When the Oscar nominations are unveiled Jan. 23, animation fans could be in for a surprise. Traditionally, the nominees have included a mix of high-profile, CG-animated studio films such as Pixar's Inside Out and Disney's Frozen along with acclaimed indie fare — often hand-drawn and submitted by indie distributor GKIDS, which has earned nine animated feature Oscar noms since 2009, second only to Disney/Pixar's 11.
But this year, there's a new rule: In the past, the nominating committee was composed of specially invited Academy members — half from the animation branch, half from other branches. Now, any Academy member willing to put in the time is welcome to join the committee. Will a more inclusive committee opt for bigger studio movies? In the past, committee members who favored traditional animation snubbed the popular The Lego Movie in favor of delicate fables like GKIDS' Song of the Sea. With a bigger pool of voters, could that situation now be reversed? GKIDS CEO Eric Beckman remains optimistic: "I don't see this rule change as dramatic, but it might be harder and more expensive for a smaller film to get attention."
In terms of sheer box office, some of the big players are formidable. Illumination/Universal's Minion-populated Despicable Me 3 topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office (including $264 million in North America) and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2013's Despicable Me 2, the only Illumination movie ever to score an animated feature Oscar nom.
Currently, the other animated pics sitting in 2017's top 25 at worldwide box office include DreamWorks Animation/Fox's The Boss Baby ($498.9 million), Pixar/Disney's Cars 3 ($382.8 million) and Warner Bros.' The Lego Batman Movie ($312 million).
The year's other studio submissions include DWA's Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, the superhero movie based on Dav Pilkey's children's books; Warners' second Lego movie of the year, The Lego Ninjago Movie; and a trio of films from Sony Pictures Animation: Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie and The Star.
Two upcoming high-profile CG tentpoles could shake up the studio landscape further: Coco, Pixar's Day of the Dead-themed film from Lee Unkrich (an Oscar winner for Toy Story 3), opens Nov. 22, and Fox/Blue Sky's Ferdinand, based on Munro Leaf's children's book about a peace-loving bull, opens Dec. 15.
On the indie front, GKIDS is definitely looking to do battle with several contenders that already have established themselves as award winners, chief among them The Breadwinner, directed by Nora Twomey of Ireland's Cartoon Saloon and executive produced by Angelina Jolie, which should pique the interest of voters. Based on the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, the film follows an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In October, it won the Grand Prize and Audience Award at the fledgling Animation Is Film Festival in Hollywood.
Additionally, the jam-packed GKIDS lineup includes, among other films, The Girl Without Hands, a hand-painted retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that won the Jury Prize at the 2016 Annecy Animation Festival; The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, a farm-set comedy helmed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert, who served as co-director and animation director, respectively, on the 2012 Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine; Mary and the Witch's Flower, the inaugural feature from Japan-based Studio Ponoc, started by alums from Hayao Miyazaki's famed Studio Ghibli; and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, the Goya Award winner for best animated feature from Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero.
Additional indies looking to make a mark include the Annecy Audience Award winner Loving Vincent, which uses 65,000 frames of oil painting to recount the life of Vincent van Gogh, and Annecy Jury Award winner In This Corner of the World, from Japan's Sunao Katabuchi, which follows a young woman living through World War II.
Below, a look at 20 notable films eligible for the best feature animation Academy Award.