Hollywood’s Animation Is Film Festival offers global preview of animated Oscar contenders

In "Flee," a man tries to cope with his experiences as a refugee boy from Afghanistan.
In “Flee,” one of the titles screening in competition at the fourth Animation Is Film Festival, a man in Denmark tries to cope with his childhood experiences as a refugee from Afghanistan.

The Animation Is Film Festival returns to Hollywood this weekend for its fourth edition with some intriguing titles, including some likely Oscar contenders.

The 2021, in-person event at the TCL Chinese 6 counts among its banner selections an opening-night presentation of “The Summit of the Gods,” with director Patrick Imbert (“The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales”) present for a Q&A, a “centerpiece” presentation of the new Mamoru Hosoda feature, “Belle” (with a Hosoda Q&A to follow) and the refugee feature “Flee” closing the festival. Here are a few of the festival’s highlights.

Academy voters take note: “The Summit of the Gods” (France) is an insightful, even profound gaze into the souls of those driven to climb the world’s most dangerous mountains. Its beautiful, expressive, hand-drawn figures populate the gripping story of Japanese mountaineers as related in the manga by Jirô Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura.

Hosoda’s “Belle” (Japan) is — get this — “Beauty and the Beast” in the context of today’s virtual worlds and social media networks, in the familiar context of the shy schoolgirl with a secret (here, not magical, but digital), with a serious take on child abuse and ... it’s a musical. Hosoda’s “Mirai” was an Oscar nominee, and this one will get an awards look-see.


Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee” (Denmark) is essentially a first-person refugee documentary that had to be animated to bring its painful recollections to life. It’s the story of a man who fled war-torn Afghanistan and had to live under layers of narratives that were not his true self in order to survive. It’s by turns harrowing and touching, and also worthy of awards attention.

“The Crossing” (France) takes a more straightforwardly dramatic approach to a refugee story, and is no less compelling than “Flee.” Its aesthetic — what look like evocative oil paintings conveying the stories swing from fantastic reality to excruciating deprivation — is idiosyncratic and highly expressive. The tale follows two children trying to survive the frightening exodus from their country into an uncertain future full of traps and predators.

“Poupelle of Chimney Town” (Japan) is the beautifully rendered adaptation of a children’s book about an over-industrialized town out of Dickens and the magical being assembled from trash out of “Frosty the Snowman.” The story is less compelling than some others in competition, but the visuals are meticulously detailed and evocative.

Don’t be fooled by the simple drawing style of “Nahuel and the Magic Book” (Chile); this “hero’s journey” story of a boy and a book may look like a Saturday cartoon from the ‘70s, but it contains some actually frightening villains and an entertaining magic duel.

Other features screening out of competition include the major studio releases “Luca,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and “Vivo,” all separately reviewed in these pages.

'Animation Is Film' Festival

Where: TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood

When: Friday through Oct. 24

Tickets: $10-$13.50

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