Oscar Update: Is ‘Toy Story 3’ Really a Lock for Best Animated Feature? What about the ‘Dragon’?

Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross created a bit of a stir earlier this week when he told Deadline the plan wasn’t just to win a Best Animated Feature Oscar, but instead, “We’re going for the Best Picture win,” he told Deadline’s Pete Hammond. “We wanted to have the best movie and the reviews have clearly said that and it’s the number one box office hit of the year so I’m not sure why we would not go for it all.”

The plan is to campaign for a Best Picture win for Toy Story 3 by creating advertisements that associate past Best Picture winners with the animated film, such as the image of Mr. Pricklepants to the right in a pose to compare to surprise 1999 Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love.

Other references will include West Side Story, On The Waterfront, Silence Of The Lambs, Titanic, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King and Forrest Gump. Apparently the Gump ad will obviously feature Woody, Tom Hanks being the common thread. The Lambs ad will feature a disembodied Mr. Potato Head (that’s still being approved) and a sequel winning reference will be made using Godfather II and Toy Story 3‘s Lotso.

Ross isn’t done yet as he makes a statement that all at once seems to prop animated films up as well as diminish the value of the Best Animated Feature Oscar:

“The theory is pretty simple for us… It’s thrilling that there is a separate category for animation and that allows animated movies to be recognized but for some reason an animated film has never gotten Best Picture and I always wondered was there not an appetite? We decided this year we have the biggest and best reviewed film of the year. If not this year, and not this movie, when?

Of course, why hasn’t an animated film ever won Best Picture? I think Ross would be better off if he were to begin listing the animated films that should have won Best Picture as opposed to asking the question. Are there any films that should have won? Only two have ever been nominated for Best Picture — Beauty and the Beast and Up. Should Beauty have beaten The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Bugsy or The Prince of Tides? Should Up have beaten The Hurt Locker, Avatar or any of last year’s other nominees? I’m sure some will say “Yes” but will most?

Additionally, by Ross pretty much saying it’s all well and good there is an animated category, but we really want the big one, doesn’t that demean the Best Animated Feature category and open the doors for, say, How to Train Your Dragon to swoop in and take home the animated prize?

I recently received an awards screener for How to Train Your Dragon and watched it a couple of nights ago for the first time since seeing it in theaters back in March. The first thing that struck me came before I even put the disc in the player. The artwork on the packaging wasn’t the glossy coating used to sell the DVD and Blu-ray, it was the watercolor artwork you see in the “For Your Consideration” advertising to the right. It got me thinking back on the marketing campaign Paramount/DreamWorks Animation waged when the film was to be released and for a long time the only image available was the same watercolor concept art.

The studio has been selling this film as something different from the jump and rewatching it made me realize just how different it is. How to Train Your Dragon is simple, almost old school animation compared to the busy nature of Disney / Pixar’s Toy Story 3. Of course, I am still in the camp that says Toy Story 3 is a better movie, but I think we all know that isn’t what the Oscars are all about.

Ross is well aware of this as he mentions and can look back as RottenTomatoes proves Up was the best reviewed movie of 2009, Ratatouille wasn’t nominated for Best Picture despite having a higher RT rating than the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. The Incredibles was the best reviewed movie of 2004, same for Finding Nemo in 2003 and Monsters, Inc. in 2001, a film that subsequently lost the very first Best Animated Feature Oscar to… DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek. Could it happen again?

Another aspect of the race I pointed out previously is that Pixar films won the Best Animated Feature Oscar the last three years in a row. Is it possible the Academy is ready for a change?

To this question one commenter replied saying, “To win for a fourth time in a row would be remarkable and not THAT easy considering the very tough competition, but then again, one of the reasons Toy Story 3 is very likely to win Best Animated Feature is that Cars 2 almost certainly won’t win next year, so the streak will end anyway.” Look at that, already throwing Cars 2 under the bus and at that time we’d only seen a short teaser for the film.

I will admit, regardless of how good Cars 2 may end up being, it faces some stiff competition in 2011 including Gnomeo and Juliet, Rango, Rio, Mars Needs Moms!, Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom, Winnie the Pooh, The Smurfs, Puss in Boots, Happy Feet 2, Arthur Christmas, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked and The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. It’s also still unknown if The Power of the Dark Crystal will be released in 2011, but there will be another Tinker Bell movie with Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods and possibly MGM’s Bunyan and Babe.

Some tough competitors in that bunch if I may say so myself as well as the likelihood we’ll be discussing five nominees next year instead of only three.

Photo: via AwardsDaily.com

As a fan of both Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon I wouldn’t mind either film winning, and this is all without discussing Disney’s Tangled, which is excellent and currently sits at 100% on RottenTomatoes after the first seven reviews and Sony Classics’ The Illusionist, which is also quite good and sits pretty with a 90% RT score. Could those late entries in the game have an effect?

How will it all play out? The best bet is definitely to always take Pixar against the field, but perhaps this is the year we see a bit of a surprise. Any thoughts?

For all my latest Oscar chatter be sure and stay up-to-date with my “The Contenders” section.

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