Behind The Scenes On Wreck-It Ralph

Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of AwardsLine.

For Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s animated hit about an arcade videogame villain who wants more out of life, the movie hit its critical mass and graduated from an idea to becoming a real movie came via a tool borrowed from TV animation: the table read.

Director and cowriter Rich Moore, who spent the better part of two decades working on series from The Simpsons and Futurama to The Critic, Drawn Together, and Sit Down, Shut Up, imported the practice for the spring 2010 meeting at Pixar that included cast members Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk. “It’s a very, very useful tool for the filmmakers—to hear the characters come to life and to hear the dialogue, and to get a good pace for the movie, a feeling for the movie,” Moore says.

A videogame villain wants to be a better character in Wreck-It Ralph.
A videogame villain wants to be a better character in Wreck-It Ralph.

The result was so well received—even by absent lead actor John C. Reilly and executive producer John Lasseter—that the studio brought in producer Clark Spencer and a storyboarding team to kickstart the 3D CGI movie into full production.

Thanks to that energizing read in 2010, Wreck-It Ralph has become an animated hit for Disney, earning rave reviews since its Nov. 2 release and a $49 million opening weekend domestic gross. There’s also some Oscar-season buzz surrounding the film, despite an already-impressive animated slate from Disney that includes Brave and Frankenweenie.

Awards talk aside, Wreck-It Ralph’s success vindicates Disney’s long-held faith in the idea of an animated feature about videogames, which stretches back to the 1990s when the studio tried to develop projects with titles like Game On and Joe Jump. The idea still appealed to Disney Features Animation chief Lasseter in 2008, when he suggested it to studio newcomer Moore.

Director Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer at a press day for Wreck-It Ralph.
Director Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer at a press day for Wreck-It Ralph.

While Moore shares Lasseter’s affection for vintage arcade games, Moore says it was his teenage son who assured him youngsters still know Pac-Man and Space Invaders. “I never saw a Laurel and Hardy movie in a theater in my life, but I knew who they were as a kid,” says Moore. “And I think it’s kind of similar with these game characters.”

Moore passed on looking at previous attempts to develop a gaming movie and began with the characters. “I fell in love with this idea of telling a very kind of personal, internal story about a character that’s wondering, ‘Is this all there is to life?’”

Moore brought on writer Phil Johnston to flesh out the characters and come up with a story—often going down some admittedly weird roads on the way. “There were several days where we were convinced the best way for them to travel from game to game was through a portal in the toilet, like a vortex in the toilet,” says Johnston. “And that made sense to us for at least a week.”

“There was no screenplay at that point, it was a bunch of index cards and ideas being told through talking in the room,” says Moore. “Once we had those beats down, once we kind of knew what our story was and how we were going to get there, and the different worlds we have, Phil went about writing the screenplay.”

The characters were the key for the writing crew, which grew to include Jim Reardon and Jennifer Lee. Moore says they knew so early on they wanted Reilly, Silverman, McBrayer, and Lynch that they were able to tailor the characters to them. “It’s so rare for animation, but I knew the voices I was writing from the beginning,” says Johnston.

Positive reaction to the 2010 table read pushed the story from development into production. “We always knew that this was a movie that was probably going to get made, but the table read is kind of the moment where John (Lasseter) and the company say yes,” Spencer says.

As is the norm for today’s animated features, the story was constantly tested and revised: Spencer says it was put up on reels about seven times over an 18-month span. “I think that this is what makes animated films—when they’re done well—sharp, and gives them depth, because we are really going in and making each scene the best it can be and testing the relationships between the characters in a way that I don’t think exists in live action,” Moore explains.

Moore says the animation process for a feature differs little from television, save for the amount of time available. Production went so smoothly on the picture that Moore and Spencer were able to accommodate an earlier release date so the studio could give more time to Pixar’s upcoming Monsters University.

“Otherwise, we would have been coming out in spring of 2013, and it just seemed like a holiday release date better suited the movie, and it felt like we were in a place where we could pull it off,” says Moore.

Much of the buzz around the film stems from a wide range of videogame cameos, a move that was inspired by Moore’s affection for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? “I wanted to use the actual game characters in it, rather than creating kind of stand-in characters that evoke certain characters or that felt like they were an ersatz version of characters that people knew, because it really seemed like that would really lend an authenticity to the whole idea,” he says.

The filmmakers approached the story as though they had the rights to any game character they wanted, then Moore and Spencer themselves pitched the story to the game companies personally and got permission to use virtually every character they asked for.

While Ralph features fun moments for classic gaming characters from Pac-Man to Street Fighter, there was one obvious candidate—Nintendo’s Mario—who is not in the movie because the right moment for him just never came up. (Reports that Nintendo turned the movie down on financial grounds are false, Moore says, stemming from a joke Reilly made during a Comic-Con panel about Mario wanting too much money.)

Mario might get his chance to face Fix-It Felix Jr. and Wreck-It Ralph in a sequel, which Moore says he would be happy to tackle again for Disney; a work place he arrived at late in his career. “It was never someplace that I said, ‘In my career, I must work at Disney,’” Moore says. “But to be here now, I really feel like I am in the right place. Creatively it’s been the most satisfying project and job that I’ve ever had, and this is after working on amazing projects with wonderful people.”

Composers And Lyricists Discuss Their Entries In The Oscar Race

Keith Urban, pictured, and Monty Powell wrote "Only You"  for Act of Valor.
Keith Urban, pictured, and Monty Powell wrote “Only You” for Act of Valor.


“For You,” Monty Powell & Keith Urban

After watching Act of Valor, country music icon Keith Urban sat down at his Nashville home with his cowriter Monty Powell to discuss their feelings about the military action film they just saw; an anomaly that specifically cast active U.S. Navy Seals performing fictionalized missions.

“I asked myself, ‘Was there something I would die for?’  Certainly, in my case, it was my family.  That was the spirit of the song for me,” explains Urban about the film’s sacrificial theme. “It’s easy to watch a military film and have an opinion, but for me it wasn’t about those things, rather, if I had to take a bullet, I would do it for them.”

It was that kind of heart that brought soul to the end-titles song for Relativity’s hit winter film ($70 million), not to mention resonating with Urban’s fanbase and sending “For You” to the No. 6 slot on Billboard’s Country Songs chart.

When writing the opening lines of “For You,” the duo drew inspiration from a moment in which one of the Navy SEALS jumps on a grenade and gives his life for the team. “We decided to start the song seconds after he died, and that if he came back from the dead, here’s what he would have to say,” explains Urban.

Urban and Powell used banjo to construct an up-tempo signature riff to pull the listener in before segueing to acoustic guitar and climaxing with a Strat guitar solo to “respond to the epic landscape of the music,” says Urban.

Shooting the music video proved exhilarating, as a number of the Bandito Brothers production crew reconvened on the original California desert site, the Silurian Dry Lake, where they shot Act of Valor four years prior. A particular high point during the video was the detonation of explosives in the background of Urban’s performance.

Given the amount of music-themed films that his wife, Nicole Kidman, has headlined, Urban looks forward to contributing a track to one of her projects down the road. In fact, director Lee Daniels reached out to him about the possibility of contributing a song for Kidman’s latest movie, The Paperboy. But when you’re a country recording artist with 15 million album sales under your hat, a world tour, and American Idol judging duties, timing is key.

—Anthony D’Alessandro


“Before My Time,” J. Ralph

Composer J. Ralph, who has scored two Oscar-winning documentaries, The Cove and Man on Wire, was drawn to his latest project by a somewhat difficult challenge. In working on the climate-change doc Chasing Ice, he wanted to bring a voice to the ice.

“I wanted to create an awareness of feeling, a spiritual and visceral projection of the ice breaking up,” says Ralph, who enlisted the vocal talent of his friend Scarlett Johansson for the title track, “Before My Time.”

Johansson is paired with violinist Joshua Bell on the song, which brings an emotional close to the powerful examination of the changing glaciers. “I wrote the song as a meditative and endless look at the feelings we face daily when governments and corporations neglect the changes in climate control,” Ralph says. “Scarlett provided the Mother Earth feeling that I wanted to express in the song. She knew where to find and emphasize the specific emotional beats in the tune. The one instrument that spoke to me was the violin, and that’s where Joshua Bell complemented Scarlett’s voice so well. Her voice and his violin are the only two instruments you hear on ‘Before My Time.’ ”

Ralph admits he was tempted to ask Carly Simon or other well-known singers he’s worked with to sing “Before My Time,” but the first person he played Johansson’s vocals for—rock legend Stephen Stills—echoed his enthusiasm. “She can really sing and knows how to act out the song,” Stills says.

Ralph, who would love to write an original score for a feature film, realized from the beginning of Chasing Ice that audiences would have to pay attention to the scientific details discussed on screen. “You can have any opinion you desire on climate control, but when you see glaciers physically disappearing before your eyes, it’s hard not to be emotionally moved,” he explains. “The movie grinds to a halt at the end then becomes surreal, so the song gives clarity to the audience. I wanted the lyrics to say that you can’t protest or think you are bigger than Mother Nature. Just look at the news footage of Hurricane Sandy.”

—Craig Modderno

The original composers of Les Misérables wrote a new original song, "Suddenly," for Hugh Jackman to perform in the film.
The original composers of Les Misérables wrote a new original song, “Suddenly,” for Hugh Jackman to perform in the film.


“Suddenly,” Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg

After nearly 30 years and one of the longest runs in musical history, the much-touted film version of Les Misérables includes a new song, penned and composed by the musical’s original lyricist, Alain Boublil, and original composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg.

Both Boublil and Schönberg are quick to credit the notion of adding a new song to the film’s director Tom Hooper, who’d pinpointed a chapter he wanted to incorporate from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, upon which the eponymous musical is based.

“It is the first time Jean Valjean meets the young Cosette, just as he rescues her from the Inn of the Thénardiers,” explains Boublil. “We called the song ‘Suddenly’ because (Jean Valjean) suddenly discovers the world is not all bad, it’s not about revenge and hatred. Hugo described how two people who’d been unhappy—the girl and Jean Valjean, who was in jail for 19 years for nothing—can come together to create happiness. This song is a discovery of love.”

“There’s a good reason for this very tender, very moving song,” Schönberg adds, “and it’s much easier to show this on the camera, with a hand stroking the head of a little girl, than it is to capture that (detail) on stage.”

Both Boublil and Schönberg started out as pop songwriters in France, and throughout their three decades of collaborating—which also included the musical blockbuster Miss Saigon—their process has remained unchanged. First, they discuss at great length what a song is going to be about, then Schönberg composes the music, and last, Boublil writes the lyrics.

Both claim they’ve always been open to a film version of their musical Les Mis, but nothing ever came to fruition. “We went as far as we could, but projects have their own strength, they carry on or they don’t,” says Boublil. Then they were introduced to Hooper, who’d just won the Oscar for The King’s Speech. Hooper insisted the film version of Les Mis be the musical in its entirety and not a movie crafted around songs. He also insisted it be shot live rather than lip-synched, which had been the standard method for filming songs.

“We were working with a director for a new medium with new avenues for ways things couldn’t be said on stage,” Boublil says.

Aside from the addition of “Suddenly,” the film remains true to the original musical. “No songs have been removed,” assures Boublil. “That would have been a sacrilege.”

—Cari Lynn

Diane Warren penned the song “Silver Lining” for the Weinstein Co. film Silver Linings Playbook.


“Silver Lining,” Diane Warren

“When it comes to the Academy Award, I feel like Susan Lucci,” jokes songwriter Diane Warren, who has six best song Oscar nominations but no wins. Her last nom was in 2002 for a song featured in Pearl Harbor, but Warren has a good chance again this year for penning “Silver Lining,” the romantic theme song for director David O. Russell’s offbeat comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook. Warren’s lyrics, performed by Jessie J, highlight a dance-rehearsal scene between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence at a crucial moment late in the picture.

Though she wasn’t able to see the completed film before setting to work, Warren says she loved the script. “As soon as I read the script, the computer in my brain started putting together the song, which was a little more up-tempo and soulful and more retro than the version in the film,” Warren explains. “The idea was to show an important change in the temperamental relationship between the two leads that reflected the fun and romantic joy of going crazy.”

Warren’s hardest problem was convincing executive producer Harvey Weinstein to let her friend Jessie J sing the song in the film. “Harvey kept saying, ‘Get me Beyoncé or Adele.’ Harvey wanted a name, a star to sing it. Later on, he suggested turning it into a duet with Bruno Mars and any female singer the public would know. When Jessie J closed the Olympics, Harvey, to his credit, claimed she was now a star and gave us permission to use her.”

Warren, who has written songs for three different testosterone-driven Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action films, enjoyed the challenge of writing for a gentler film. “You get big-bucks royalties from writing songs for extremely popular male-bonding movies like Con Air, Pearl Harbor, and Armageddon,” she says. “This time, it was nice to do a zany romantic song that showed more of my
feminine side.”

—Craig Modderno


“Old Habits Die Hard” & “Not Running Anymore,”Jon Bon Jovi

When Jon Bon Jovi received an Oscar nomination almost 22 years ago for his composition “Blaze of Glory” from Young Guns II, he didn’t think it would take him that long to try again. “I was watching an awards show earlier this year, and I thought to myself, Why haven’t I written a film score lately? Oh, yeah, it’s because I made six albums in the past decade, and I forgot about my film work,” he says, somewhat amused at his benign neglect of his scoring and promising acting career. (Though he had a small part last year in director Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve.)

But Bon Jovi has finally turned back to his film work, writing two songs—“Old Habits Die Hard” and “Not Running Anymore”—for the gangster movie Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. Though he wrote them off the script prior to shooting, the New Jersey rocker’s follow-through was quite unconventional. “Originally, I played my guitar and sung my songs on my iPod for the filmmakers. Then, when they started shooting, I went on location, and I became these guys in my head. I was very low-key and absorbed the atmosphere to fine-tune the songs, which are very specific to the action onscreen.

“The funny thing is, I love writing songs for films,” Bon Jovi continues. “My band is very supportive of me doing this because it teaches me humility. Musicians are in awe of actors and both respect each other’s craft. After he saw the film, Al wrote me a nice letter saying it was the best song he heard in a movie since Bang the Drum Slowly. That’s the kind of compliment that makes me want to do more movies.”

Bon Jovi admits his life would change a bit if either of his songs were to get attention from the Academy. “I may have to shift some things since my band will be on the road then. I can afford to give up the day job (for that)!”

—Craig Modderno

Matt Thiessen, pictured, wrote "When Can I See You Again?" with Adam Young for Wreck-It Ralph
Matt Thiessen, pictured, wrote “When Can I See You Again?” with Adam Young for Wreck-It Ralph


“When Can I See You Again?”Adam Young & Matt Thiessen

When Adam Young received a call from Disney Animation asking him to pen an original song for the animated film Wreck-It Ralph, it almost seemed too good to be true. It hadn’t been that long since Young was an anonymous kid experimenting in his parents’ Minnesota basement with some keyboards and his computer, then uploading the resulting songs to MySpace. A longtime fan of Alan Menken, who scored Disney’s Aladdin among others, Young was told it was his electronica sound that would be a perfect fit to close the 3D film about videogame characters.

Tapping his friend and frequent collaborator Matt Thiessen, of the Christian rock band Relient K (the two are so close they refer to each other as Brother Bear), they were shown only a handful of storyboards and the last five minutes of the film. “(Disney) said, ‘We don’t want to show you too much because that can sometimes be counterproductive,’ ” Young explains. “I agree, and it was great to have just broad strokes and the general feeling.” Thiessen, too, felt that the sentiment in the clip was enough to inspire, and they set about creating a song that was optimistic but somewhat open-ended.

On past collaborations, they worked together in the same room, but this time, they were both on separate tours with their bands so they had to make do. “Adam cooked up a track and sent it my way, and I started singing over it, then sent it his way,” says Thiessen, who wanted to focus the lyrics around the exploration of new worlds, of getting out there and living. The track went back and forth via email as they both changed and added elements, and an MP3 demo eventually went to Disney.

“They were very open-minded to how rough the quality was,” Young says. “They weren’t quick to criticize anything, which I hadn’t expected because there’s nobody who does this better than they do.”

When asked about the Oscar buzz surrounding their song, both were genuinely humble. “It’s hard to grasp what it means just to have a song in a Disney Animation film,” says Young, “and you can see it in the theater and see my name in the credits. To bring in the subject of Oscars, it’s crazy.”

“It’s one dream outshining another dream,” says Thiessen.

—Cari Lynn

Indies Break Into Animation Oscar Race

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of AwardsLine.

A new trend has begun to creep into a category that’s been mostly major-studio territory since its creation a decade ago. The animated-feature lineup is seeing more independent distributors finding their way into the Oscar race and enjoying real success in winning those coveted nominations.

In fact, since the animated-feature category was created in 2001, the list of winners—beginning with DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek through last year’s victor Paramount’s Rango—has been dominated by the major studios, particularly Disney/Pixar, which won four of the past five animated-feature Oscars and six overall. Last year’s Cars 2 was the first time a Pixar entry failed to make the cut, even with five nominations in the category. Even the two independent productions that have won in the category, Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2002) and Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), were still distributed by major studios, Disney and DreamWorks Animation, respectively. So seeing indie distributors making headway in the animation race is causing big trouble for the majors and their expensive tentpole toons that desire domination.

Chief among these indie players is tiny New York distributor GKIDS, which is also the producer of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying event. The company scours the world for titles appropriate not only for the festival but also for distribution. Now a big part of that process is picking films that might be Oscar friendly, as well. GKIDS first received surprise Oscar recognition for its 2010 entry, The Secret of Kells,and then really hit paydirt last year by becoming the first indie distributor to land two nominations, for Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris,over a lot of heavyweight contenders, including Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin. This year, GKIDS leads the indie charge with four qualifying movies (From Up on Poppy Hill, The Painting, The Rabbi’s Cat, and Zarafa),and the company has already announced two more for the 2013 awards year.

Eric Beckman, founder of GKIDS and artistic director of the NYICFF told me after winning those two noms last season, “for us, our whole purpose is to help expand the market for what I find artful and thoughtful, sophisticated animated films for adults and kids. (It’s) an art form that exists with more economic success outside the U.S. than inside.” He says he doesn’t have nearly the budget of the majors but still finds a way to compete. “Our challenge is just getting the film into the hands of the Academy and getting them to put the damn thing in their DVD player. We’re an indie film company; we’re not going to spend a half-million dollars on an awards campaign. We can’t,” he explains.

DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians puts Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy in charge of saving the world.
DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians puts Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy in charge of saving the world.

Those who can, though, likely will, especially in this year’s hotly contested race. Disney finds themselves in the ticklish situation of having three genuine contenders in Pixar’s Brave, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie,and Wreck-It Ralph possibly dividing votes and putting a burden on the studio to support all three equally. That’s something DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg is trying to avoid by putting most of his company’s Oscar strategy toward the holiday release, Rise of the Guardians, rather than the summer hit Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,which has turned out to be the biggest film in the history of the franchise. Still it makes sense. Neither previous Madagascar got a nomination, and it’s unlikely the third film in the franchise will change the trajectory, despite being generally acknowledged as the best in the series. Last year, surprisingly, DWA got nominations for both their entries, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, which likely split the vote, allowing Rango a clear path to victory. With hit toons from Universal (The Lorax), Sony (Hotel Transylvania),and Fox (Ice Age: Continental Drift),there is a strong studio presence to fight off the new wave of indie love the nominating committee seems to have.The animated field sports 21 titles that have been entered into the competition, meaning it is virtually certain there will be five nominees for only the fourth time in the history of the award. Here is a snapshot of the contenders for those five slots.


From South Africa, this story about a naïve falcon who flies to bird-friendly Zambezia might remind some viewers of last year’s Rio,but with its likable protagonist and a good voice cast led by Abigail Breslin, Jeff Goldblum, and Samuel L. Jackson, it could be a sleeper.

The headstrong red-haired Merida of Disney/Pixar's Brave.
The headstrong red-haired Merida of Disney/Pixar’s Brave.


This Disney/Pixar entry was a summertime hit for the studio and a welcome return to some critical enthusiasm after last year’s Cars 2 detour. It has meticulous animation but didn’t seem to generate the same level of enthusiasm as many past Pixar winners. However, artistry just might be enough here to make the grade.


The first Indian 3D animated film, in which a bunch of jungle animals team up to save themselves from human intervention, could remind some of the Madagascar franchise, but the Bollywood flavor sets the tone and sets the film apart. Christopher Lloyd and Jane Lynch are among the voices in the English-version indie to be released in the U.S. by Applied Art Productions.

He's the Lorax, and he speaks for the trees.
He’s the Lorax, and he speaks for the trees.


Another in the successful transformation of Dr. Seuss from book to animated smash, this huge spring hit with a strong pro-environment message came from Christopher Meledandri, who is turning out to be Universal’s most reliable hit maker. Critical indifference won’t help gain awards traction here, though, making its Oscar prospects a little cloudy.


Tim Burton’s most personal film is adapted from a live-action short he made at the beginning of his film career and turned into a black-and-white 3D animation wonder. Boxoffice reception was chilly, but Burton might have enough aficionados on the animation committee to serve up a second nomination for him in the category after first hitting paydirt with 2006’s Corpse Bride.


GKIDS distributes this Japanese entry from legendary Studio Ghibli and Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki and Goro Miyazaki. The 1963-set love story centers on a young couple hellbent on saving their high-school clubhouse from destruction. Never underestimate animators’ love for the Miyazaki brand.


Yet another entry from India, this one is touted as India’s first fully animated stereoscopic film and is a grand epic adventure tracing the exciting journey of its title character as he battles the forces of evil. Could it be Bollywood’s year in this category?

Adam Sandler is the voice of hotelier Dracula in Hotel Transylvania.
Adam Sandler is the voice of hotelier Dracula in Hotel Transylvania.


One of several horror-themed entries, Sony Animation’s fall hit features Adam Sandler as Dracula, who operates a plush resort that caters to the monster crowd and is designed to keep humans away. Sony Animation hasn’t been in the race since Surf’s Up, but this is one of the more high-profile films on the list—though critics didn’t bite.


The fourth film in the wildly successful series from Blue Sky and Fox was a cash cow for the studio, but generally was perceived to be a by-the-numbers entry that wasn’t distinguished by any “wow” factor that would help gain it entry into the golden circle of five. A case of been there,
done that, as far as Oscars go this year.


A 3D animation romp through the late, great Graham Chapman’s life as seen through the eyes of his fellow Monty Python gang. It is one of the most distinctive entries this year, and Python fans should spark to the storytelling.


Three is the charm, as this not only became the most successful and critically admired edition of the zoo gang’s tales but also the series’ biggest hit. Nevertheless what movie with a “3” in the title gets Oscar recognition here besides Toy Story?


This Japanese scifi entry envisions a world where Asia has become the Earth’s superpower, against a weakened and powerless United States. This type of action anime rarely wins nominations, and that’s unlikely to change this year.


GKIDS is qualifying the original French-language version of this beautifully animated piece from auteur Jean-Francois Laguionie. The film is almost painterly in nature and, therefore, the artiest entry of all 21 films in contention. With animated worlds inside of each painting, Laguionie creates a unique visual look. A real threat to grab an indie slot and steal a spot from a major.

The title character in ParaNorman fights off zombies, parents, and other distractions to save his town in this clever horror spoof.
The title character in ParaNorman fights off zombies, parents, and other distractions to save his town in this clever horror spoof.


From Focus and Laika, the groups responsible for past nominee Coraline, comes the tale of Norman, who fights off zombies, parents, and other distractions to save his town in this clever horror spoof that is one of the best reviewed animated films of the year. Can lightning strike twice for Laika?


Aardman strikes again with the fiendishly clever and engaging pirate saga. It was not a boxoffice smash for Sony in the U.S., but its distinctly British sensibility and hip script make it one of the year’s most entertaining toons, one that could surprise pundits who might have written off its chances.


Another GKIDS product from France, this 1930s-set trifle concerns a rabbi and his talking philosopher of a cat, who gains the power of speech by dining on the family parrot. Clever, but weird. Last year, the company scored with a Sam Spade-like cat in the noir takeoff A Cat in Paris, so why not turn to the felines again?


It’s The Avengers of animation, and DreamWorks can only hope to grab just part of that boxoffice. Bringing together childhood icons the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, and Sandman to fight the evil boogieman Pitch, this is gorgeously animated stuff from William Joyce’s books. Expect DreamWorks Animation to really make a play for the gold here.


Yet another in the direct-to-video Tinker Bell series for Disney. The company played it for a week in Hollywood to qualify, just to make sure there would be enough entries in the category to have the maximum five nominees. Disney’s money is on their other three films, not this one.


With a nice message and a holiday spirit, this entry from Sylvain Viau concerns the pair’s efforts to save their town from an ecological disaster just before Christmas. If Arthur Christmas couldn’t make the cut last year, don’t expect Walter Christmas to do the trick, either.

A videogame villain wants to be a better character in Wreck-It Ralph.
A videogame villain wants to be a better character in Wreck-It Ralph.


A terrifically funny and clever toon about videogame villain Ralph trying to become a good guy for a change. Great voice work from John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, plus a really amusing script, make this one for the hip crowd and a potential spoiler in the race for the triumphant return of the Disney Animation label.


GKIDS’ Belgium-produced French boxoffice hit centers on a true story of a giraffe given as a gift to France’s King Charles X from the Pasha of Egypt. Shown in the original French-language version, this film has at least one awards consultant worried that it could charm its way into contention. A possible sleeper?