The Oscars are becoming decreasingly important to younger audiences. That said, the animated films up for Oscars this year are each stunning in their own way.
Notably, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa is the first R-rated animated feature to be nominated for an award. This means 2016 is the first year in Oscars history that animated cinema meant strictly for adults is competing for the same award as animated cinema for children.
While every nominated film is worth a watch, we’ve ranked our favorites here.
Artist Richard Williams spoke at length about his ideas for Prologue, years before he was able to make it. A little girl, rendered in pencil by Williams himself, sees some of the brutal acts in the Spartan-Athenian war and runs to her grandmother for comfort. What makes William’s Prologue worth an Oscar nod is his unique process: by completing an estimated 24 pencil drawings per second of runtime, Williams created a living, breathing sketch.
9. When Marnie Was There
Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There looks pretty much the same as every other feature released by the studio. It would have been strange to not include a film from Ghibli, as 2015 was its last year of production, but When Marnie Was There is still a solid nominee.
Although it doesn’t look new, the film is still gorgeous, rendered in pastels and soft colors found in nature. Still, it’s hard to watch any Studio Ghibli film and not yearn for Miyazaki’s fearlessness.
8. Inside Out
Inside Out benefitted from its dynamic voice acting; Amy Poehler was at her most delicate as “Joy”, and Phyllis Smith stole the show as “Sadness”. However, films from Pixar still need to be as funny as Finding Nemo, as heartbreaking as the Toy Story franchise, and as inventive in their world-building as The Incredibles, and Inside Out felt like a Pixar B-side.
7. Shaun the Sheep Movie
Any animation fan who grew up on Wallace & Gromit shorts will enjoy the whimsical, very British humor at work in Shaun the Sheep Movie. The film demonstrates, by far, the most masterful use of comedic timing among the nominees, and when it isn’t outright funny, it’s still full of pure joy.
6. Sanjay’s Super Team
Sanjay’s Super Team, the Pixar nominated short which appeared before The Good Dinosaur in theaters, is the film Big Hero 6 should have been. Not only is it a wonderful example of children looking to recognize themselves through representation (Sanjay and his father are the first family of Indian descent to appear in a film), but it speaks to the production company’s sensitivity and awe when addressing non-Western cultures.
Anomalisa, the first animated film from Charlie Kaufman, absolutely soars. Every environment feels lush, every surface looks textured, and the expressions from the film’s primary characters are just as engrossing as any human actor’s would be.
4. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
This film’s title doesn’t refer to the cosmos, but instead to cosmonauts, or Russian space explorers. The film is director Konstantin Bronzit’s second Oscar nomination, and it tells a story set in outer space — following the trend of every American blockbuster released in the last few years — from a quiet and personal viewpoint.
Why rank it so high on this list? Cosmos is nostalgic in a way that the other nominees aren’t. It resembles classic European animation, with its single-color illustrations and bare use of shadow and texture.
The film is worth a good, long look because it’s simply made, simply written, and it still inspires enough emotion in the viewer to be remembered long after it’s been watched.
3. Boy and the World
If the world were fair, Boy and The World would take the Oscar for Best Animated Feature this year. The sound design in the film should have been enough to earn it an award, but it’s a complex visual treat as well. The only animated nominee from Brazil, Alê Abreu’s Boy and the World is a bright and lively ode to migrant workers, told from the point of view of a child who sees his world illustrated through crayon drawings, watercolors, and abstract, geometric shapes.
Not only does the film not look like any of the other films on this list, but Boy and the World is so full of scenes employing different-looking styles that it’s difficult to nail down a single aesthetic. The film uses fluctuating animation styles to recreate how a boy from a rural neighborhood might view new things, such as an urban skyscraper, with wonder. Boy and the World ranks high on this list, behind only one other animated feature, because it’s a story that could only be told through animation, and the story feels both relevant and classic.
2. World of Tomorrow
While World of Tomorrow doesn’t employ the same coherent narrative as more straight-forward nominees like Sanjay’s Super Team, the film should not be judged by the same factors used to assess straight-forward narrative shorts. After all, it’s not up for Best Picture, but instead Best Animated Short of 2016, and it just that: a dizzying, mind-expanding experiment in animation that feels like an all-encompassing art piece rather than a cartoon made for children.
The voice actors in World of Tomorrow are Julia Pott, an animator and illustrator in her first acting role, and Herzfeldt’s small niece, Winona, whom he recorded while she was only four. This documentary-style audio, recorded by Hertzfeldt as he drew pictures with his niece, is a real-time sample of a child reacting to and adding to, her adult uncle’s world-building. That experiment alone makes World of Tomorrow a memorable piece of animation.
1. Bear Story
Bear Story is a Chilean short made using digital animation, and stylized to realistically appear as if its sets and characters were made out of tin, bits of tape, and wood. In fact, the short’s entire plot is told through a metal diorama built by an aging, and lonely, bear who wants to remember the life he had with his wife and son before he was stolen from them and sold as a circus performer.
As The Wrap noted, “But audiences in Osorio’s native Chile immediately know that it’s more than that — it’s also an allegory for the way families were torn apart during the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile in the 1970s.”
Bear Story is our pick for best animated film of the year, including both feature-length and short nominees. It tells the story of adult loneliness in a more skilled way than Anomalisa, and manages to portray the world through a child’s eyes, like many of the other films on the list.