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.

  • sonofsunday

    Wow, great article, Brad. All of this Awards-stuff can be very confusing, and it can certainly make your head spin.
    All i have to say on the subject is...since WHEN was How to train your dragon a best-picture nominee?!! Are you serious, Dreamworks?! I mean, come on. Really, I don't think there is a chance of that happeneing, in my opinion.
    But i guess, like what you said in your article (I'm paraphrasing), The QUALITY of a film is not what the oscars are all about.

  • M

    Just for the record, yes Beauty and the Beast should have beaten The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Bugsy or The Prince of Tides, as it was a better movie than any of them.

    • Älskling

      Was that sarcasm? It HAS to be, because that's the only way that statement makes sense. Beauty and the Beast is a fine film, but I don't think it's better than Silence of the Lambs. Not by a long shot. And The Little Mermaid is better anyway.

      • M

        Not sarcasm. I'm serious. And The Little Mermaid has got to be one of the worst Disney films ever made. All that movie basically did was recycle the old heroine stereotypes from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty for a new generation. It wasn't until Princess Jasmine in Aladdin that we truly got a progressive princess, who's sole interest isn't getting married, or even falling in love. But Beauty and the Beast was a good first step towards a more fully realized Princess character like Princess Jasmine and that's why it's a better movie than Silence or any of the movies nominated that year. It's certainly a more important movie from a film history viewpoint.

        And The Silence of the Lambs is only an okay movie for a couple of elements, mainly the two performances at the heart of the picture by Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins, other than that the rest of the movie is depressing, drab and dull. The entire movie of Beauty and the Beast's had a real spark to it, where Silence of the Lambs didn't. So sorry, yes it is by a long a much better movie than Silence.

      • Älskling

        Aside form being the first animated film to get a Best Picture nomination, it most certainly is NOT more important to film history than SIlence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkin's Hannibal Lecter's indelible impact on pop culture ALONE negates that statement.

        As for Mermaid, for starters, this "worst" was a success that sparked Disney's flagging animation studio and kicked off a decade of hits, of which Beauty was one. Yes, it updates the classic story elements for another generation, which was the key to that revival: a return to form after box office misses like Oliver & Co, The Great Mouse Detective, The Black Cauldron. But quick, name the Disney heroine: Spunky, headstrong girl defies convention and eventually falls in love with the film's hero? Ariel? Belle? Jasmine? Pocahantas? Mulan?

        And honestly, if your standard of a film's merits depend on how "depressing, drab, and dull" it its, then no film with an adult theme can ever measure up to Beauty and the Beast. But you're comparing apples to oranges, really.

  • Ryan

    I honestly think the animated Oscar is pretty much in the bag. I don't mind Disney being aggressive with Toy Story 3 for best picture. I don't think it'll win given how many voters still won't find it in them to vote a "cartoon" for the top prize. Toy Story will get nominated for Best picture, but the only Oscar it'll walk home with will be the Animated Oscar. I can't see it leaving Oscar night empty handed, and I don't think it will. Toy Story 3's animated Oscar will be somewhat like Return of the King's Best Pic Oscar, wherein the award was in large part a win for the trilogy as a whole.

    • Will

      It's going home Oscar night with an Oscar-or two-in hand, even though it won't be best picture. I agree that there's no way voters will allow the movie that started the CG animation onslaught to not win an outright Oscar.

      I just wish Disney was as aggressive with Wall-E even though it was tougher back then with only 5 slots. Unless I'm mistaken, that movie actually WON several Best PICTURE awards from critics branches (LA, Boston, etc..)

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Very good point relating it to the Oscar Return of the King received for the trilogy... don't mind me when I steal that idea for future articles. ;)

      • Colin

        Really? This is just the first time that you've picked up this Brad?

        For future reference, people will be using the same argument for The Dark Knight Rises when it's in contention for 2012.

  • Philip

    I think Disney could potentially deserve a best picture win for Toy Story. I mean why should they? They made a cartoon film, that appealed to all ages, filling the movie theaters with children to adults, and in the end they made a very, very good MOVIE. It doesnt matter to me that its a cartoon, since as your statistics proved Brad, a lot of time the shunned, and "kiddie" cartoon films are more acclaimed than the serious, gritty Oscar-winning films. They point is that even though, im sure the general Oscar voting crowd isnt as open minded to vote for a cartoon for best picture, the least they can do is give them the Animation Oscar cause like i said, they deserve it

  • bill

    do we think tintin will be an animated contender? i could see it easily getting a best pic nod and them not wanting to submit it to animated much like avatar

  • Colin

    Sorry, but Social Network's still got best picture.

    The only way that Toy Story 3 could win best picture is if it won either adapted screenplay or director. Michael Arndt already has one oscar and the academy is not about to reward him again, so that one is out of the question. As for director, I really don't see the directors branch giving the prize to a person who directed an animated feature just yet.

    Sorry for the "bias," (at least that's what pissy assed fanboys call it) but the most deserving film of the year will win, and it won't be Toy Story 3.

    • Trent

      I guarantee you Social Network won't win it either.

      • Colin

        I gaurantee you The King's Speech won't get anything excpet costumes, actor, supporting actor and maybe original screenplay.

        And no Inception won't get best pic either. It won't even get nominated in a year of ten and it will piss off so many nolan fanboys that the internet will explode.

      • http://joker93.livejournal.com Nick

        I guarantee you it will.

    • Garry

      Social Network is great, but I just don't get the same vibe right now that Hurt Locker and even No Country for Old Men had at this same exact juncture.

      I can't pinpoint it exactly, maybe its that there's really no character in the movie that one can really latch onto and root for.

      Either way, I think it is as close to a toss-up this year for Best Picture. You can make a solid argument for every big boy vying for it, from Kings Speech, Toy Story 3, Social Network, Kids are all right, etc..

      • Colin

        No character? Bitch please. Garry, give a nigga a break. Don't tell me that you couldn't latch onto Zuckerberg after he was facing a pair of twins who came from an even cushier upringing than the Zuck. And his behavior at the very end, you can't tell me that is something that every person has done at least once in their lives. Even Eduardo, or Erica! You had to sympathize with them at some point. You have to admit that even someone as unsympathetic as Parker was enormously attractive to watch and someone you secretley wanted to see succeed because you knew what it would result in and how it would only highten the conflict.

        As far as the race goes, I like the fact that it will be a toss-up/close dash to the finish until The Social Network takes the crown on Oscar night and it's victory is remembered in the history books as one of Oscars finer moments of judgement.

      • http://joker93.livejournal.com Nick

        You didn't root for Eduardo? Didn't sympahize with Erica, thought the Winklevosses weren't likable, didn't feel for Mark in the very end of the film? You've gotta be in the minority.

      • Sadman

        To Nick,

        I couldn't latch onto Eduardo. He came of as too weak and too whiny. If he wanted a piece of the company, he should have started fighting hard for it way before Shawn came into the picture. He seemed to be more concerned about his own career and ti appeared as though his jealousy fueled the lawsuit more than anything else.

    • Josh

      Sorry to burst your bubble pal, but YOU are every bit the FANBOY yourself. Your posts have taken shots at fanboys and consequently threw every competing film under the bus from Toy Story 3, Kings Speech, Inception, you name it, because you feel they are undeserving. That's one of the very symptoms of "Fanboyism."

      • Colin

        Josh-I'm not a fanboy because I'm not blindly following a particular cult of films and franchises and offer them immediate praise without having seen them. I'm not the obsessive legion Nolan devotees who think that everything the man does is gold. I'm tired of hereing arguments from wannabe filmmakers and critics who think that he's overdue for an oscar or that he's the next kubrick. Clearly those fanboys know nothing about Kubrick (outside of maybe seeing the rape scene in Clockwork Orange and youtube clips of R. Lee Ermey's role in Full Metal Jacket)and haven't heard of truly overdue individuals like Peter O'toole or Albert Finney. Again, sorry to bust on them, but their knowledge of film and their failure to understand that a great movie doesn't require car chases and shoot-outs is just ridiculous to me.

        I think that Toy Story 3 is an amazing achievement for animated features but The Social Network is burned in my brain eternally and gave me the kind of feeling that I was watching a perfectly crafted film in every aspect. It was a film that defined that aderol generation without having to pander to them.

    • Dan

      Boy, I'd pay to see the look on your face come Oscar night when The Social Network doesn't win the big prize.

      • Colin

        Likewise to you and Inception, when Oscar morning comes and it doesn't even get a best picutre nomination.

      • Kristen

        Why does everyone either have to be a fanboy or not? I personally enjoy Nolan's films, but I am far from believing that he poops gold... I do think you are wrong Colin, and Inception will get a nod, mainly (in My Honest Opinion) due to the strong ensemble acting, and the grand scale visual effects. While I love DiCaprio, I think what makes the movie really work is Hardy, and Gordon-Levitt. Without their dynamic, the rest falls on an untrustworthy main character.

        As far as the Social Network goes... This is the type of film that the Academy lives to award. It was an amazing experience in the theatre. Great stories like that are exactly the type of film that deserve Best Picture Oscars...

        So as far as I'm concerned, this year has some excellent candidates for Best Picture, including an Animated Film that could easily steal the big one from a couple of magnificent films. I truly cannot wait for the big night to see who takes the gold...

    • Artorious

      I like how whenever anyone disagrees with you, you automatically assume they are Nolan fanboys. It's pretty comical. Thank you for a funny start to my day :)

      • Colin

        Not as comical as you coming up with that simple generalization and using it as the only thing you can muster for an argument.

        Take care

  • Älskling

    How To Train Your Dragon was one of the most enjoyable films I've seen all year and I'd be quite pleased if it won Best Animated. I liked it a lot better than Toy Story 3, but I suspect could win out of sheer nostalgia.

  • Stiggy

    The only way I could imagine Toy Story 3 winning Best Picture is if The King's Speech and The Social Network split the biopic vote.

    I thought they already gave The King's Speech Oscar nods... when it was called The Madness of King George (which ended up getting Gumped that year).

    Colin Firth = Nigel Hawthorne
    Geoffrey Rush = Ian Holm
    Helena Bonham Carter = Helen Mirren

  • Stiggy

    Up should have beaten Hurt Locker yes, but the only reason Hurt Locker won was it had a subject matter that wasn't yet milked to death on the big screen.

    • http://joker93.livejournal.com Nick

      But Inglourious Basterds should have beaten Up.

      • Stiggy

        Seems like Quentin Tarantino has become the new Martin Scorsese.

        First it was Robert Zemeckis and now Katheryn Bigelow! Who else is he going to lose to?

      • Winchester

        It really shouldn't have. IB isn't THAT great a film either. It shouldn't even have been in the shortlist.

  • http://joker93.livejournal.com Nick

    Heh. I wouldn't say I exactly threw Cars 2 under the bus, but realistically, at this point, the odds are already against it. The first movie lost to Happy Feet, from the teaser and premise the sequel looks like a DW movie that prefers spoofing to developed characters and story, Lasseter had to get his ass in the second director's chair in the last minute... it just looks utterly above-average, nowhere near as good as usual Pixar quality. And in order to win Best Animated, it will have to really blow us all away. On the other hand, though, the other contenders don't look as strong as Dragon and Illusionist, but at this point last year, who knew the former would be so good and who knew about the latter at all. If Cars 2 doesn't improve on the original, I can easily see the Academy awarding Winnie the Pooh (would also be a great possibility to award traditional animation) or Tintin, provided both movies deliver.

    This year, I still believe TS3 has the best chance, but the gap between it and the other potential nominees is pretty damn close. Ross is actually right in his question - Toy Story 3 was as good as anyone could have hoped for, made a billion dollars and was the last installment of the pretty much perfect - and, in the field of computer animation - revolutionary trilogy. But I still believe it isn't quite The Return of the King, and a lot of voters are going to regard at least The Social Network and The King's Speech as better films. It would be a lot safer to settle for Best Animated Feature and maybe some other Oscar (sound, sound editing, whatever), than to try to get all the way to the Best Picture glory. In the year like 2008 or 2005, it'd have a pretty good chance, but not now.

  • Steve J

    I never saw TS3, but I think Dragon should receive extra credit to voters over Toy Story due to it being a new story, instead of a sequel. Reminds me of the WallE/Kung Fu Panda debate. WallE was a great film, but Panda was good movie that was more entertaining.

  • Stiggy

    The problem with the whole Return of the King strategy is that other franchises may try to beat Toy Story at it's own game.

    Shrek, Jackass, Saw, Tron and even Harry Potter all have a shot this year at dethroning Toy Story's oscar chances.

    • Artorious

      Yep. When I think of Oscars, I think of Saw and Jackass. If those two don't even get nominated it will be the biggest travesty in the history of everything.

      • Stiggy

        I hope you weren't being sarcastic.

  • LJF

    I know it's too early to tell, but as much as I want TS3 to win best picture, I've just got the feeling that it'll be a toss up between Inception or the yet to be seen True Grit. To be honest, I hope the latter is good enough to even be nominated.

  • Winchester

    TS3 will get Best Animated...........it will also get a BP nomination but it won't win.

    My bet is that Inception AND The Social Network will be among the ten BP nominees this year.

    I have no particular call to make yet on what film out of the ultimate shortlist might win on the night. Let's see which ones they actually turn out to be first.

  • Raichu

    TS3 will get best animated. As great as Dragon and Tangled( at least according to early buzz), they are not only up against a brilliant film, but they will be up against a brilliant trilogy. Its impending animated oscar win will say Toy Story 3, but in essence in the minds of AMPAS voters it'll say "Toy Story trilogy"

    Disney's aggressive Best Picture campaign is warranted imho. The film is great, and so far, no film at this point is just scooping up all the buzz, kudos, and accolades like a black hole. Though I think it won't win due to age old bias, It has a pretty viable shot at the big prize. The fantasy film barrier took years but it has finally come down with LotR: RoTK, Animation might just be next.

  • Stephen

    Animated movies that should have been nominated or won Best Picture (IMO):

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): should have won over The Life of Emile Zola. Which has stood the test of time, hmm?

    Pinocchio and Fantasia (1940): At least one of them should have been nominated, although it was extremely tough competition that year, so it probably shouldn't have won.

    Bambi (1942): SHould have been nominated, but The Magnificent Ambersons should have won.

    Beauty and the Beast (1991): I could go either way on this one. B&B is definitely better than JFK, Bugsy, and The Prince of Tides, but I'm not sure it's better The Silence of the Lambs, which is also a true Great Movie.

    Toy Story (1995): Much as I like Braveheart, Toy Story is a much more perfect film, and could definitely merit a win.

    Finding Nemo (2003): Couldn't beat that competition, but still deserved a nomination over Seabiscuit.

    The Incredibles (2004): Should have been nominated over Finding Neverland. I think it was probably the best movie of the year, but the competition is so much more Oscar-baity that it's just difficult to say it should have won.

    Ratatouille (2007): Should have been nominated over Juno.

    Wall-E (2008): This year had an awful group of nominees, stiffing The Dark Knight and The Wrestler for nominations, then stiffing The Wrestler again for Best Actor and Best Song. Wall-E should have been nominated and I would have been fine with it winning, although it would not have been my pick.

    Now of course I have not even gotten into the foreign film market at all here, ignoring Spirited Away, one of the greatest movies ever made, along with other Studio Ghibli films which were probably the best things to come out anywhere in their respective years, as well as the many live-action foreign films which deserved recognition from the Academy as well in these years, and may have deserved it more than the animated movies I picked to win. It would be much too difiicult to figure out which ones were even eligible, etc.

    Obviously you are free to disagree, and sometimes when looking at the "weightiness" of subject matter it is easy to dismiss animated movies against serious biopics, but oft times it is the light, magical, beautiful, funny, and touching animated films that stand the test of time for decades, living on in our memories as landmarks, while serious but dull Oscar-bait fades away into obscurity.

    • Stiggy

      Did you honestly think that Spirited Away should have beaten the likes of Chicago, The Hours and The Pianist?

      • John

        The Pianist would've gotten my vote that year if I had one. As for Spirited Away, I would've definitely voted it for BP before I do Chicago and The Hours.

  • TS

    In all honesty, i think HTTYD is way too overrated. It was good, but not great. Toy Story 3 was very good also. Both will get nominees for Best Animated Feature, but i doubt either will be nominated for best picutre. I say that 127 Hours should win best picture. If not, then Social Network.

    • John

      Toy Story 3 won't win Best picture. I think the majority of the Academy not yet ready to vote an animated film for the highest prize. However, it's pretty much etched in stone that Toy Story 3 will get a Best Picture nomination at the very least.

  • Leandro Dubost

    I wouldn't mind Toy Story 3 winning, Pixar has never disappointed me and they surely deserve all the recognition available.

    But yes, I'm rooting for Dragon this year. I actually though it's a better movie, funnier and more touching, I loved the ending (not exactly a sad ending, but did anyone expect and animated feature to end like that?)

    Toy Story 3 is a typical summer blockbuster with the heart in the right places and a final sequence that anyone over 20 can relate to. But it doesn't say much during the rest of the movie (not that it should, by the way!)
    I think Dragon has a more 'Oscar caliber' material considering the story and the main theme of the picture.

  • Jason Smith

    I really don't think I saw the same Toy Story 3 that everyone is raving so much about. I saw a comedy that appealed to children but was made for young adults and emotional scenes that tried too hard.

    I grew up with Toy Story 1 and 2 so I was expecting something spectacular, not a rehash of Toy Story 2 that was actually the worst in the whole trilogy.

    If this even gets a nomination for Best Picture I will laugh. But then again, Up, which was pretty mediocre, also got a nomination.

  • Dusty

    I don't see what all the hype of TS3 is, sure it is the end of a trilogy but other than that I didn't think it was all that great of a movie, I didn't laugh that much during it at all. Tangled and HTTYD had way more humorous parts in them than TS3 did, imo. I don't see what could make people cry at the end of the movie. Sure Andy gave away his toys, but that doesn't mean he couldn't come back and play with them at the end of the semester! o__0

    If it were up to me I'd say Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon would be 1 & 2. Both of their endings were waaaaayyy better than TS3's. I've seen HTTYD 4 times and every time I shed a tear when Stoic is knelt down waiting for the inevitable, that he thought was going to happen.

    And Tangled's ending was just amazing! It was a good 'ol warm your heart touching ending, with freaking amazing visuals.
    Tangled had me laughing all the way through and heck the humor lasted all the way up until the last lines of the movie! And, even though they didn't talk, you have to admit that Maximus and Pascal are the two best animated sidekicks since Timon and Pumbaa, just based on their actions and reactions! That is saying something to be that good just based on their actions and no words!!

    And I was not expecting either of the main character's in Tangled or HTTYD to get injured, those were shockers! The ending of TS3 was no surprise to me at all..

  • No one

    I thought HTTYD was better although TS3 was great as well, but Dragon came as a surprise..and so what if TS3 made a billion? I bet half of those people who saw TS3 will never see another animated film again just because of nostalgia.TS3 had an unfair advantage in box-office and Pixar fanboy critics. Alot of people didn't give HTTYD a chance and most of those people who said it was going to "suck" were proved wrong...
    So, I am hoping for an upset for the best animated feature category!
    And HTTYD was not overrated. expand your mind a bit and get out of the Pixar rut..
    not ecpecting the end, but totaly guessed the ending for TS3 not lying. The only way someone can guess HTTYD's ending is if they read spoilers..