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As December approaches, Netflix is giving the well-reviewed Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio a high-profile debut.
Netflix Animation — despite its challenging year on the business side — has a strong and varied slate of animated feature contenders, the most notable being del Toro’s moving stop-motion retelling of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, which is having a limited theatrical rollout ahead of its Dec. 9 streaming debut.
Netflix burst onto the animation scene in 2019, releasing its first original animated feature, the Christmas movie Klaus, directed by Sergio Pablos, as well as French film I Lost My Body, from Jérémy Clapin. Both movies earned Oscar nominations in 2020, and Netflix has had at least one category nomination each year since. It did win an animated short Oscar in 2021, for If Anything Happens I Love You, but the streaming service is still vying for its first animated feature category win.
This year, Netflix could potentially earn multiple nominations. In the stop-motion realm, in addition to Pinocchio, the streamer has released Wendell & Wild, directed by Henry Selick (helmer of 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas who was Oscar-nominated for 2009’s Coraline) from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Oscar winner Jordan Peele about an orphaned teen and a pair of scheming demon brothers.
Netflix’s latest original, The Sea Beast, is an ambitious, sea-set period adventure from Chris Williams, who won an Oscar for Disney’s Big Hero 6 (and shared directing credits with Don Hall, who also is a contender this year for helming Disney’s Strange World).
The streaming service’s lineup also includes My Father’s Dragon, from Oscar-nominated director Nora Twomey (The Breadwinner) and Ireland-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon, whose four previous movies, including Wolfwalkers and The Breadwinner, were Oscar-nominated. My Father’s Dragon, written by Meg Lefauve (an Oscar nominee for Inside Out) and based on the children’s book from Ruth Stiles Gannett, employs Cartoon Saloon’s distinctive hand-drawn style of animation.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, a story set around the Apollo 11 Moon landing written and directed by Richard Linklater, rounds out Netflix’s animated feature contenders.
This lineup will face the Disney juggernaut. Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios have dominated the animated feature category since it first appeared in 2002, with Pixar winning the Oscar 11 times and Disney Animation collecting the statuette four times, including this year for Encanto.
Pixar’s leading contender this season is Turning Red, helmed by Domee Shi, a 2019 Oscar winner for her animated short, Bao. Released on Disney+ in March, Turning Red follows a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian student who turns into a red panda whenever her emotions get the best of her. That debut was followed by Pixar’s first theatrical release since the start of the pandemic, but Lightyear — the CG animated adventure based on the Space Ranger from its Toy Story franchise — was a rare box office misfire for the studio. It earned just $226.4 million worldwide to become the franchise’s lowest earner, though the ambitious movie remains a contender.
Despite solid reviews, Disney Animation’s Strange World also struggled at the box office, opening over Thanksgiving weekend with a five-day domestic total of just $18.9 million. Directed by aforementioned Oscar winner Hall, Strange World follows a family of explorers and was inspired by stories such as Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth
Universal’s DreamWorks Animation brings a pair of titles to the race, including its Dec. 21 release, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the sequel to 2011’s Oscar-nominated Puss in Boots and spinoff of the Shrek franchise. (The original Shrek won the first Oscar for best animated feature in 2002.) In the upcoming film, the Antonio Banderas-voiced eponymous feline suffers an unfortunate accident and, upon learning that he is down to the last of his nine lives, begins to question his own mortality.
Released in April, DWA’s The Bad Guys is director Pierre Perifel’s stylish crime comedy — based on the book series by Aaron Blabey — that took inspiration from the work of filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese.
Meanwhile, sister company Illumination’s recent release was Minions: The Rise of Gru, the latest in the Despicable Me franchise that so far is the highest-grossing animated movie of the year with nearly $935 million at the global box office.
Category contenders also include A24’s touching Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, which follows a stop-motion shell in search of his family. Based on Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp’s shorts series, the movie is helmed by Camp and features the voice of Slate as Marcel.
This year, Apple Original Films and Skydance Animation are looking for their first shared nomination with Luck, the story of an unlucky orphan who stumbles into the magical Land of Luck. It’s directed by Peggy Holmes and produced by John Lasseter — marking his first feature credit since he parted ways with Pixar — alongside David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and David Eisenmann.
Others from the crowded field include animated documentary Eternal Spring, which will also represent Canada in this year’s Oscar race for best international feature. Directed by Jason Loftus, the film retraces a 2002 incident when members of the outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong hijacked a state TV station in China in an attempt to counter government propaganda about their practice.
Several titles from indie distributor GKIDS are also in the mix, among them Inu-Oh, a rock opera from director Masaaki Yuasa (The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl).
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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