January 27, 2014 5:00pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Oscars: 'Frozen' May Be the Clear Favorite, But 'The Croods' Is Not Going Down Without a Fight
Disney's megahit Frozen is the heavy favorite to win the best animated feature Oscar on March 2. Indeed, it has already won the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and PGA Awards, and nobody -- including the folks at DreamWorks Animation, whose film The Croods also is nominated for the award -- disputes that. But with five weeks remaining until the 86th Academy Awards ceremony, and final voting having not yet begun, the latter operation doesn't believe the race is over and is refusing to go down without a fight.
Frozen is certainly fresher on people's minds, having been released in late November 2013 and remaining in theaters to this day, whereas The Croods came out way back in March of last year. (Both films were well-reviewed and did very well at the box office: Frozen grossed $347.9 million domestically and $810 million worldwide, while The Croods has, thus far, grossed $187.2 million domestically and $587 million worldwide.) But what backers of The Croods are hoping is that the art and originality of their film -- if sufficiently highlighted -- will impress Academy members more than the Mouse House's acclaimed return to its roots of musical fairy tales.
Consequently, DWA has hosted several events over the past week to hammer home these points. Academy rules restrict the number and nature of post-nomination events to which studios can invite Academy members, which may have something to do with why the studio's guest lists at these events have included not Oscar voters, but rather influential tastemakers from the art world who have already endorsed -- or who they hope will endorse -- their film and spread that message back to Academy members. It's a long shot, but one in which they are clearly investing a lot of time, money and effort.
Last Wednesday evening, DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg hosted a celebration called "The Art of The Croods" at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Croods voice stars Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone were supposed to be in attendance, but Reynolds was unable to get out of New York due to a snowstorm and Stone came down with the flu. Consequently, the stars of the event were who they probably should have been all along: co-writers/directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders; producers Kristine Belson and Jane Hartwell; visual effects supervisor Markus Manninen; production designer Christophe Lautrette; art directors Paul Duncan and Dominique Louis; and character designer Takao Noguchi -- and a gallery full of blown-up stills from the film. (See photos at the top and bottom of this post.)
DeMicco, Sanders and Belson -- the Academy's three nominees for the film -- walked me through the gallery and stopped at various canvases to explain their significance. One was posted beside a smaller canvas featuring a scene from the 2006 film Apocalypto beside it; Sanders explained that he and DeMicco wanted their visual development artists -- six or seven individuals charged with drawing backgrounds and settings before animators insert characters -- to emulate its lighting. Pointing out a canvas featuring a Croods character drawing a cave painting, DeMicco said that he asked an artist to draw that image to see what it would look like, and that seeing it inspired a storyline in the film. "The script is never locked in," he said. "In many cases, the artwork led the story." He added, "This is the first DreamWorks [Animation] movie to feature a completely imagined world."
The following night, the artist Ed Ruscha hosted a screening of the film at ICM in Century City followed by a reception at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. Among those in attendance were art dealers/gallery owners Larry Gagosian and Irving Blum; LACMA trustees Eva Chow and Maria Bell; art consultant Will Kopelman; painter Rosson Crow; artists Liz Goldwyn and Alec Monopoly; New York Observer writer-turned-actress/model Jessica Joffe; indie producer Sebastian Dungan; singer-songwriter Harper Simon; legal commentator Lisa Bloom; and actors Radha Mitchell, Hale Appleman and Eley Yost.
According to the New York Post's Page Six, the events were inspired by a letter from prominent New York sculptor Jeff Koons to Katzenberg heaping praise on the visual aspects of The Croods.
Meanwhile, the folks at Disney remain confident in their film's Oscar prospects -- but are certainly not sitting back and just waiting to win. Since Frozen had its big L.A. premiere at the El Capitan Theatre on Nov. 19 and opened Nov. 22 -- and then, six weeks later, re-ascending -- to the top of the box office charts, they have kept the spotlight on their film in numerous ways: among others, at a gathering of the surviving animator and voiceover artists from Disney's Golden Age classics held to celebrate the studio's 90th birthday; by releasing the film's soundtrack (it spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 list and is now occupying the number two slot); and by releasing the soundtrack's hit single, the Critics' Choice Award-winning/best original song Oscar-nominated "Let It Go," in 25 different languages.
Last weekend, Frozen overtook Finding Nemo to become the highest-grossing (domestically) animated film based on original content -- as in, non-sequel -- of all time. Next weekend, a bouncing-ball, sing-along version of the film will be released in more than 1,000 theaters. And, at a gathering Feb. 9, just before the final round of Oscar voting begins Feb. 14, there will be appetizers, cocktails and live performances of the film's songs by its cast members.
As you can see, the best animated feature Oscar is coveted greatly by both studios, neither of which wants to -- forgive me -- let it go. It will be exciting to see how the race plays out at the International Animated Film Society's Annie Awards on Saturday night and then at the Oscars on March 2.