Not since “Rango” in 2012 has a movie that wasn’t made by Disney or Pixar won the best animated feature Oscar. But that streak could end this year thanks to a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
With the acclaimed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony Pictures Animation is in the unusual position of front-runner in the category. According to experts polled by awards prediction website Gold Derby, “Into the Spider-Verse” has a 23% chance of winning the prize, slightly ahead of Pixar Animation Studios’ “Incredibles 2.”
If “Into the Spider-Verse” wins, it would be a notable exception in an era in which Disney has dominated the category. The Burbank family entertainment juggernaut and its Emeryville-based Pixar Animation Studios subsidiary have won 10 of the last 11 prizes, most recently for Pixar’s “Coco” and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia.” Paramount won for “Rango” seven years ago, and Warner Bros. prevailed in 2007 with “Happy Feet.”
The innovative superhero film “Into the Spider-Verse” has been a commercial and critical boon for Culver City-based Sony Animation, known for popular but Oscar-less franchises including “Hotel Transylvania” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” The last time Sony had an animated feature nominee was for “The Pirates! Band of Misfits" in 2013, a collaboration with British stop-motion studio Aardman.
“Into the Spider-Verse” has also done well at the box office, grossing $325 million worldwide so far, a strong result for a studio that has struggled to compete in the past. The movie cost an estimated $90 million to make.
“It's a really exciting place for us to be as a studio,” said Sony Pictures Animation President Kristine Belson in an interview. “It's very, very moving to see the critical reaction, but also the way the audience has responded to the movie.”
A Sony win over Disney would also be notable because Spider-Man is one of the few Marvel characters Disney does not fully control. Disney owns Marvel Studios and is in the process of buying X-Men studio 20th Century Fox, increasingly turning Spider-Man and related characters into outliers in the superhero universe. Disney’s Marvel produced the most recent live-action “Spider-Man” movie, starring Tom Holland, which was released by Sony in a rare and successful collaboration of rival studios.
Based on the Marvel comics, “Into the Spider-Verse” focuses on the character of Brooklyn-raised black Latino teen Miles Morales, representing a departure from the better-known Peter Parker story lines of the live-action films. Critics have praised its inclusive message (“Anyone can wear the mask,” goes a line from the film that could serve as its mission statement) and its fresh take on the well-worn crime fighter, with a plot that incorporates spider-heroes from elsewhere in the Marvel Comics universe. “Into the Spider-Verse” also features an unusual animation style, blending techniques of computer animation and 2-D cartooning to create the sense of a comic book come to life.
“It was a combination of technical wizardry and true human artistry, and I think people are responding to seeing something new and fresh in animation, which they haven't seen in a long time,” Belson said. “It is timeless, but I think it's also very timely.”
The movie owes its success to a plethora of filmmakers, including producer and former Sony Pictures film Chair Amy Pascal, longtime “Spider-Man” producer Avi Arad, and “Lego Movie" creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Lord co-wrote the screenplay. “Into the Spider-Verse” was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
Ramsey, in an interview, said the film’s success could encourage studios and filmmakers to take risks on different kinds of animated films.
“Everybody's so happy to see something different,” Ramsey said, “and everybody's so inspired and excited and feeling like we managed to push the door open a little bit so now everybody can come through.”
The film got a major confidence boost this month when it won the Golden Globe for best animated feature. It also won awards at key events including the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and PGA Awards.
Victory, however, is far from assured for Sony, and Disney is not to be underestimated. “Incredibles 2,” directed by Brad Bird, is a popular superhero sequel that earned strong reviews and $1.2 billion at the global box office. The movie, a long-awaited followup to a beloved Pixar blockbuster, scored a stellar 94% “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 20% chance of winning when the Oscars ceremony takes place Feb. 24, according to experts polled by Gold Derby.
Other nominees for animated feature include the well-reviewed and commercially successful Disney sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated “Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight) and anime feature “Mirai,” distributed in the U.S. by Gkids.
“We still feel like the underdogs,” Belson said.
Disney had a strong showing in the Oscar nominations overall.The studio scored 17 nods, including seven for the Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther,” which is up for best picture and multiple technical awards. Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” was recognized in four categories, including best song and costume design.
20th Century Fox Film, which is poised to be absorbed by Disney in the coming weeks, had the largest haul, with 20 total nominations for the company overall, including five for the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Specialty division Fox Searchlight contributed 15 nominations for its movies, including period drama “The Favourite,” up for best picture.
Universal Pictures and its specialty division Focus Features were close behind with a combined 17 nominations. Comcast Corp.-owned Universal had nine, led by five for “Green Book,” while Focus had eight, including multiple nominations for Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”
Netflix, the Los Gatos, Calif.-based streaming giant, walked away with 15 nominations, including 10 for Alfonso Cuarón’s best-picture nominee, “Roma.” Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, meanwhile, nabbed 11 nominations, buoyed by eight for its best-picture contender, the Dick Cheney serio-comedy “Vice.”