What a world we could live in if only we allowed the innocence of children to run it.
My 11-year-old daughter Sophia is just learning about the scope of movies. You would assume the child of an entertainment writer and Oscar enthusiast might be well-versed in the styles of Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. Instead, she’s currently enamored with the world of horror movies, with the “Scream” franchise standing as her most vital consumption.
She’s only been to a handful of industry screenings, one of which was Pixar’s “Coco” (2017), which gave the two of us the memorable moment in which I was weeping intensely as Miguel sang to his beloved grandmother after returning to the real world. Then, with a dead silent New York audience, not knowing how to use her “inside voice,” she shouted, “Are you crying?” The crowd erupted in laughter.
Now, living in Los Angeles for over a year, she was my plus-one to the U.S. premiere of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” at the AFI Film Festival. For 114 minutes, her eyes were glued to the big screen, except for two emotional scenes in which she peeked over to see if I was crying. Needless to say, I’ve learned my lesson.
After the post-screening Q&A moderated by J.J. Abrams — with directors Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, writer Patrick McHale, composer Alexandre Desplat, character art and technical director Georgina Hayns and actors Christoph Waltz, Gregory Mann and Finn Wolfhard — we headed back home. We called my wife, home with my seven-year-old Noah; she asked Sophia how the movie was.
“The music was A-MAZING,” she shared enthusiastically over the Bluetooth speaker. “It reminded me of ‘Coraline’ and those Christmas movies we see on TV.” She was referring to the TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), which she watches every holiday season when flipping through channels. The comparison isn’t too far off.
The animation medium, often dismissed as a genre for kids, continues its ongoing fight for respect in Hollywood. After 1,000 days of shooting, directors del Toro and Gustafson’s take on the famous children’s tale by Carlo Collodi, penned in 1883, is another elevation in the way animation can be used to tell rich stories, even familiar ones.
Netflix’s previous awards campaigns have secured four animated feature noms in the last four years – “I Lost My Body” (2020), “Klaus” (2020), “Over the Moon” (2021) and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (2022). However, “Pinocchio” might be the streamer’s best shot yet at winning the statuette if it can get past “Turning Red” from Pixar and the upcoming “Strange World” from Walt Disney Pictures.
But Netflix doesn’t want to stop there for “Pinocchio.”
There will be a full push to have the stop-motion musical land in the best picture race. As history has shown, that won’t be easy. “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) are the only three animated features to be nominated for best picture in the Academy’s 94-year history.
To “build” a best picture nominee, you have to focus on the Actors’ Branch, the largest individual branch of the Academy, and the artisans, which make up more than 63% of the total membership.
Del Toro, who produces, directs and co-writes, also offers his talents as a songwriter, with the beautiful number “Ciao Papa,” penned with his co-writer Roeben Katz. The music branch tends to be picky about who it recognizes outside of their own ranks. For example, the last two filmmakers nominated for a song coming from a film they directed are Seth MacFarlane (alongside Norah Jones) for “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from his raunchy directorial debut “Ted” (2012) and Lars Von Trier (alongside Björk) for the musical drama “Dancer in the Dark” (2000).
Notably, of the 12 animated features that have ever won the song category, only one has come from a non-Disney related project: “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” (1998).
The music, provided by composer Alexandre Desplat, will be easier for the branch to recognize. The 11-time nominee and two-time winning composer of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) and “The Shape of Water” (2017) orchestrates with a passion that transports the viewer into a different time and era.
To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.
When a film focuses on the music, you can assume the sound branch could pay attention, proven by previous noms like “Aladdin” (1992) in sound editing. But now, with one sole sound category, getting the members’ attention is even more competitive, especially with big VFX spectacles such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” contending.
Speaking of visual effects, two animated features have found love in that category – “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). Stop-motion effects can be easier for the branch to digest; “Pinochhio” could have a chance, at least for the shortlist.
The production design is where the film truly shines. From war-torn Italy to the inside of a sea creature’s body, Guy Davis and Curt Enderle’s creations are spectacular. Let’s hope the branch can finally get on board with what these artists are offering.
I’ve always been a strong advocate for voice acting getting acknowledged by the Academy (along with motion-capture work). Some of the best voice performances have included Robin Williams’ Genie in “Aladdin” and Ellen Degeneres’ Dory from “Finding Nemo” (2003). Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket, in time, will move up the charts to join those artists, along with the discovery of young Gregory Mann as our leading wooden puppet.
Can Netflix succeed in its quest for “Pinocchio” to nab best picture? As with documentaries such as “Waltz with Bashir” (2008) using the medium to tell the story of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and “Loving Vincent” (2017) examining the final days of Vincent Van Gogh, it’s incumbent upon the entire industry to embrace every facet of moviemaking, even if they think it’s “just for kids” (spoiler alert: it isn’t).
See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective.
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