The gang’s all here. And hey, look, Frozone found his super suit!

The 77th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2004.  The nominations were announced on 25 January 2005 and the awards were held on 27 February 2005.

Best Animated Film:  The Incredibles

  • Shrek 2
  • Shark Tale

Most Surprising Omission: The Polar Express

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Rank (out of 16) Among Best Animated Film Years:  #8

Oscar Score:  76.9

Alternate Oscar Score:  91.8

non-nominated Oscar-Eligible Films (alphabetical):

  • Clifford’s Really Big Movie
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
  • Home on the Range
  • The Legend of Buddha
  • The Polar Express
  • Sky Blue
  • The Spongebob SquarePants Movie

note:  Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was Oscar eligible but was not on the Animated film list, so presumably it was not eligible in this category.

The Complete List of Animated Films I Have Seen from 2004 (ranked, with stars, director, studio):

  1. The Incredibles  (****, Bird, Disney (Pixar))
  2. Shrek 2  (****, Adamson, DreamWorks SKG)
  3. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow  (***.5, Conran, Paramount)
  4. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence  (***.5, Oshii, DreamWorks SKG)
  5. The Polar Express  (***, Zemeckis, Warner Bros)
  6. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie  (***, Hillenburg / Osborne, Paramount (Nickelodeon))
  7. Kaena: The Prophecy  (***, Delaporte / Pinon, Samuel Goldwyn Films)
  8. Mind Game  (**,5, Yuasa, Asmik Ace Entertainment)
  9. Sky Blue  (**.5, Kim, Maxmedia / Endgame)
  10. Clifford’s Really Big Movie  (**.5, Ramirez, Warner Bros)
  11. Shark Tale  (**.5, Bergeron / Jensen, DreamWorks SKG)
  12. Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie  (**.5, Tsuji, Warner Bros)
  13. Teacher’s Pet  (**.5, Bjorklund, Disney)
  14. Home on the Range  (**, Finn / Sanford, Disney)
  15. The Legend of Buddha  (**, Phalke, Blazeway)
  16. Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space  (*.5, Kuno, Vitagraph Films)

Consensus Awards:

  1. The Incredibles  (224 pts – Oscar, Annie, BFCA, NBR, NYFC, LAFC)
  2. Shrek 2  (56 pts  –  Oscar, Annie, BFCA)
  3. Shark Tale  (20 pts  –  Oscar)
  4. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence  (20 pts  –  Annie)
  5. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie  (20 pts  –  Annie)
  6. The Polar Express  (16 pts  –  BFCA)

note:  The Incredibles becomes the second (and last) film to sweep the awards.  And while the argument can be made that there are a lot more awards to win now (11 as opposed to 6), no film has even won the six that The Incredibles and Spirited Away won.  Five films since have won nine total awards but all five of those films failed to win either the NYFC or LAFC.

The Race:  The race started early when Shrek 2 came out in May with a massive weekend in excess of $100 million (only the second film to do so) and by the end of its fifth weekend, it had settled into 1st place for the year, a position it would never lose.  In fact, in August, it would pass E.T. and move into 3rd place all-time, a position it would hold until 2008.  It also had solid reviews and was clearly the shoo-in for one of the three Oscar nominations.  There would only be three, as was obvious fairly early on, because there just weren’t that many animated films being released in this year.  Then, the race pretty much came to an end in November when The Incredibles opened to absolutely rave reviews and solid box office.  At this point it was pretty clear what the winner would be and what the second nominee would be (and Pixar would get its revenge for losing in 2001).  But what would be the third nominee?

There were a few options and none of them were overwhelming.  The Annies would nominate Ghost in the Shell 2 and The Spongebob Squarepants Movie to go along with The Incredibles and Shrek 2.  The former had done almost no box office in the U.S. and was also a sequel.  The latter appealed to little kids and stoners and had done solid box office.  Neither seemed like particularly Academy fare, though Jimmy Neutron had been nominated in 2001, so that gave hope to another Nickelodeon nomination for Spongebob.  The film widely viewed as the final contender was The Polar Express, which had joined The Incredibles and Shrek 2 as a BFCA nominee (The Incredibles had swept the critics awards).  It had done good box office (just inching into the Top 10) was expected to possibly compete in some other categories (like Best Song) and had solid reviews.  But it was also a motion capture animated film and it was uncertain that the Academy would go for such a new technology.  So what would be the elusive third nominee?

The Results:  The Incredibles was in, as was Shrek 2, much to no one’s surprise.  But then came that final nominee and that it was a surprise since it was Shark Tale, a DreamWorks film that was aimed towards kids but had a lot of tropes from gangster films that also made it inappropriate for kids.  It had made money, but not quite as much as Polar Express and the reviews had not been kind.  It had also failed to earn any precursor nominations (something that has never happened again).  Indeed, it would be the only film after the Annies re-aligned their calendar to line up with the Oscars to earn an Oscar nomination without an Annie nomination.  This was even more surprising since The Polar Express actually earned three Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Song).

Of course, The Incredibles would go on to win the Oscar, the last film to ever sweep all the existing awards.

The Fantastic Four done right.

The Incredibles

  • Director:  Brad Bird
  • Writer:  Brad Bird
  • Producer:  John Lasseter
  • Animation Studio:  Pixar
  • Distribution Studio:  Buena Vista
  • Stars:  Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Screenplay, Sound, Sound Effects Editing
  • Oscar Points:  140  (most for an animated film since 1991)
  • Length:  115 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $261.44 mil  (#5  –  2004)
  • Release Date:  5 November 2004
  • Metacritic Score:  90
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #8  (year)  /  #6  (nominees)  /  #6  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Screenplay
  • Nighthawk Points:  80

The Film:  There is a moment late in The Incredibles when we think the real action is about to start.  Syndrome, the villain who sometimes talks too much (“You got me monologuing!”) has been knocked out by his own creation and it’s wrecking havoc.  Then, before the action kicks in, we get some of the best moments of humor in a film that has been pretty funny right from the start.  First we have Frozone, the hero voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, who decides to go stop the robot but it stymied but his inability to find his costume (“Where is my super suit?”).  That scene is even funnier when you know what I know – that the voice actress who plays his wife (a Pixar employee) didn’t meet Jackson until after the film was done, at a reception, when she walked up him and said hello and he didn’t know who she was until she said “I am your wife.  I am the greatest good you are ever gonna get!” at which point Jackson said “Honey!”  That anecdote (told to me by my friend Jay when he worked at Pixar) is not only funny, but shows how well Pixar finds the right actors for a film, even when it’s grabbing people from the building, like Kimberly Adair Clark (Frozone’s wife), director Brad Bird’s kid (who had played Squirt in Finding Nemo and here plays the neighborhood kid (“That was totally wicked!”)) or Bird himself, who plays Edna Mole, quite possibly the funniest character ever created for a Pixar film (“No capes!”).  But it’s not just the Frozone scene that provides the humor before the action kicks into high gear.  Then we cut to the Incredibles themselves, flying towards the city in a rocket and we get some of the best family based humor in the film, scenes that are not only laugh out loud funny (“Are we there yet?”  “We get there when we get there!”) but so very real (“Great, now we missed it.”  “You asked me how to get there and I told you!”) all of which concludes with the hilarious, terrified look on Violet’s face before the RV comes to a crashing halt and our heroes exit so that we can get to that big fight.

I remember, a few months before this film was released, when Spider-Man 2 came out, Roger Ebert declared it was the “super-hero film I didn’t know I was waiting for”.  Thats kind of what this film is.  One year after this film was made, 20th Century-Fox would make a Fantastic Four film and it would suck.  They would later make a sequel (that sucked) and they would make a reboot film in 2015 (it would also suck).  Why bother at all?  The Fantastic Four are a family of super-heroes (a man and his wife, the wife’s younger brother and the best friend) with a man with super strength, a hero who stretches, a female who turns invisible and creates force fields.  The Incredibles not only has all of that covered, but it does with style (the animation, as with every Pixar film, looks incredible), great action (like Mr. Incredible swinging a tree around and smashing the front of the car of a bunch of bank robbers) and more than considerable humor (he has to use the tree because he’s been trying to get a cat out of it and the cat doesn’t want to come out so Incredible is shaking the hell out of the tree and runs out of time to just stop the robbers by himself).  It also brings family warmth, whether in the way a real husband and wife interact, especially when a part of their life has been cut off from them (because heroes have been banned) or in the way a mother will desperately do whatever she has to in order to protect her children.  In a film filled with thrills and action, one of the most fascinating is the way that Elastigirl’s desperation leaps off the screen when the missiles are getting closer and she makes that fateful decision and leaps for her children, because they are the world to her.

All of this is so good because the writing is so good.  There is never a moment where the characters or story is sacrificed for a joke.  These are heroes, who genuinely want to save the world but also do it out of personal satisfaction.  When they are banned, Mr. Incredible can’t help but get bored, stuck working in a soul-crushing insurance job (with a boss perfectly voiced by Wallace Shawn, who had been so very different as Rex in the Toy Story films).  When he suddenly has a chance to get back into costume, he rushes for that chance.  It takes the events of the film to realize that he has been missing the best of life right in front of him: his family.

This film has everything we could ever want from a super-hero film.  It has great action (Elastigirl’s fight against the various minions of Syndrome in his base is a perfect example of not only a fascinating superhero fight but inventive ways for her to use her powers), it has great storytelling, whether it be Mr. Incredible’s frustration at his job, Elastigirl worrying she is losing her husband, Violet having the crush on the cute boy or Dash just wanting to be allowed to be his best and it has more humor than you know what to do with, like Mr. Incredible being unable to get in or out of his capsule, or the kid next door or anything said by Edna.  Best of all, it circles back to that maxim that Edna taught us and we remember exactly why you don’t want a cape.

True, I don’t normally use character posters here. But characters aren’t usually this awesome.

Shrek 2

  • Director:  Andrew Adamson  /  Kelly Asbury  /  Conrad Vernon
  • Writer:  Andrew Adamson  /  Joe Stillman  /  J. David Stern  /  David N. Weiss  (from the book by William Steig)
  • Producer:  David Lipman  /  Aron Warner  /  John H. Williams
  • Animation Studio:  DreamWorks
  • Distribution Studio:  DreamWorks SKG
  • Stars:  Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Song
  • Oscar Points:  30
  • Length:  93 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $441.22 mil  (#1  –  2004)
  • Release Date:  19 May 2004
  • Metacritic Score:  75
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #19  (year)  /  #24  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  20

The Film:  When I wrote my review of Shrek I had considerable difficulty trying to explain why that film was a ***.5 film and not a **** film.  Yet, here is the sequel, and I have no trouble putting that magical fourth star in my rating.  So why is that?  I will answer that with three words that I have been saying to Veronica since I first saw the trailer for this film, even before we went to it during opening weekend: “Pray for mercy”.

There’s no question that a major part of the success of the first film had been Eddie Murphy’s Donkey.  He was an annoying ass, but who he was annoying was Shrek, and not us.  In fact, he continues to do that, whether it’s asking if they are there yet (they’re not), the way he comes to the table (“That’s me, the noble steed.  Hey, waiter, how about a bowl for the steed!”) or how Shrek has to explain his situation (“You have the right to remain silent.  What you lack is the capacity.”).  He’s the faithful sidekick and he’s entertaining, especially when he turns into a stallion after drinking a magic potion.  He continues to shine.

Even more so, the film actually provides some character development this time, something the first film hadn’t bothered with.  We see that Shrek likes his life as it is and resists changing anything, but he becomes more willing when he realizes that sometimes you change a bit for the ones you love.

And also, they have added in some great character voices.  The first film had been dominated by the main four characters, one of whom is no longer around, since he was in the role of the villain.  So, rather than just add one more big name (though they do), they throw in several smaller characters and find exactly the right voices for them.  Need a Prince who is Charming (but, like Stephen Sondheim’s, probably not sincere), why not try the magnificent voice of Rupert Everett?  If you need a royal couple, how about Julie Andrews and John Cleese?  And for that fairy godmother who’s going to cause some problems, well let’s get Jennifer Saunders.

That last one shows a major difference between this film and the next one, reviewed below.  That film made what was supposed to be a Kids film but which had a lot of aspects that only work for adults.  This film makes a film that’s perfectly enjoyable for Kids and then throws in little asides to make the adults laugh, like the way everyone runs from Farbucks into the one across the street (that made me laugh out loud in the theater) or the way we hear that all the “abs are fab”, which is a clear joke for those of us who know who Jennifer Saunders is.  There’s things that kids can get as well, like how, after rolling in the surf, Shrek accidentally ends up snogging Ariel, who gets thrown back out to sea by Fiona (and, it would seem, eaten by sharks).  This film concentrates on making a good film, then throws in the asides (and Ariel isn’t the only dig at Disney, but it’s the most obvious).

Now let’s get to the ace in the hole.  The filmmakers decided to bring in a role that would start as a villain and then end up as a sidekick (“I’m sorry,” Donkey protests, “the position of annoying talking animal has already been taken.”).  To fill that role they brought in Antonio Banderas and what they got was one of the best voices ever put in an animated film.  It’s no accident that Puss in Boots would eventually end up with his own film (which is much better than either the third or fourth Shrek films), one which would give us one of my favorite taglines of all-time (“Looking good never looked so good”).  Puss is hilarious, whether when he’s popping out of Shrek’s shirt like the Alien, whether he’s hissing or howling when Shrek falls on him or claiming the catnip found on him doesn’t belong to him.  Let’s face it – if you’re going to write a scene where Fiona thinks Puss might be Shrek and he answers “For you baby, I could be” is there any other actor’s voice on the planet you want to be hearing at that point?

What the hell were you thinking, Academy?

Shark Tale

  • Director:  Bibo Bergeron  /  Vicky Jenson  /  Rob Letterman
  • Writer:  Michael J. Wilson  /  Rob Letterman
  • Producer:  Bill Damaschke  /  Janet Healy  /  Allison Lynn Segan
  • Animation Studio:  DreamWorks
  • Distribution Studio:  DreamWorks SKG
  • Stars:  Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  90 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $160.86 mil  (#11  –  2004)
  • Release Date:  1 October 2004
  • Metacritic Score:  46
  • Ebert Rating:  **
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #181  (year)  /  #59  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  n/a

The Film:  Animated films don’t just have to be aimed towards kids.  The Pixar films and the Shrek films had made that quite clear.  But Kids films should be primarily aimed towards kids.  When a film like Shrek 2 has a joke about how you might find Starbucks across the street from each other, it’s a joke for the parents, but it’s just a little joke.  It’s not the whole film.  But when a film that’s supposedly for kids has a plot about loan sharking (literally in this case, since we’re dealing with anthropomorphic sharks) and about gangsters and it makes references to films like The Godfather and GoodFellas and you have to get an idea of that to be able to really understand the film, well then you’re not making a film for kids, you’re making a film that’s pandering to adults.  And you can’t claim it’s really for adults when you have garish animation, a movie about talking fish and a lot of silliness along the way (in Finding Nemo, the fish act human, but in this ridiculous movie, they basically are human but with fins).  What you’ve simply done is botched the job on every level and you should be glad to come out of with a profit, let alone somehow earn an Oscar nomination.

So, who is this film really made for?  Yes, it made enough money, but does that really say anything?  Do kids like this film about a fish that owes five thousand clams (really?  the loan shark thing wasn’t enough?) and manages to be there when a shark accidentally dies and so he parlays that into a reputation as a shark killer, but of course, he’s really a fake.  How much would kids enjoy that?  At least they might not see how obviously he will end up with the fish that really loves him rather than the “attractive” one who is just using him.

But could adults possibly care about this?  The animation is pretty garish and I found the film hard to look at.  There are talented people involved in the cast, but does it really make you care?  Would listening to Jack Black as a vegetarian shark (it’s just a coincidence that this film was developed at the same time as Finding Nemo but it’s to this film’s detriment) give you an idea of how perfect he would be a few years later as a panda?  And Angelina Jolie is just as much a waste of money here as she is later in Kung Fu Panda.  It’s not that she’s bad – she’s just fine in both roles, but no better than anyone else could be and given how much she must cost, why bother to pay all that money for fine?  The jokes in the film can’t make adults care about it any more.  And let’s get back to the animation.  Finding Nemo had shown us the amazing beauty under the seas.  This film wastes all that, giving us horrible looking fish and a neon world underwater.  There is nothing about the real ocean in this film.

I cannot fathom what any Academy voter must have been thinking in voting for this film.  Does the animated branch really hate motion capture that much?  (The answer, by the way, is clearly yes).  Hell, even Spongebob would have been a better choice than this.