Can 'Toy Story 3' Win the Best Picture Oscar?

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Disney/Pixar


Toy Story 3 is the best reviewed film of the year so far. It's earned nearly $415 million at the box office. And despite being an animated movie about a teenager and his toys, it's made grown men weep. Toy Story's Oscar for Best Animated Feature is practically engraved for Woody and Buzz already, with yesterday's news that there will only be three nominees in the category this year met with a shrug: "Who will be the two also-rans to Toy Story?"

But the film's producers aren't settling. "We're going for the Best Picture win," Walt Disney Chairman Rick Ross said yesterday. "We wanted to have the best movie and the reviews have clearly said that and it's number one box office hit of the year so I'm not sure why we would not go for it all." And it's going for it hard. According to Oscar aficionado Pete Hammond, Disney/Pixar will create potentially 20 For Your Consideration ads intended to associate Toy Story 3 with past Best Picture winners. For comparison's sake, Inception has only rolled out three ads. Will the movie's success and an aggressive campaign make Toy Story 3 the first animated film to win Oscar's top prize? Probably not. Here's why.

The campaign will feature the film's characters recreating iconic scenes from other Best Picture winners, notable for being genre wins. A disembodied Mr. Potato Head reenacting Silence of the Lambs is homage to the first horror film champion. Lotso the Bear embodies Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II, a rare crime genre win, and the first sequel to claim Oscar gold.

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Disney/Pixar

An ad that has already been released features the histrionic Mr. Pricklepants and his take on Shakespeare in Love, a film which is often considered to be the biggest Best Picture upset of all time. (See ad on the left—click on the image to view it in a larger size.) The historical drama/romantic comedy hybrid (which starred Culture channel darling Gwyneth Paltrow) toppled presumed victor Saving Private Ryan, an expensive, sweeping Spielberg epic that epitomized award-bait. Miramax, the studio behind Shakespeare, launched a then-unheard-of $5 million Oscar campaign, dispatched an army of publicists into the party circuit, and sent videocassettes to most voters for home viewing—and it all paid off with the Best Picture win. It's no surprise that Toy Story's producers aspire to that film—it's proof that aggressive campaigning can work.

The film is lucky that barriers have already been broken for it: Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in 1991, and Up made the shortlist last year—though arguably only because the category expanded to 10 nominees. Most agree that Toy Story 3 is a shoo-in at least for a Best Picture nomination this year. But what Ross claims as his film's two biggest assets—best reviews and biggest box office—might not matter at all.

Back in 2008, Wall-E was the best reviewed wide-release film of the year, just like Toy Story 3 is now. Despite topping eventual winner Slumdog Millionaire—and all the other nominees—with its critics score, the film failed to even garner a nomination. Last year Avatar made headlines for being the highest grossing film of all time...and then lost the Oscar to a film that grossed under $20 million. Many critics blamed the loss on the film's motion capture technology, which raised questions as to how much of the acting was human performance, and how much was computer trickery. With animated films, the acting is nearly all computer generated (with the help of superb voice work).

And that's Toy Story 3's biggest hurdle. The acting branch is largest voting block of the Academy, and lets face it—actors have egos. They like seeing themselves on screen, and enjoy rewarding their brethren. While they certainly may have enjoyed Toy Story 3, it's unlikely that they will vote it their Best Picture, not when it means the success of animated films jeopardizes their opportunities to star in those small, think-y, Oscar-as-an-adjective dramas. Tough luck, Woody.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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