They're all drawn — by computers or by hand — but they draw their inspiration from disparate sources. Among this year's contenders for animated feature are two massive Hollywood hits that likely need little explaining, an adaptation of beloved philosophical prose poems, an abstract exploration of social struggle, a whimsical adventure and the possible swan song of an animation giant.
"The Boy and the World"
This Brazilian tale presents a riot of color and impressionistic images conveying how the titular boy experiences his tiny rural environs and the world beyond. It begins with a series of kaleidoscopic shapes that blossom into the protagonist's color-and-pastel life essentially in nature with his family, evolving into harder-edged collages of dark hues, unforgiving shapes and found-photo fragments as he makes his way into the city. The film is often abstract, hewing to the dream logic of a young child overstimulated by a new situation, but does relate a sociopolitically themed story: The boy's father leaves the family, apparently in search of work in the city, and the youngster takes off in search of him. People power among the impoverished masses and the deep need to create are celebrated; rampant industrialization and the authoritarian power elite are the tableau's poisons. The only dialogue is gibberish, and occasional at that, making the narrative that much more difficult to follow, but "Boy" is full of ideas and emotion and arrestingly beautiful images.
"Hotel Transylvania 2"
Revisiting the first film's Addams Family-ish community of monster hoteliers and its message of tolerance, "Hotel Transylvania 2" jumps forward seven years with the now-cuddly Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) loving life as a granddad but nervous about his own strict father finding out the child is mixed-race (human-vampire). The inclusion theme, though heavy handed, is a worthy one. The film makes great use of Mel Brooks, who appears as Drac's dad, and the slapstick final fight is a hoot.
"Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet"
"Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet" finally brings to the screen Gibran's widely beloved poetic musings on such topics as love, marriage, children and death. This animated adaptation followed years of negotiation with the writer's hometown in Lebanon, to which he had left the rights. The filmmakers made the bold choice of assigning each poem to a different animator, including Tomm Moore, Nina Paley and Bill Plympton, with Roger Allers of "The Lion King" directing and writing the frame story. The film raises the stakes by making the titular prophet the target of an oppressive regime even as he prepares to depart for his home country, but the narrative thread rightfully takes a back seat to the wisdom of his words. The voice cast that producer-actress Salma Hayek (of part-Lebanese descent) helped assemble includes Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis and composer Gabriel Yared.
"Minions" is the $1-billion gorilla in this group, having climbed to the current No. 10 all-time grosser worldwide (until the new "Star Wars" no doubt forces just about everything else down the ladder). This "Despicable Me" prequel finds the yellow pill-shaped wannabe-supervillain thralls in search of a master. An amusing opening montage depicts their early attempts, following the likes of a Tyrannosaurus rex and Dracula, always mucking it up. They land, eventually, in Swinging London, where they attempt to serve Scarlet Overkill (the always-welcome Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Herb (the equally game Jon Hamm). There are gags messing with the tourist's greatest hits of London and failed tries at torture, finally connecting to the "Despicable" story line.
"Moomins on the Riviera"
For most Americans, this film will be their first look at the Finnish phenomenon that is the Moomins — a gentle bunch of hippo-like comic-strip characters who make up a family. The film has the heart and flow of a children's book. The score is easygoing and so is the pace, despite mild adventure elements. On a whim, the Moomins journey from their idyllic home to the French Riviera, where they run into celebrities, wannabe artists and capitalism. There are no real villains; it feels like an out-of-the-forest Winnie the Pooh, hand-drawn in simple lines and colors. Rather than the usual roller-coaster rides to which Hollywood consumers have become accustomed, this feels more like a visit with tranquil friends.
"When Marnie Was There"