Pay no attention to the bunnies in the door.

The 78th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2005.  The nominations were announced on January 31, 2006 and the awards were held on March 5, 2006.

Best Animated Film:  Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

  • Corpse Bride
  • Howl’s Moving Castle

Most Surprising Omission: Madagascar

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Steamboy

Rank (out of 16) Among Best Animated Film Years:  #1

Oscar Score:  100

Alternate Oscar Score:  100

non-nominated Oscar-Eligible Films (alphabetical):

  • Chicken Little
  • Gulliver’s Travel  *
  • Hoodwinked
  • Madagascar
  • Robots
  • Steamboy
  • Valiant

note:  I haven’t seen Gulliver’s Travel.
note:  Though Pooh’s Heffalump Movie was on the official Academy reminder list, it was not listed by the Academy as an eligible film for Best Animated Film.

The Complete List of Animated Films I Have Seen from 2005 (ranked, with stars, director, studio):

  1. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit  (****, Park / Box, DreamWorks SKG (Aardman))
  2. Corpse Bride  (****, Burton, Warner Bros)
  3. Howl’s Moving Castle  (***.5, Miyazaki, Disney (Ghibli))
  4. Steamboy  (***.5, Ohtomo, Triumph Films)
  5. Valiant  (***, Chapman, Disney)
  6. Robots  (***, Wedge, 20th Century-Fox)
  7. Madagascar  (***, McGrath, DreamWorks SKG)
  8. Pooh’s Heffalump Movie  (***, Nissen, Disney)
  9. Hoodwinked  (**.5, Edwards, Weinstein Company)
  10. Appleseed  (**.5, Aramaki, Genson Entertainment)
  11. Chicken Little  (**.5, Dindal, Disney)
  12. Renart the Fox  (**.5, Schiel, Oniria Pictures)

Note:  This would give DreamWorks 13 animated films in their time as a distributor (a little less than a decade) which was good enough for 5th all-time to this point, where they will stay until Columbia passed them in 2011.  This is the first year without a Paramount film since 1997 and the last until 2013.  With Corpse Bride, Warners reaches 30 films, the only studio aside from Disney to do that until 2010.  Robots is the second Blue Sky film and the first animated film for Fox in three years.

Consensus Awards:

  1. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit  (192 pts – Oscar, Annie, PGA, BFCA, LAFC)
  2. Corpse Bride  (108 pts  –  Oscar, Annie, PGA, BFCA, NBR)
  3. Howl’s Moving Castle  (96 pts  –  Oscar, Annie, BFCA, NYFC)
  4. Madagascar  (56 pts  –  Annie, PGA, BFCA)
  5. Chicken Little  (56 pts  –  Annie, PGA, BFCA)
  6. Robots  (20 pts  –  PGA)

The Race:  Would the Academy listen to the audiences or the critics?  That was the big question entering Oscar season of 2005.  In 2003, the overwhelming financial hit was also the critical hit (Finding Nemo) and it won the Oscar.  In 2004, the two big films (Shrek 2, The Incredibles) were also critical hits.  But this year was different.  Three animated films had earned well more than $100 million: Robots, Madagascar and Chicken Little and they had three big studios behind them (Fox, DreamWorks, Disney, respectively).  But none of them had done better than okay with the critics.  On the other hand, there were three films that the critics had raved about, but none of them had made more than $60 million: Howl’s Moving Castle, Corpse Bride and Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  Howl had Disney behind it, but it wasn’t their film; it was another Miyazaki film from Ghibli that Disney had dubbed and distributed in the States.  Likewise, DreamWorks was the marketing force behind Were-Rabbit, but it was the second film from Aardman animation and the first time that Wallace and Gromit (who had been in two Oscar winning shorts) were in a feature film.  Corpse Bride was being distributed by Warner Bros, but it was the brainchild of Tim Burton and had been made by his own production company and not by Warner Animation.
The first news came from the NBR and they gave their award to Corpse Bride.  That was followed by the Annie nominations, and they went with the three critical hits and then gave their last two nominations to Madagascar and Chicken Little while the BFCA followed suit with the same five.  The other two critics groups that gave out Best Animated Film awards made it a three way race by splitting, with the New York critics going with Miyazaki and the LA critics choosing Aardman.  Last to chime in was the Producers Guild of America, who had just insituted their Best Animated Film award and they gave nominations to the three popular films as well as Were-Rabbit and Corpse Bride, leaving out Howl.  But, with the awards looming, it looked like the Academy would go with the critics over the audiences.

The Results:  And they did.  The three big critical faves were the nominees.  And as the awards groups started to hand out their awards and they all went to Wallace & Gromit (the Annie, the PGA, the BFCA), it became obvious that it would also win the Oscar, which it did.

The Films:  This is the clear winner among all the groups of nominees through 2016.  While Curse is only the 10th best winner to date, I rank Corpse Bride as the third best #2 (behind only The Wind Rises and Moana) and Howl is the fourth best #3 (behind Kubo, Frankenweenie and When Marnie Was There).  However, the only years with better #2 or #3 films are all years with five nominees.  This year, with only three nominees, all of which definitely deserve to be here, rises to the top.  Because there are only three nominees, with two **** films and a high ***.5 film, the average is 89.0, making this the only year where the average nominee is a **** film.  Also, all of the films are in the Top 29 while only five of the other fifteen years even have an average below 29.

Oh, it must be time to get up.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

  • Director:  Nick Park  /  Steve Box
  • Writer:  Nick Park  /  Steve Box  /  Bob Baker  /  Mark Burton
  • Producer:  Nick Park  /  Claire Jennings  /  Peter Lord  /  Carla Shelley  /  David Sproxton
  • Animation Studio:  Aardman
  • Distribution Studio:  DreamWorks SKG
  • Stars:  Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  40
  • Length:  85 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • Box Office Gross:  $56.11 mil  (#47  –  2005)
  • Release Date:  5 October 2005
  • Metacritic Score:  87
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #13  (year)  /  #10  (nominees)  /  #9  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  40

The Film:  Veronica and I had just moved to Boston when this film came out and so we didn’t get a chance to see it in the theater, even though we were huge fans of Wallace and Gromit.  We saw it for the first time on a plane from Atlanta to LA a couple of days after Christmas, before it was released on video.  When the film started up and that music came on, my first thought was that the music was brilliant.  My second thought was that it was really familiar.  It took a few seconds for it to sink in that it was familiar because it was the noise of our alarm clock and we heard that noise every single morning.  In fact, by this point we owned the original three shorts, a plush Wallace (why we didn’t have a plush Gromit I can’t explain), the alarm clock, a Shaun the Sheep magnet and a W & G address book.  The short “The Wrong Trousers” is one of my all-time favorite animated shorts, most specifically because of a brilliant moment of animation where Gromit is racing on a model train and has to keep laying tracks in front of him in order not to crash.  We may have been a little pre-disposed to love this film.  Indeed, the only reason we hadn’t seen it in the theaters was because we only had a chance to see one movie together between moving there in August and that trip in December and we had to go with another love instead.

So this film had an advantage, but it wasn’t just an advantage in winning us over.  It had already established characters who had a great chemistry with each other and a track record of success.  We already knew that Wallace was an inventor of various strange things (like building a rocket on a bank holiday to go to Moon for cheese or building a pair of mechanical trousers that a penguin would steal to use in robberies) and that various fascinating animals would be brought into the plot (like that bank-robbing penguin or the hilarious little sheep named Shaun that got sucked into another of their adventures (literally)).  So, when we learn in the opening minutes of this film that they have created new business that involves humanely tracking down the bunnies that have been munching on local vegetables so that all the really large prize veggies will be ready for the local competition, well, can we really be surprised?  And when Wallace decides to take it to the next step with a “little harmless brain-altering” can we really be any more surprised that Gromit with his hilarious eye-rolling?

The first three shorts had relied mostly on the voice of Wallace, as Gromit is silent (but says a whole lot with his expressions – he’s proof positive of how amazing the animators at Aardman are) with the penguin and Shaun not requiring voice actors.  But for a full-length film, it helps to have a villain who speaks, so why not bring in one of the best actors in Britain (who was also the villain in the film we did choose to see), Ralph Fiennes.  And it doesn’t hurt to have a potential romance for Wallace, since the woman he met in the last short, it turned out, didn’t like cheese (“Not even Wensleydale?”), so let’s bring in a distinguished actress, who, in a complete coincidence, would then join Fiennes as the villain for the next film in that series, Helena Bonham Carter.  Bonham-Carter is Lady Tottington, who plays host to not only the competition but also to a giant field just filled to the brim with bunnies.  When Wallace and Gromit come to get them, it turns into another visual display, with those little clay bunnies getting sucked down their holes and then floating through the air.  In the mean time, Fiennes is Lord Quartermaine (surely a joke on the old adventurer Alan, even if the name is spelled differently), who would prefer to just blow the bunnies away.

What will happen is some pure cinematic joy and silliness as Wallace, with his harmless brain altering, will accidentally turn himself into a were-rabbit, the horrible mythological beast that of course no one ever heard of before this film but would certainly be the biggest fear for this community that so values its giant prize veggies.  Complicating things will also be the cute little bunny who will somehow become more and more like Wallace himself and putting aside the veggies and taking a hankering for cheese.

In the end, Wallace and Gromit still work best with short films.  It’s a little hard to sustain their brand of whimsy through a feature length film.  Perhaps that’s why there has only been one film; they hit the jackpot by getting just what they needed and then went back to the shorts that have made them so beloved.  And that’s just fine with me.

A Tim Burton love story.

Corpse Bride

  • Director:  Tim Burton  /  Mike Johnson
  • Writer:  John August  /  Caroline Thompson  /  Pamela Pettler
  • Producer:  Tim Burton  /  Allison Abbate
  • Animation Studio:  Tim Burton Productions
  • Distribution Studio:  Warner Bros
  • Stars:  Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  74 min
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $53.35 mil  (#51  –  2005)
  • Release Date:  16 September 2005
  • Metacritic Score:  83
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #17  (year)  /  #15  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Song (“The Remains of the Day”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  40

The Film:  A boy and a girl have been arranged to be married.  She is from established money but her parents have run through all that money.  He is from the nouveau riche and he brings the stench of his father’s fishmonger business.  They have never met but when they do, they find themselves charmed by the other.  But, when the boy, made nervous by the over-bearing clergyman to get his vows right, runs off into the woods to practice, he accidentally finds himself married to a corpse.  Welcome to your evening of romantic comedy, courtesy of the twisted mind of Tim Burton.

Burton began his career as an animator at Disney before branching into live-action films.  As he moved into live-action he began a fascination on film for bringing the dead back to life, both metaphorically (in making an homage to Frankenstein with Frankenweenie) and literally, in the films (Frankenweenie, Beetlejuice, Batman Returns).  So, naturally, when he would move into making feature-length animated films, he would find a way to combine his fascinations.  He only produced Nightmare Before Christmas, with its skeleton hero (and dog) but with Corpse Bride, he also took over directing duties.

The Corpse Bride fits right in with most of the rest of Burton’s work.  It comes to life with the music of Danny Elfman (who had been the voice star of Nightmare and had provided music for almost all of Burton’s films).  As its two main stars, it has Johnny Depp (in his sixth Burton film) and Helena Bonham-Carter (her fifth) in the second of their five straight collaborations with Burton.  For the second time, he re-unites old Hammer collaborators Christopher Lee and Michael Gough (both of whom give magnificent voice performances), showing off Burton’s love of old Horror films.  It brings the dead back to life and it does it with odd visuals and fascinating characters who are situated several turns away from normal.

And yet, this film also provides something which we had rarely seen from Burton.  It contains some genuine heart.  It hasn’t been unknown in Burton’s films (Ed Wood, Big Fish), but it isn’t common.  When poor Victor actually falls for Victoria and then fate snatches that away from them both when he accidentally pulls poor Emily from the grave while trying to practice his vows, you really feel for all three characters.  Who should he be with?  The nice woman he was being forced to marry but actually was falling for?  The poor corpse bride who was betrayed and murdered by a cad and who just wants to get the wedding she was promised but denied?  And yet, the film finds a way to bring about an ending that works without making anybody feel disappointed.  Well, except for maybe the cad himself – he certainly can’t be happy with how things turn out.

The Corpse Bride is really a delightful film (I rank it as Burton’s third best, behind Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd).  It’s got a few music numbers, but doesn’t rely on them to pad out its running time (which is perhaps why it doesn’t even reach the 80 minutes mark) and one of the songs, “The Remains of the Day” is joyous and lively, even when you realize what the subject is and is also the best of a weak year for original songs.  The visual, as always in a Burton film are amazing, with odd colors that bring things to life and the creepy maggot that sounds just like Peter Lorre.  There are also the voice actors, all of whom are perfectly matched for their characters.  Yes, Burton returns to the same actors time and time again, but when they are all so perfectly suited for the parts, well, then who cares?  Just remember – we all end up the remains of the day.

The third best of the nominees and better than any of the nominees in 2006. Just bad luck.

Howl’s Moving Castle  (ハウルの動く城)

  • Director:  Hayao Miyazaki
  • Writer:  Hayao Miyazaki  (from the novel by Diana Wynne Jones)
  • Producer:  Toshio Suzuki
  • Animation Studio:  Studio Ghibli
  • Distribution Studio:  Buena Vista (Disney)
  • Stars:  Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Tatsuya Gashuin, Akihiro Miwa
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  119 min
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $4.71 mil  (#167  –  2005)
  • Release Date:  10 June 2005
  • Metacritic Score:  80
  • Ebert Rating:  **.5
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #30  (year)  /  #29  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  20

The Film:  Poor Sophie.  She’s the plain looking one, ignored in favor of her gregarious blonde sister (of course to me, Sophie is quite cute, but that could be because I like brunettes and ponytails, both of which Sophie has).  When she walks to meet her sister, her co-workers at the hat shop tease her that the magician Howl will steal her heart but then one of them says that Howl only steals the hearts of beautiful women.  Then, when Sophie is harassed by soldiers (her country is at war) she is rescued.  That rescue, by Howl himself, will bring the wrath of the Witch of the Waste, who longs for Howl’s heart and is pissed that Howl would dare entrust any part of it to such a plain looking shopgirl.  The Witch places a curse on Sophie that makes her age to an old woman.

This is where things get very interesting.  Sophie heads off alone, perhaps just to get away from those who knew her as young or to try to get the curse reversed.  But she heads out, an old woman, wandering on her own.  She is convinced she can do it and she can.  We now abandon the young woman and have, as our protagonist in an animated feature film, a very elderly woman who needs a cane to help her, who ends up talking to a scarecrow and takes a long time to go up stairs.  It defies what would normally be thought of as something that film audiences want but Hayao Miyazaki has always been very good at throwing away expectations and going with what he wants.

While many of Miyazaki’s previous films had either been his own creations or adapted from pre-existing Manga, this film actually came from a well-known young adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones.  Fans of the original novel took some umbrage over the considerable changes that Miyazaki would make in making this film his own but Miyazaki, the greatest animation director that film has ever known, was simply using the blueprints and ideas of the novels to present his own ideas.  What had been an offbeat fantasy story in the book becomes an anti-war polemic.

Sophie ends up working for Howl as a cleaning woman and even serving as his emissary when Howl is called upon by the king to fight in the war.  Howl himself flies around in the skies, confounding both sides of the pointless war (it is so pointless that when Howl is freed from his own spell at the conclusion of the film, the war is pretty much ended in an instant with the concession that it is pointless).  Sophie has to deal with a fire demon, with a magical apprentice, with bombings, with confronting and even befriending the Witch and with trying to outsmart another sorceress who is also after Howl.  All of this is set against the backdrop of the amazing moving castle, a fascinating sight to behold and one of Miyazaki’s most incredible visual creations, the man who brought us Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, two of the most visually dazzling films ever made.

This film doesn’t quite hold up to the standards set by those two films or My Neighbor Totoro.  The story can get a bit thin and too much time is spent dealing with the effect of the dropping bombs (Miyazaki, in effect, is held captive to the point that he is trying to make).  But that still means that this is a high ***.5 film and if it had been released in the States the next year, it would have been the best animated film of the year while here it can do no better than third.

One last little thing of note on this film.  It is the only film which I have bought a bootleg copy of and I blame Disney for that.  I purchased it in early 2005 at the time when we were still waiting for Disney to finish their damn dubbing of the film and release it in the States.  It had been showing to sold out shows in Japan since the year before and when I saw it at a comic convention, still not certain when it would open in the States, I said the hell with it and bought it.  It’s got a shaky video and the subtitles aren’t great, but it was a relief to finally stop having to wait to see those dazzling Miyazaki visuals.  I wish Disney would realize that the people who really love the Miyazaki films would be glad to just get the subtitles, so they can stop spending money to dub the films; hell, when I watch these films on DVD, I go back to the original Japanese language track and just use the subtitles, watching the film as it was originally made (which is why I don’t list the Disney cast).

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