Oscars: Indie Distributor GKIDS Pushes Into Animated Feature Race With Two Noms

Song of the Sea Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Song of the Sea Still - H 2014

The omission of The Lego Movie from the best animated feature category was one of the most talked-about surprises from Thursday morning's Oscar nominations, but for GKIDS, the result was a pair of nominees — Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya — that burnished the indie distributor's track record, joining nominees Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls and How to Train Your Dragon 2.

GKIDS has now earned six best animated feature Oscar nominations in the past six years. It first turned heads in 2010 when one of its early releases, The Secret of Kells, from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, landed a surprise Oscar nomination. It followed that feat with a double nomination in 2012, for A Cat in Paris and Chico and Rita. A year ago, it earned another nomination, for Ernest & Celestine.

See more Oscars 2015: The Complete Nominations List

This season, it’s back with two hand-drawn animated features: Song of the Sea (pictured) from Kells director Tomm Moore and his Cartoon Saloon; and The Tale of Princess Kaguya from Studio Ghibli (whose founder, famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, received an honorary Oscar at November’s Governors Awards).

Both are not without prior recognition. Kaguya, directed by Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, has already been honored by critics' groups, including receiving the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best animation, and earned three Annie Award nominations including best animated feature. Song of the Sea collected seven Annie Award nominations — including best animated feature — tying it with Disney’s Big Hero 6 and beating out The Lego Movie's six noms. (The Boxtrolls and How to Train Your Dragon 2 received the most Annie Award nominations, with 13 and 10, respectively).

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Song of the Sea is an original story based on an idea that Moore had while making Kells, which was inspired by the mythological Selkies who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land.

While Song of the Sea is based on Irish folklore, it’s also made for an international audience. “When I started working with Will Collins, the screenwriter, we had to keep the story simple and clear enough that you didn't have to know anything about Irish folklore to enjoy it as a straight fairy tale," said Moore. "We wanted to make sure it was universal, and then if people got insight into the culture that was a bonus.”

Moore added that he likes the timeless nature of hand-animated movies. "When I look at [hand animated] movies like [Studio Ghibli's] Ponyo, you can't tell how old they are."

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Princess Kaguya is an adaptation of a famous 10th century Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, in which a bamboo cutter discovers a mysterious baby sent to earth from the Kingdom of the Moon as punishment for a crime. “It has only been made into a film once before: a live-action film by one of the preeminent Japanese directors, Kon Ichikawa. But that film wasn’t entirely well-received,” Takahata said via an interpreter. “Why is such a well-known story so difficult to make into a film? The reason is that there are famous scenes in the original tale, but there are various defects in the story and in the depictions of the characters. Over 50 years ago, I became convinced that this story would become vastly more entertaining by considering why it was that the heroine, the Princess Kaguya, came from the moon to Earth. 

“A longtime dream of mine had been to create an animation film without drawing everything in the pictures, to allow audiences room to revive their memories and imaginations,” the director said of the film's look. “My aim is to show images quickly sketched of what is right in front of the artist, and have the audience share in the drawer’s lively spirit in the moment.”

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA