Oscar Watch: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

As we wait to hear the Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this Sunday evening (hint: it’s Soul), we have a fresh possibility for the competition next year. Formerly titled Connected, Netflix premieres The Mitchells vs. the Machines on April 30. The computer animated sci-fi comedy comes from director Michael Rianda and is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the team behind 2019’s Oscar recipient Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie franchise). Actors doing voice work include Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O’Brien, and Olivia Colman.

The Sony Pictures release was originally slated for theatrical release before the COVID-19 pandemic switched it to streaming. Reviews out today are nearly across the board positive with a current 96% Rotten Tomatoes score. It is early in the year and there’s eight more months of animated hopefuls to come. Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is already out and could easily make the final cut. Pixar’s Luca (out this summer) is certainly one to keep an eye on. However, Mitchells has already established itself as a contender in the 2021 mix.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train Box Office Prediction

After becoming the highest grossing film in Japan’s history, the R-rated anime fantasy Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train hits domestic theaters this weekend before its June digital release. A sequel to a 2019 series, Haruo Sotozaki directs the pic which has already grossed close to half a billion worldwide. Overall it’s already achieved the status of fourth largest worldwide earner of 2020.

How this translates to American audiences is a bit of a mystery. It opens opposite Mortal Kombat, which should manage to top the charts and eat into Slayer‘s target demographic. There’s certainly a chance that this over performs considering the massive haul overseas.

I think double digits is certainly achievable and it should debut at #2 behind Kombat.

Demon Slayer opening weekend prediction: $10.7 million

For my Mortal Kombat prediction, click here:

Mortal Kombat Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: Raya and the Last Dragon

As we await the five nominated pictures in the 2020 Animated Feature race at the Oscars, a legitimate hopeful has already emerged for 2021. This Friday, Disney’s traditionally drawn Raya and the Last Dragon debuts in theaters and on Disney Plus. The action fantasy features a mostly Asian American voice cast including Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, and Benedict Wong. Directing duties are handled by Don Hall (whose Big Hero 6 landed an Academy nod in 2014) and Carlos Lopez Estrada.

Reviews are up and they’re very solid at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, Disney has been quite the player since the inception of the animated category back in 2001. As is often the case for the studio, the Mouse Factory may well compete against itself with Pixar’s Luca slated for release this summer. That will probably occur this year with Soul and Onward as likely nominees.

Bottom line: the critical reaction for Raya (even this early in the calendar) establishes it as a sturdy contender for recognition already. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Tom & Jerry To The Rescue (?)

An age old cat and mouse contest is widening the eyeballs of box office prognosticators and theater owners courtesy of Tom & Jerry. The mix of live-action and animation reboot of a cartoon dating back to 1940 premiered simultaneously in multiplexes and HBO Max yesterday. This is how Warner Bros. is handling all their product in 2021 as we have already witnessed with The Little Things and Judas and the Black Messiah (and soon Godzilla vs. Kong). Reviews for the pic are certainly not rosy with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 23%. And with the uncertainty of the box office for nearly a year, expectations weren’t much either.

Let’s be clear: in non COVID times, Tom & Jerry heading toward a $13-$14 million opening would be considered pretty disappointing. How times have changed. When considering that millions of subscribers could simply cue it up from the comfort of home and with around half of theaters still shuttered, an estimated $12 million start is impressive. Should this number hold, it would mark the second biggest opening gross of the Coronavirus era (behind only Wonder Woman 1984).

That’s more than The Croods: A New Age managed over Thanksgiving and it legged out to over $50 million domestically. There’s no reason to think the iconic cat and mouse won’t do the same. This is also music to the ears of Disney as they prepare to release their animated Raya and the Last Dragon next weekend (along with a Disney Plus rollout).

However, this news really must be encouraging to theaters chains and owners. This is a sign that family audiences in particular will turn up for new product even if it’s available on the couch. As for material outside of that genre, the jury is still out and lots of attention should turn to the aforementioned battle of two other famous creatures (Godzilla vs. Kong) in one month. One thing seems clearer today: the outlook for theaters, while still in flux, got a little rosier.

Raya and the Last Dragon Box Office Prediction

A totally different kind of COVID test arrives in theaters March 5 with the release of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s the latest traditionally animated feature from the Mouse Factory and it hits multiplexes and Disney+ on the same day. The fantasy adventure is co-directed by Don Hall (who made Big Hero 6 for the studio) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (maker of the decidedly non Disney pic Blindspotting). The predominately Asian-American voice cast includes Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk.

Raya marks the highest profile release of 2021 thus far on the big screen. The question is whether family audiences will mostly opt to shell out thirty bucks to watch it on the tube. All things considered – that’s probably less money than a night out for a clan of four to view it. And the Disney+ model is already familiar to subscribers with recent products such as Mulan and Soul.

In these uncertain pandemic days, it is difficult to find any real comps for opening weekend estimates. The Croods: A New Age debuted over Thanksgiving weekend and took in a better than anticipated $14 million over the five-day frame with nearly $10 million of it from the traditional Friday to Sunday portion. Yet that’s not exactly a reliable comp as Croods was a sequel to a well known property out during a holiday period. Still… this is Disney…

As I’ve said repeatedly with any box office guesstimates for nearly a year, we are in unpredictable territory. However, I’ll say Raya makes between $11-$14million and I’ll go a bit on the higher end of that range.

Raya and the Last Dragon opening weekend prediction: $13.2 million

For my Chaos Walking prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/24/chaos-walking-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch – The Croods: A New Age

Seven and a half years after DreamWorks Animation had a prehistoric animated comedic hit on their hands with the original, The Croods: A New Age hits theaters this Wednesday. It will surely be a different box office story in these COVID times as part 2 will follow with its PVOD unveiling in time for Christmas. The toon is directed by Joel Crawford and returns the vocal stylings of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, and Cloris Leachman. New faces behind the mics include Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, and Kelly Marie Tran.

The review embargo ended today and the results are mostly positive with a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s in line with the 72% achieved by its predecessor. In 2013, part 1 managed a Best Animated Feature nod. It was defeated by a massive Pixar front runner by the name of Frozen. 

2020 could see history repeat itself with the caveman family. One could argue that it’s easier to slide into the final five this year and A New Age looks to do so. Yet there is once again a heavy favorite to win the prize and that is Soul from (you guessed it) Pixar. Other acclaimed titles such as Wolfwalkers and Over the Moon appear to be likely nominees and Pixar has another hopeful with Onward (though after the snub of Frozen II from last year, it’s not a guarantee that one makes it in).

Croods could easily fill the fourth or fifth slot come nomination time, but I wouldn’t chisel its inclusion in pen just yet. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Soul

Disney/Pixar’s second 2020 release Soul has long been seen as their most viable Oscar contender over this spring’s Onward. Today’s buzz after it held the first screening at the London Film Festival confirms that. The jazz infused tale from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers is being called two familiar adjectives in the studio’s lexicon – heartfelt and crowd pleasing. Soul, after experiencing delays due to the COVID pandemic, is slated for a Disney+ debut on Christmas Day.

Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett, several reviews are already claiming it’s in the upper echelon of Pixar pics. Docter is no stranger to Academy love. All three of his directorial efforts – Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out – were nominated for Best Animated Feature. The latter two emerged victorious and Up is one of three animated flicks to achieve a Best Picture nomination.

The question is not whether Soul will make the final cut in Animated Feature. It absolutely will and it’s absolutely the strong front runner to win. A better debate is whether this is the fourth animated effort to contend for the big prize. I don’t believe that’s automatic. Inside Out also garnered sterling critical reaction in 2015 and fell short of that achievement. However, Soul has solidified its position as a legit hopeful.

Additionally, expect Best Sound and the Original Score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to be in the mix. Bottom line: Soul helped it cause to play beyond Animated Feature. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Over the Moon

Glen Keane is a bit of a Disney legend having served as a character animator for classic titles including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. He’s also no stranger to Academy attention. Three years ago, he won an Oscar alongside collaborator Kobe Bryant for the short film Dear Basketball. On October 23, Netflix debuts his feature length directorial debut Over the Moon. The computer drawn musical features the voices of Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, and Sandra Oh.

Early reviews are pretty encouraging. That said, Keane’s most notable competition comes from his former employer. Disney/Pixar’s Soul (which just announced a Disney+ streaming bow on Christmas Day) is rumored to be special and it’s been the strong front runner for Animated Feature for some time. That hasn’t changed and the real question is what’s the current runner-up.

Over the Moon could be it, but I’m beginning to believe Wolfwalkers might be in second position based on its fantastic critical reaction. Bottom line: expect Moon to be in the final five for animated fare. A win is far less likely. Also look for its Original Song titled “Rocket to the Moon” to get some attention in that category. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Wolfwalkers

Disney/Pixar isn’t the only entity with a sterling track record in the Best Animated Feature race at the Oscars. Irish outlet Cartoon Saloon has seen all three of their features nominated in the category. In all these instances, their product lost to a film with Disney and Pixar stamped on the credits.

Saloon’s fourth title is the environmentally conscious adventure Wolfwalkers, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend. It is Saloon’s third collaboration with filmmaker Tomm Moore (who co-directs alongside Ross Stewart). His 2009 effort The Secret of Kelis scored a nod and lost to Up. Follow-up Song of the Sea fell short to Big Hero 6. The studio’s third feature – 2017’s The Breadwinner – made the final five with Coco emerging as the victor.

Early reviews from Toronto indicate that Wolfwalkers is another winner and it seems bound for nomination #4 for the Saloon. The pic is slated for stateside distribution later this year via Apple TV. Yet Pixar awaits with the impending release of Soul, which is currently seen as the favorite to take the gold.

Bottom line: Cartoon Saloon should make it 4 for 4 in Best Animated Feature. Beating the Mouse Factory looks to be its ongoing challenge. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Trolls World Tour

Well… it feels a little strange to be back doing an Oscar Watch post, but here we are! The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives during this time and that certainly has impacted the release of films as movie theaters are shut down.

Studios have had to be creative lately and the animated sequel Trolls World Tour became available for digital distribution today in lieu of a theatrical bow. The DreamWorks Animation flick is a follow-up to the hit 2016 musical and features the voice work of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Four years back, the original Trolls broke through with audiences and most critics with a 76% Rotten Tomatoes score. Part 2 is a notch below that with a still solid 71%. That said, the predecessor failed to nab a Best Animated Feature nomination and I wouldn’t expect this to grab one either.

Of course, there is the genuine question of shifting release dates with various titles already pushed to 2021. That could potentially increase the chance for a nomination, but I wouldn’t count on it.

In 2016, Trolls did achieve one nomination. That was for Justin Timberlake’s hit song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”. It lost to “City of Stars” from La La Land. Mr. Timberlake has teamed with SZA for “The Other Side” and that seems to be the track that DreamWorks might campaign for an Original Song nod. However, “Side” has currently peaked at 17 on the Billboard Top 40. Its road to a nomination is certainly less assured than the massive “Feeling!”.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…