Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Will "Rise of the Guardians" Get the Gift of Best Animated Feature?

It has been quite a year for animated movies. Not only have we seen Pixar bounce back into prominence with Brave, but we have also seen two horror-based films (Paranorman and Frankenweenie) and a brilliant video game fueled Wreck-It Ralph (review coming next week). It may be one of the most diverse years in recent times. However, the race isn't quite over. Opening today is Dreamworks Animation's Rise of the Guardians, which can serve as The Avengers of holiday icons ranging from Santa Claus to Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy. However, is the film capable of standing a chance against the already strong competition at the Oscars, or is it just another holiday film?

Rise of the Guardians is a peculiar film in that it is a departure visually to what has long become Dreamworks Animation's style: round, vibrant, and very lively. From the trailers, this appears to be a darker world with characters all having rougher physical attributes and a more menacing demeanor. It is easy to mistake this for the looser Nickelodeon films like Rango that takes a more unorthodox approach to design. In a way, this is the film's one advantage, especially as it will likely distinguish itself from the competition.

However, there is still the idea of the film itself. According to the synopsis on IMDb, the plot reads:
"When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world."
It definitely sounds like The Avengers for kids. Also, very few holiday films have done well at obtaining Oscar nominations. It is even harder in the Best Animated category, considering that a central character is Santa. There is no need to look further back than Arthur Christmas, which was well received a 91% on aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. Despite a Golden Globe nomination, it was eventually ignored during the Oscar season in favor of foreign films like Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris. With this said, the reason that holiday-themed movies don't do well is just that. They are mostly perceived as holiday entertainment.

Of course, not all holiday entertainment looks like Rise of the Guardians. Take a look at the trailer: 

It doesn't look too shabby. Also, it does have some credibility. Producer Guillermo Del Toro was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Pan's Labyrinth. This will help to elevate the film and also helps to explain the eerie vibe that is prominent in Del Toro's work being translated here. It is also way darker and probably will suffer accessibility to the younger crowd as it deals with more frightening concepts. Still, if the ambition is right, it is easy to see this being a plausible contender.

But can the film based on William Joyce's book stand a chance against everyone else? It may most likely be a modest hit at the box office (especially with little demographic competition), but at this point, it is impossible to see anything beating Brave. Even though I personally found Wreck-It Ralph and Paranorman to be far more interesting films, Pixar has the reputation of winning majority of Best Animated Feature awards and has even gotten two Best Picture nominations in the past few years. That is more than can be said by Dreamworks Animation, who may have won in the induction year with Shrek, but has since fallen into second place. 

While it is peculiar why this category seems particularly American, this plays little part against Rise of the Guardian. Still, with the upset last year of Pixar not getting a Best Animated Feature nomination with Cars 2 and Dreamworks Animation landing two with Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2, this may be the beginning of turning the tides. While it would be desirable for every country to represented equally, the chance of Rise of the Guardians overthrowing Brave would break the curse and finally make Dreamworks Animation in general a viable competition.

The real disadvantage against it besides theme and dark tones is that it is also not as well received. It currently has 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is still acceptable, though lower than Brave's 78%, Paranorman's 86%, Frankenweenie's 89%, and Wreck-It Ralph's 92%. It is all fairly close and with each having their own audience, it is impossible to let these ratings be the definitive answer. In fact,  if you use the website's logic, Brave shouldn't win because it is the least liked among the possible top five nominations.

Of course, statistics website Gold Derby plays things differently, choosing to go more with Pixar's history of being the favorite. Brave is set as the winner with odds of 14:5 with Rise of the Guardians falling in fourth with odds of 5:1. It still beats out Paranorman in fifth with odds of 8:1, but it doesn't seem to be gaining a lot of traction to make it stand a chance. At this point, the other competitors have made their case and are probably going to get nominated. However, Rise of the Guardians needs to get a strong word of mouth and enough people to support it to come close to even considering a win.

It is possible that the film can be nominated. Gold Derby's statistics prove this. In fact, Rango's win last year can arguably show that historical bias plays a part in getting films into favorable positions. Where Rango relied heavily on western films as the most likely reason that it won, Rise of the Guardians relies on more universally acclaimed concepts like the Easter Bunny and Santa. This alone can get the film recognition and by skewering it in just a clever enough way, it could win over the voters who are most likely going to pick it out of bias.

I still believe that Paranorman should win, but I am aware that it isn't the favorite. I would even enjoy a Wreck-It Ralph win just to make me believe that the Academy is aware of ever changing media and that story can transcend obscure concepts. On the bright side, Rise of the Guardians looks to have more going for it than Madagascar 3, Hotel Transylvania or even The Lorax. As great as some of these films have been, it is still important to note that outside of a handful of titles, there has been a lot of unfavorable films that makes Rise of the Guardians stand a chance. However, it will probably never beat Brave and will be one of the first to drop off if the Academy decides to recognize foreign animated films. 

Does Rise of the Guardian stand a chance? Will the idea of Santa keep the voters from voting for it? Is Brave going to keep Pixar's reputation alive, or will it finally even the playing field?

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