An awards category created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2001 with the aim to broaden the types of films that could conceivably qualify for Oscar glory – the awards body had previously only nominated Beauty and the Beast in 1992 and given honourary awards to Walt Disney – The Best Animated Feature Oscar has nevertheless been dominated since its inception by the same few studios producing CG animation. Safe bet offerings from Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks (in that order of prevalence) have seen the most awards success over 20 years, with more daring and different animation houses that favour more traditional techniques like hand-drawn animation and stop-motion, such as Laika and Cartoon Saloon, seldom coming away victorious.
What follows in this edition of Ranked is The Film Magazine’s ranking from worst to best of all 20 Best Animated Feature Oscar winners, analysing the merits of each in terms of artistic achievement, importance to the medium, societal relevance and lasting impression, plus a few mentions of the braver animated efforts from each year that for various reasons missed out on the big prize. These are the Best Animated Feature Oscar Winners Ranked.
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20. Happy Feet (2006)
A tone-deaf juvenile penguin discovers he has a very different talent to the rest of his musical colony: he’s really gifted at tap-dancing.
Amazingly George Miller, the man behind every Mad Max movie and the screenplay for Babe also directed this bouncy Antarctic jukebox musical. It’s all very detailed and visually appealing, having more in common with actual nature documentaries than most other animated films, but the story is pretty first-base and the songs are a real mixed bag.
19. Toy Story 4 (2019)
Woody, Buzz and the gang leave their new home to go on a road trip in order to help handmade toy Forky get over his identity crisis.
There aren’t many fourth movies in a franchise of higher quality, but Toy Story 4 had the misfortune of being compared to the near-perfect trilogy that preceded it. How and why would you try and follow that? But follow it they did, and it’s a decent effort with good (sometimes surprisingly dark) gags and all the usual heart you’ve come to expect from this series.
18. Shrek (2001)
A solitary ogre and a tag-along talking donkey reluctantly go on a quest to rescue a princess in exchange for Shrek being left in peace in his swamp.
Shrek receives a lot of flak for moving animation away from the magical escapism of Disney to the more polished, snarky fare that dominates today, but it was absolutely revolutionary in its way. Every fantasy parody from the past two decades has borrowed something from its unique selling point and each of its characters, and it must be praised for its earnest message of self-acceptance (before it was recycled for the sequels) and its witty visuals (which still hold up).
17. Brave (2012)
A Scottish princess shames her clan by breaking with marriage traditions and goes to a witch for a spell to change her fate, catastrophically changing the lives of her loved ones in the process.
One of Pixar’s less successful films still has a winning protagonist in Merida (sparkily voiced by Kelly Macdonald) and a refreshing (and far too unusually explored) dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship at its heart. The actual story structure is conventional and wobbles perilously close to a Disney Renaissance re-tread, but it’s still an emotionally honest and lively affair.
Three stop-motion animated features, Laika’s Paranorman, Tim Burton’s Frankeneenie and Aardman’s The Pirates! were passed over in favour of Pixar this year.
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