If there’s a filmmaking style that embodies the magic of cinema, it’s stop-motion animation. Every frame counts when creating the illusion of continuous motion. Puppets, plasticine figures, and other inanimate objects are brought to life when the animator makes incremental movements between thousands of individual photographs that are then stitched together to tell a story. It’s a tedious technique that requires dozens of hours and over 1000 frames to produce just one minute of film.
When the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2002, it didn’t take long for the Oscars to recognize the painstaking, innovative craftsmanship of stop-motion animators with 16 nominations and 1 win. The stories these films have have told range from the silly and whimsical to the thought-provoking and moving, each release competing year-on-year with the best of Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks. Nominations are led by established stop motion studios, Aardman Animations and Laika, as well as respected auteurs like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. But in 2023, Guillermo del Toro, an Oscar winner and newcomer to the genre, and independent filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp have been honoured with nominations in the category for the first time.
In this edition of Ranked from The Film Magazine, we’ll explore all 17 stop motion films that have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. These movies cover a range of themes and genre hybrids ,from quirky comedies or heart-wrenching dramas to horror, sci-fi, and adventure. We’ll consider how the filmmakers use the creative animation style and technique to develop three-dimensional characters and impactful narratives (or fail to do so). These are the Stop Motion Animated Feature Oscar Nominees Ranked.
Follow @thefilmagazine on Twitter.
17. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)
Shaun the Sheep’s second feature film from Aardman is as amusing and charming as ever, but with a stale story and predictable gag-based humour, it’s not exactly Oscar-worthy.
Our brave, fluffy hero (Justin Fletcher) and his rambunctious flock encounter an adorable alien, Lu-la (Amalia Vitale), whose spaceship has gotten lost in our galaxy and crashed near Mossy Bottom Farm. Shaun and his gang must help Lu-la return home before she falls into the clutches of the menacing Ministry for Alien Detection. This entertaining but unoriginal plot borrows much of its narrative motivation from similar alien encounter films like Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, only with less maturity, creativity, and heart.
Farmageddon features Aardman’s trademark plasticine design with a cast of cartoonish and emotionally expressive characters. Through largely silent gags reminiscent of beloved television and film franchise Mr. Bean, Shaun and Lu-la get into trouble as they hijack large farm equipment and ransack a supermarket. It’s all very cute, but lacks the narrative thrust, emotional depth, and character development of the other nominees. This story may have been better left to Shaun’s usual home on the small screen.
16. Missing Link (2019)
From acclaimed stop-motion studio Laika, this adventure film is more cheery and colourful than the studio’s usual output but falls flat with unrelatable characters and boring dialogue.
Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an explorer and firm believer in mythical creatures, discovers a Sasquatch that he dubs ‘Mr. Link’ (Zack Galifianakis). In exchange for physical proof of the creature’s existence, he agrees to help Mr. Link reunite with his cousins, the Yetis. With the help of Frost’s former lover, Adelina (Zoë Saldaña), the mismatched pair face many dangers as they venture from the United States to the Himalayas. Missing Link won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film, but it lost the Oscar to Toy Story 4 and, according to Anthony D’Alessandro at Deadline Hollywood, it also lost $100million at the box office.
Combining traditional real-world stop motion with CGI animation, the film delivers truly jaw-dropping visuals, especially in its treatment of notoriously difficult materials like water and hair. As a result, however, it’s missing the crafty, imperfect quality that signals the innovative, time-consuming nature of the medium. Furthermore, the story is more light-hearted than the studio’s previous releases, thus carrying less weight than the others as the characters frequently meander around aimless dialogue that distracts from the main plot trajectory.
Recommended for you: Laika Animation: Meditations on Alienation and Death… for Kids!
15. The Boxtrolls (2014)
Another swing and a miss from Laika, The Boxtrolls might give you nightmares with its unsettling design, grim themes, and unlikable characters.
In the fictional city of Cheesebridge, a community of trolls donning cardboard boxes and living under the streets is accused of stealing a baby boy in the night. Authoritarian pest exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), is tasked with finding the child and eliminating the Boxtrolls. All grown up, the boy, Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), and the mayor’s haughty daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), must prove the trolls’ innocence and save their lives.
Though the story sounds straightforward, the characters’ goals and motivations are frequently muddled and the details of the fictional setting are confusing. Snatcher is a ‘Red Hat’ who wants to become a ‘White Hat,’ representing power and prestige in the town, and though it’s clear that Snatcher lacks those qualities, it’s unclear exactly what being a ‘Red Hat’ means. The villain is also unnecessarily dark and grotesque as he forces the Boxtrolls to work in a prison camp and has a disgusting allergic reaction to cheese. What the film lacks in narrative, however, it makes up for in its scale, technique, and whimsical steampunk production design, complete with a fire-breathing, walking machine that terrorizes the town.