This week’s 2011 Oscar list includes three contenders for the best animated feature film of the year.
The favourite is Pixar’s Toy Story 3 since it’s also one of ten best picture contenders.
Also nominated for the 83rd Academy Awards on February 23 are DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist which, shamefully, was generally restricted to UK art houses.
The world of make believe has come a long way since Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
This weekend, Disney is releasing its 50th animation Tangled, which has been designed on computers to look as if it was made like last year’s hit return to hand-drawn tradition, The Princess And The Frog.
John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, says: “Walt Disney always said ‘For every laugh, there should be a tear.’
“Tangled’s directors have given us a contemporary twist on something that’s classically Disney.
“It looks like a classic Disney animated film, but it’s also in 3D CG animation so it’s really unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”
Lasseter adds: “‘Tangled is full of hilarious characters, but it also has tremendous action and a lot of heart.
“We wanted to create a unique world and story that evoke the rich, dramatic feeling that is classically Disney, but is also fresh and humorous, and that gives the audience something it has never seen before in computer animation.
“The filmmakers have created a world that builds on Disney’s heritage but transports us to a land that is completely new.”
To celebrate Disney’s half-century milestone, all of the films are being shown on the big screen again throughout 2011 at BFI Southbank in London.
Forty of them have not been seen in cinemas since they were first launched.
Collectively, they are an astonishing body of work in terms of the painstaking labours of love needed to create each one, the technological breakthroughs made and, crucially, the way they have crossed international boundaries to become some of the best loved family films of all times.
Released in the UK just 18 months before the start of the Second World War, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first animation in Technicolour.
Fantasia (1940) was the first major motion picture in stereophonic sound, Lady and the Tramp (1955), the first animated feature in CinemaScope, The Rescuers Down Under (1990), the first feature film to be shot using a 100 per cent digital process.
Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and The Lion King (1994) became the highest grossing traditionally-animated film of all time.
Today, the commercial world of animation is now a five-horse race.
Released only last autumn, Universal’s first genre entry Despicable Me is now tenth in the all time animation box office chart, ninth on the computer-generated list and fifth in 3D terms.
From a standing start, it has surpassed all of the Fox and Sony releases as well as Pixar’s own Ratatouille, Wall-E and, because of its age, Toy Story.
Ever since Lasseter won a special Oscar for his pioneering work with Toy Story (1995), Pixar has dominated the animation box office with computer-generated features.
The 74th year of the Academy Awards in 2001 saw the sensible introduction of a best animated feature in recognitions of the genre’s growing commercial and artistic importance.
Unexpectedly, Lasseter then had to take a back seat for a period.
The first Oscar was duly won by DreamWorks’ Shrek, followed by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2002.
Since then, Pixar has won five awards out of seven – Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009), with only Wallace & Gromit (2005) and Happy Feet (2006) standing in its way.
Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks has been Pixar’s biggest commercial challenger.
Shrek 2 (2004) not only remains the reigning computer animation box office champ in the US, it’s fifth on the all-time list of hits.
Fox has also done well with the Ice Age trilogy, while Sony remains a distant fourth with a more eclectic slate. Its films include Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Open Season, Surf’s Up and the underrated Monster House.
>BFI Box office: 020 7928 3232.
Box office: 020 7928 3232. Website www.bfi.org.uk/southbank