Even though it’s just our first year trying to call the Academy Awards race for best animated feature, we’re getting pretty strong signals that the Oscar will go to “Zootopia.” The Annie awards, given by the Hollywood branch of the International Animated Film Society, will be awarded this weekend — the second-to-last animation prize we’re tracking this year. If they crown “Zootopia” the winner, this thing is pretty much sealed up.
Over the 15 years that the Oscars have had an animation award, the film that won at the Annies also won the Oscar 10 times, a strong batting average. But more importantly, it’s the award with the best data. The Annies are one of the few animation awards that precede the Oscars, and even though the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and American Cinema Editors awards have better track records in matching the Oscars winner, both those groups’ animation awards have been around a decade or less.
“Zootopia” has won at multiple critics awards and at insider guilds, including the American Cinema Editors and Producers Guild. It’s usually here where I’d have to say something like “FiveThirtyEight is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which made both ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Moana,’” but I’m actually incredibly biased toward rival “Kubo and the Two Strings” because I am a Laika Entertainment fanboy and it’s a visually stunning movie that filled my miserable heart with joy. So, you know, full disclosure.
Anyway, Oscar season hasn’t been great for “Kubo,” but it won the National Board of Review animation award and the Chicago Critics award, and with the other nominees — “Moana,” “The Red Turtle” and “My Life as a Zucchini” — winless so far, it’s the main competition for “Zootopia.” It’s possible that late-breaking wins at the Annies this weekend and the BAFTAs on Feb. 12 could move the needle, but without a “Kubo” sweep, “Zootopia” will go into the Oscars as the favorite.
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The animators, then, will tell us if this race is truly over. If they pick “Zootopia” — a movie that is “Crash” (2004) with animals but actually really good — we’re probably going to get a good Oscar speech about how the movie is more relevant than ever or some tasteful pseudo-political-but-not-divisive chunk like that. Or they could go with “Kubo,” and they very well might. Laika won a technical Oscar last year for the technology it uses in the movie, and that’s the kind of thing an animation guild may recognize. A win at the Annies would be a sign that Laika still has a chance in this.