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Posted at 12:09 PM ET, 02/24/2013

HANDICAPPING THE OSCARS 2013: The long and short of our favorites for the animated Academy Awards [Updated]

CONSIDER IT A SPOILER alert if you must, but we already know tonight’s champ in the Best Animated Feature Film category. That’s because the winner will be...

Disney.

With a likely nod to ani-lord John Lasseter.

That’s because Disney made or distributed three of tonight’s five nominees. And because the Academy rarely crowns stop-motion films in this derby (only once in the category’s 11 years), Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” and Disney/Pixar’s “Brave” have the upper hand among these voters.

[Update: “Brave” wins the Oscar. Director Brenda Chapman thanks her daughter Emma for inspiring the film.]

It’s worth noting, though, that this is the strongest overall field since the 2009 film year, when the budding Oregon-based studio Laika (run by the son of Nike’s founder) last had an entry. That year, it was “Coraline”; this year, it’s the excellent “ParaNorman,” Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s half-ode to ‘80s John Hughes films (with a cap-tip to ‘70s TV cartoons) that is rendered in the studio’s trademark gorgeous stop-motion. The gifted Butler and Fell are already at work on their next Laika feature, and they’ll likely win Oscar one day. Probably just not this year.

[“PARANORMAN”: Filmmakers have ‘80s and zombies on the braaaains!]


PARA-MUTUAL: Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), left, and Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) react to the fun chills in the 3D stop-motion film, "ParaNorman." (FOCUS FEATURES via AP)

The only stop-motion to ever win this category is Wallace and Gromit fare from the genius blokes at England’s Aardman Studios. But for Peter Lord and his “Pirates! Band of Misfits” (Aardman/Sony), it’s a good year just to be nominated — nudging aside the wonderful but snubbed “Rise of the Guardians.”


HANDMADE CREATION: Victor and his reanimated pal Sparky in Tim Burton’s stop-motion “Frankenweenie.” (Disney)

That leaves the last stop-motion of the bunch: The Disney-distributed “Frankenweenie,” in which Tim Burton “reanimates” his ‘80s creation. Its black-and-white aesthetic is just right, but the film’s story feels a bit too thin to win here.

[“WRECK-IT RALPH”: Tech talent illuminates new effects]

Which leaves John Lasseter battling himself. As Pixar studio’s co-founder and Disney’s honcho of all things animation, his influence and DNA are weaved throughout “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph” (he exec-produced both). A win by the former film would be a historic first Oscar for a woman director of an animated feature (even though Brenda Chapman was replaced 18 months from the finish line). A win by the latter film would be a historic first victory in this category (as striking as that fact is) for a feature created entirely at Disney.


RUSH TO JUDGMENT: Once Ralph meets Vanellope in the Sugar Rush video game, “Wreck-It Ralph” kicks into high gear. (Disney)

Both of this competition’s two CG films flaunt state-of-the-art effects, top-of-the-line voice acting and effective stretches of storytelling. Which makes this race almost too close to call. So we look for even thin differences.

[“BRAVE”: Brenda Chapman on the Oscar nomination]

One thing to note: “Brave” is strongest in its first half, and “Ralph” is at its best in its latter half -- so how Oscars voters really watched these films, how much they paid proper attention throughout, could swing this race.

[“BRAVE”: Mark Andrews on his directing mission]


GREAT SCOT: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) and “Brave” could nip its fellow Disney-distributed films with an Oscars bull’s-eye. (Pixar - AP)

Give Pixar (and its first female-heroine film) the slightest of edges. But I will say this: If Rich Moore’s road-racing “Ralph” had the Academy-trusted “Pixar” badge stamped on its hood, it would likely get the nod.

WINNER: Disney and Lasseter.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

IN THIS CATEGORY, to twist Hamlet: “The best is...silence.”

There are no words for these five nominees. Literally. You can blame/credit Pixar’s winning-short influence, perhaps, but all of these shorts lack dialogue. For the 2013 Oscar statuette, verbal silence is golden.

Beyond that, the creative range is wide. PES’s playful “Fresh Guacamole” is an enjoyable appetizer at just 100 seconds. At the other end, you have the extended narrative of Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s sumptuous meal, “Head Over Heels” — an endlessly inventive creation rendered with highly tactile stop-motion puppets and sets.

To some degree, this is a wide-open derby. A vote for David Silverman’s amusing, pun-rich “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ “ is also a vote of appreciation for “Simpsons” career screen achievement after a quarter-century. A vote for John Kahrs’s “Paperman” (which ran in theaters ahead of “Wreck-It Ralph”) is also a vote for traditionally elegant and heartwarming Disney art, brimming with grace notes.

[Update: “Paperman" wins the Oscar. Director John Kahrs says he appreciates that the Academy got the animated shorts out to all the voters this year.]


Minkyu Lee, filmmaker of the Animated Short Film nominee "Adam and Dog.” (JONATHAN ALCORN - REUTERS)
Then there is the horse that almost defies handicapping: Minkyu Lee’s “Adam and Dog.” It is an oxymoron: A short that feels epic. The shifting palettes simply dazzle. The physical movement rings true. And it all feels somehow personal: Team effort as singular vision. The film is testament to an industry pro taking on a pet project with a passion.

So the winner? “Head Over Heels” may find particular favor with those older, long-married Oscars voters who relish the inspired visual metaphor. “Paperman” is a mainstream-popular pick of undeniable craft. And “Adam and Dog” is a leaping, lapping beast that licks you into submission with both its eye-popping art and tail-wagging sense of affection. In a close race, this could be Oscar’s best friend.

“ADAM AND DOG” TRAILER:

“HEAD OVER HEELS” TRAILER:

“PAPERMAN” TRAILER:

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By  |  12:09 PM ET, 02/24/2013

 
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