scientists that were lost in an accident as they were on the brink of discovering a longevity serum. Ten years after the incident, April is secretly carrying on her parents' research when she finds herself caught in a conspiracy and on the run from government agents and some mysterious cyborgs. Read more.

  • 'Long Way North' (Shout! Factory)

    Courtesy of Shout! Factory Films

    Long Way North tells a 19th century-set tale of Sacha (voiced by Chloe Dunn in the English-language version), a determined young girl from the Russian aristocracy who dreams of the Great North and anguishes over the fate of her grandfather, Oloukine, a renowned scientist and Arctic explorer who has yet to return from his latest expedition to conquer the North Pole. While Sacha’s parents make arrangements for her marriage in Saint Petersburg, she flees her home and sets out to the Great North in search of Oloukine and his ship. This is the directorial debut of Remi Chaye, who was first assistant director and head of storyboard for the 2009 Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. Read more.

  • 'Miss Hokusai' (GKIDS)

    Courtesy of Production I.G

    Miss Hokusai is a feminist coming-of-age story about O-Ei, the daughter and artistic collaborator of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. The hand-drawn animated film, produced by Japanese animation house Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, A Letter to Momo) and directed by Keiichi Hara, follows O-Ei as she toils diligently inside her father’s studio. Her portraits, dragons and erotic sketches — sold under the name of her father — are coveted by upper crust Lords and journeyman printmakers alike. But despite her talent and fiercely independent spirit, O-Ei struggles under the domineering influence of her father and is ridiculed for lacking the life experience that she is attempting to portray in her art. Read more.

  • 'My Life as a Zucchini' (GKIDS)

    Courtesy of gkids

    My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette) is a stop-motion animated film about a boy who moves into a foster facility after the sudden death of his mother. It also is Switzerland's official submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar, and is currently on that shortlist. Based on Gilles Paris' Autobiography of a Courgette, which noted screenwriter Celine Sciamma (writer-helmer of Girlhood and Tomboy) adapted, the film is the debut feature from Swiss director Claude Barras, who describes it as an "homage to neglected and mistreated children who do the best they can to survive and live with their wounds.” Read more.

  • 'The Red Turtle' (Sony Pictures Classics)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    "I chose a theme that I have loved for many years, since childhood actually: the castaway on a deserted, tropical island," says The Red Turtle writer-director Micahel Dudok de Wit. "The theme has been popular the last 25 years, and I chose to give it a new, more timeless angle. The main feeling I hoped to convey was a deep awe for nature. I mean, not just the lovely aspects of nature, but much more, all nature and the simple intuitive knowledge that we are nature. This idea and this feeling together were the starting point of the story. Quite simple, but it took several years to get the story right and to fine-tune the emotions." Read more.

  • 'Your Name' (Funimation Films)

    Tokyo Intl. Film Festival

    The hand-drawn Your Name starts with an unusual boy-meets-girl narrative. It follows two teenagers, Mitsuha and Taki, who mysteriously and randomly swap bodies. They are strangers, but they build a strong connection as their lives become intertwined. As they try to meet, they also aim to use their power to prevent a disaster. Director Makoto Shinkai says the story, which he wrote in 2014, was inspired by an Ono no Komachi’s poem that he quoted: “Before I slept I thought of him, and into dream he strayed. Had I known it was a dream, in dream I would have stayed.” He also found inspiration from the changeling, or swapped child, in folklore. The 2011 earthquake in Japan made him think about natural disasters and ask the question: “What if?” Read more.

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