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Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?

Posted on the 05 December 2019 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm
Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?

Have you watched Netflix's Klaus yet? Think The Emperor's New Groove as a Christmas movie, a throwback to Disney's hand-drawn Renaissance of the 90s, and an entirely plausible imagining of how a local woodsman (J.K. Simmons) and clever postman (Jason Schwartzman) handing out toys to nearby kids could evolve into the legend of Santa Claus. It's a lovely little surprise of a film, completely big-hearted with its message that one small act of kindness can go a long way toward healing what divides us. The directorial debut of longtime animator Sergio Pablos, Klaus is a delightful gem that deserves to become an annual holiday staple. In a month or so, it also just might make Oscar history for Netflix.

Right now, Klaus - the streaming giant's first genuine animated Original - is a strong bet to be among the five films nominated for Best Animated Feature, which would be Netflix's first time making it into that category. How strong of a bet? Well, to answer that we have to get super awards season wonk-speak up in here:

Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?

Nominations for the Annie Awards were announced earlier this week, and the biggies - Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - were all there in the Best Feature category. (Also nominated: Klaus, Missing Link.) Anna and Elsa's magical adventure, in fact, led the field with 8 total nominations. Should Frozen 2 win Best Feature, chances are high it will take home the corresponding Best Animated Feature Oscar as well. Since 2002, the Annie Award-winner for Best Feature has gone on to win the Oscar thirteen times. The last time the two entities differed? 2014. The Annie voters liked How to Train Your Dragon 2 but the Oscars went with Big Hero 6. (That was also, incidentally, the last year the Annie Awards allowed more than five nominees for Best Feature.)

So, for anyone who likes to predict the Oscars, the Best Animated Feature category is usually a no-brainer: just pick the one that won the Annie. (To be clear, this year the Annie Awards will be handed out two weeks before the Oscars ceremony.) However, while the Oscar and Annie winners are usually the same, the full field of nominees always differ.

Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?
Early Man, Captain Underpants, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, and Finding Dory are but a couple of recent Annie Best Feature nominees to be snubbed by the Academy.

Typically, when it comes to Best Feature the Annie voters go with the biggest and most obvious since there is a separate category for Best Independent Feature, or at least there has been since 2015. The Academy's animation branch doesn't have that same luxury. So, every year the Academy nominates a handful of animated blockbusters while also reserving a nomination or two for under-the-radar - usually hand-drawn, frequently foreign - entries that appease animation purists but possess rather limited commercial appeal. Going forward, that might change. Recent rule changes at the Academy have widened the number of members eligible to vote in the nominating process for Best Animated Feature, a change seen by some as an effort at broadening the category.

This comes at a time when the film industry is submitting more animated films than ever before, largely because animation has become a box office powerhouse and all of the studios want in on it. Also, the rising tides of international film industries have led to plenty of foreign competition as well. So, this year, a record 32 films have qualified for the Best Animated Feature category, and if past is precedent we are likely looking at Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 as the locks and a couple of wild cards for the final two spots. Scott Feinberg - THR's awards expert - currently has those two slots going to a couple of Netflix titles: Klaus and I Lost My Body, a French acquisition about a disembodied hand's search for its body.

Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?
Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?
Klaus is a genuine Netflix production; I Lost My Body was produced independently by a French studio and then acquired by Netflix at Cannes earlier this year.

The major threats - Funan and Weathering With You - are each foreign films. The former is a Chinese production about a mother's search for her child during a revolution; the latter is Japanese director Makoto Shinkhai's follow-up to 2016's Your Name, the highest-grossing anime film of all time. The Oscars ignored Your Name, but the Annie Awards gave it two nominations. The Annie voters doubled that for Weathering With You, which received four nominations - including Best Independent Feature - thus making it just the third anime film to ever receive that many nominations. (Last to do it: 2002's Millennium Actress.)

Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?
Japan submitted Weathering With You as the country's selection for Best International Feature, a tactic that won't likely pay off but definitely indicates the level of support for the film in its home country.

So, yeah, I don't exactly feel totally secure that both Klaus and I Lost My Body can hold off Weathering With You. It was just last year that the Academy - which hasn't always responded to anime films - nominated Mirai, an anime that won the Annie for Best Independent Feature. Since the category's creation in 2015, every Best Independent Feature winner has gone on to an Oscar nomination.

This year, Netflix has its toes in both pools. Klaus is regarded as a mainstream, American feature, but I Lost My Body - which is being distributed independently in France and other parts of Europe - ended up in the Independent Feature category. Should I Lost My Body win the Annie, it's a lock for an Oscar nomination. Should it lose to Weathering With You, it still might make it in there.

Klaus feels like the odd man out in either scenario. It's not the only throwback, 2D, hand-drawn option out there for the purists, and its storytelling is decidedly more mainstream and family-friendly than I Lost My Body or Funan, a deficit when you remember the Academy has recently recognized animation-for-adults projects like Anomalisa and Loving Vincent. However, if the Academy truly is trying to broaden the category Klaus feels like a safer alternative to some of this year's more experimental efforts. Plus, who knows how much money Netflix will end up spending on its promotional campaign.

Oscars 2020: Can Klaus Make Netflix History?
All Oscar winners

At the end of the day - Debbie downer, I know - this is a race for the right to lose to Disney. In the past decade, only two non-Disney affiliated films have won Best Animated Feature - Rango in 2011 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse last year, and Rango almost doesn't count since it happened to fall into a year in which not even a single Disney film received a nomination. (The leading contender would have been Cars 2 if, you know, people had actually liked that movie.)

Whether Klaus makes the cut will likely have no impact on who ends up on the stage to accept the award. However, it would represent yet other awards show breakthrough moment for Netflix, particularly since this is a year in which Netflix productions like The Irishman and Marriage Story stand to figure heavily into all major live-action categories. More than that, an Oscar nomination for Klaus could funnel even more people toward the film on Netflix.

So why wait? Klaus is available to stream right now. It's easily worth 97 minutes of your time, particularly if you miss the hand-drawn animation that Disney family films waved goodbye to long ago.

How do you think the Best Animated Feature category is going to shake out this year? Are you rooting for another, more traditional theatrical release like Abominable to make the cut? Do you think this is the year DreamWorks beats Disney? What's your take on Klaus, if you've already watched it? Let me know in the comments.

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