This year’s Golden Globe nominees for best animated feature span four films from mainstay Hollywood studios and two critically acclaimed movies from lauded Japanese helmers. Though their settings and stories may be vastly different, spanning from an elemental metropolis or Japan to the multiverse, their throughline is innovative and inspiring animation.
“Suzume,” helmed by Makoto Shinkai, follows 17-year-old Suzume Iwato and a stranger she meets, Souta Munakata, who team up to prevent a series of disasters across Japan. Visually captivating through its traditional 2D hand-drawn style, the film also utilized 3D and 2D animation to bring a walking chair (who is actually Souta unfortunately transformed) to life. The film is inspired by the director’s own feelings about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and its devastating impact on the country.
Also autobiographical in nature is “The Boy and the Heron,” helmed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Widely recognized as one of the greatest living directors of animation, Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013 but changed his mind after working on the short “Boro the Caterpillar.” His return resulted in the fantastical coming-of-age drama, drawn heavily from Miyazaki’s childhood, which follows a 12-year-old named Mahito Maki grieving the loss of his mother. In this 2D feature, a mythical heron visits the young boy as he tries to make sense of the world around him.
Continuing with deeply personal influences is Disney’s “Elemental,” which dives into a world where Fire, Water, Earth and Air live among another but never together. Ember and her aquatic acquaintance Wade struggle with feelings for one another, worried about dousing the other out or what their communities may think of their union. The romantic comedy is inspired by helmer Pete Sohn’s own quest to bring together the different cultures of his Korean immigrant parents and his wife. Sohn’s idea of creating a modern metropolis made of elemental characters not only gifted audiences with a unique new love story, but tech and visual effects advances at Pixar.
Among the big studio releases, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” helmed by Kemp Powers, Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K. Thompson, follows Miles Morales across multiple universes. The expansion of the Spider-Verse allowed Sony to flex its animation muscle, but perhaps more importantly, creatively pay homage to the many versions of Stan Lee’s famed web slinger since he first appeared in 1962.
While Nintendo endured the poorly received live-action “Super Mario Bros” movie in 1993, the release of the animated “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” became an international hit, grossing over $1.3 billion. Partnering with Illumination and working with helmers Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, and writer Matthew Fogel, they delivered a delightful origin story for Mario and Luigi. With a CG look rooted in gaming and contemporary styles of animation, the film quickly became a hit with audiences who remember playing the game decades ago as well as younger fans who recently came into the fold.
Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and writer/helmer of “Frozen,” imagined and co-wrote “Wish” as a film that would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the studio by telling the story of a determined young woman, Asha, who learns how to make her own wishes come true. Helmers Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn paid homage to Disney’s animation legacy by merging the 2D legacy of watercolor background paintings (hearkening back to the style of “Snow White” and “Cinderella”) with cutting-edge CG. The magical character “Star” is a nod to the studio’s wishing star that has been featured so prominently throughout Disney’s history.
With a bevy of animations from famed storytellers, plus an impressive mix of classic and revolutionary animation techniques, Globes voters will have their work cut out for them before next month’s ceremony.
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