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Achild refugee’s survival story, a maniacal virtual assistant voiced by Olivia Colman and several musicals — including two featuring original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda — all factor into this year’s crowded animated feature Oscar race.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated feature documentary Flee, the intimate story of a man who as a child made a harrowing escape from Afghanistan, already sits in a unique position, having been selected as Denmark’s entry in the international feature competition. The film has collected numerous awards, including the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Cristal for best feature at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. A Dec. 3 release is planned by U.S. distributors Neon and Participant.
The Oscar for best animated feature was first awarded in 2002, and since then, Walt Disney Animation Studios and sibling Pixar combined have won in the category 14 times. This year’s lineup includes Disney’s Encanto, a Colombia-set musical helmed by Oscar winner Byron Howard (Zootopia) and Jared Bush about a magical family. With original songs by Miranda, it bows in time for Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, Disney’s Southeast Asia-inspired Raya and the Last Dragon — a fantasy that debuted in March — features the voices of Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina as its respective title characters. The adventure was helmed by Oscar winner Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos Lopez Estrada from a screenplay by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen.
Also in the running is Luca, an Italian Riviera-set sea monster’s coming-of-age tale from Pixar that marks the feature directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa (Oscar-nominated for La Luna, his 2011 Italy-set Pixar short).
Disney’s 20th Century Studios and Locksmith Animation have teamed for Ron’s Gone Wrong, an animated comedy directed by Sarah Smith (who also wrote) and Jean-Philippe Vine about a socially awkward middle schooler and Ron, his new digitally connected “best friend,” voiced by Zach Galifianakis. The movie also represents the first feature work from the new animation arm of VFX house DNEG.
Netflix has quickly become a force in the animated feature race after earning Oscar nominations for its debut original animated feature Klaus in 2019 and Over the Moon in 2020. This year, the streamer’s contenders include The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a story of a robot apocalypse led by a rogue Colman-voiced virtual assistant that reteamed Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with Sony Pictures Animation.
Miranda, meanwhile, also contributed original music to the Cuba- and Miami-set Vivo, directed by Kirk DeMicco (Oscar-nominated for The Croods) through Sony Pictures Animation for Netflix. It follows a kinkajou voiced by Miranda and features a voice cast including Juan de Marcos González and Gloria Estefan.
Netflix’s 2021 lineup also featured The Summit of the Gods, a traditional mountain-climbing drama helmed by Patrick Imbert (The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales), based on the 1998 manga by Jirô Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura; Wish Dragon, writer-director Chris Appelhans’ Shanghai-set story of a college student who meets a dragon capable of granting wishes; and Back to the Outback, in which deadly creatures plan a zoo escape.
For the holiday season, Universal’s Illumination Entertainment is releasing Sing 2, the sequel to its 2016 musical about a theater owner (a koala, voiced by Matthew McConaughey) who decides to put on a singing competition. The returning ensemble cast, including Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton and Tori Kelly, are joined by Bono, who voices a reclusive rock star. Produced by Illumination head Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy, Sing 2 brought back Garth Jennings to direct.
Universal’s DreamWorks Animation introduced two films this year, including the Elaine Bogan-helmed Spirit Untamed, which follows a young girl who befriends a wild horse, a character that first appeared in the Oscar-nominated 2002 animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, followed by the Emmy-winning Netflix series Spirit Riding Free. Meanwhile, Oscar-nominated director Tom McGrath (perhaps best known for the Madagascar films) is back with Boss Baby: Family Business, the sequel to his 2017 comedy The Boss Baby.
MGM’s The Addams Family 2, directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, is the sequel to 2019’s The Addams Family, based on the Charles Addams characters. The returning voice cast is led by Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron. PAW Patrol: The Movie, a Paramount release directed by Cal Brunker, also is among this year’s contenders.
Indie distributor GKIDS’ slate this year is led by Belle from Oscar-nominated writer-director Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai), which offers a new look at the Beauty and the Beast tale as reimagined in the real world of Japan and an online virtual world called U. The film recently won a Special Jury Prize at the Animation Is Film Festival in Hollywood and is slated for a Jan. 14 U.S. theatrical release. Not to be underestimated, GKIDS is a proven force in the animated feature category; since 2010, it has scored 12 best animated feature Oscar nominations, including one last year for Wolfwalkers.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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