Can ‘How To Train Your Dragon 3’ Triumph At The Oscars Over ‘Frozen 2’ And ‘Toy Story 4’?

Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kit Harington, Cate Blanchett and Justin Rupple in DreamWorks and Universal's 'How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World'
DreamWorks and Universal

Mostly by virtue of going first, The National Board of Review has made headlines this afternoon by dropping their list of the the best movies of the year and the various “best of” winners. I was intrigued by the absences of both Joker and Hustlers and the inclusion of Knives Out (which Lionsgate didn’t necessarily designate as an awards season contender) over Bombshell (Lionsgate’s big awards movie) and the inclusion of Netflix’s Dolemite is My Name over Netflix’s The Two Popes. Adam Sandler has a shot at an Oscar nomination, since he’s terrific in Uncut Gems and that it’s Sandler giving that high-wire performance only makes it more likely to snag media attention no matter how well the A24 thriller performs when it opens on December 13. However, the one result that caught my eye was How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World for Best Animated Feature.

With the caveat that the National Board of Review is no more a predictor of the Oscars than any other critics group/year-end association (it picked A Most Violent Year in 2014), does this point to anything going forward in terms of what will presumably be a three-way slugfest between Pixar’s Toy Story 4, Disney’s Frozen II and DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 3? And no, Disney isn’t submitting The Lion King for the animated feature category as they consider it a “live-action” film, which almost makes sense if you consider the intent (creating the illusion of live-action reality) in relation to other heavily-animated live-action flicks like Avatar or Avengers: Endgame. And unless one of the smaller-scale indie toons breaks out, or Laika pulls a miracle with Missing Link, well, can the two Disney flicks cancel each other out and allow DWA’s defining franchise to finally win that Oscar?

The Best Animated Feature category has been around since 2001, when DreamWorks’ triumphed over Pixar’s Monsters Inc. to take the inaugural award. DreamWorks has won only one other time, for Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were Rabbit in 2005. Needless to say, the winner’s circle for this category has been dominated by Disney. Even Spirited Away, the surprise winner for 2002 (and also, minor detail, the best animated feature ever made) was brought to domestic distribution by Walt Disney. Since then, Disney and Pixar have won in 2003 (Finding Nemo), 2004 (The Incredibles), 2007 (Ratatouille), 2008 (Wall-E), 2009 (Up), 2010 (Toy Story 3), 2012 (Brave), 2013 (Frozen), 2014 (Big Hero 6), 2015 (Inside Out), 2016 (Zootopia) and 2017 (Coco). Meanwhile, DreamWorks Wallace and Gromit, WB’s Happy Feet, Paramount’s Rango and Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2018.

Three of those (Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia) were non-Pixar Disney winners, and you can debate whether Kung Fu Panda (2008), How to Train Your Dragon (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) should have triumphed in their respective years, but they generally had the bad luck to run into a Pixar juggernaut. I like Big Hero 6, but I would argue that its victory over How to Train Your Dragon 2 (most folks’ pick for DWA’s best movie ever) was an upset in a year where The LEGO Movie wasn’t even nominated. Spider-Verse’s victory over Incredibles 2 was notable because it was the first time since 2006 (Cars) that a Pixar movie had lost in a year where Pixar was among the nominees. Whether you think HTTYD3 is as good as the first two, the franchise is arguably “due.”

Not only did it earn solid reviews, it also bucked a grim trend of “many years later” sequels that disappointed or outright flopped over the last few years, earning $160 million domestic and $520 million worldwide against a $129 million budget. And, yes, it showed the value of prioritizing characters over IP, as folks turned up not because of the abstract “Hey, it’s another How to Train Your Dragon movie!” factor but because the film was (accurately) sold as a coming-of-age finale for the generational friendship between Hiccup and Toothless. With all the “end of the decade” talk, it should be noted that How to Train Your Dragon is among the very best animated franchises in play over the last ten years, as well as the best which actually began and ended within this decade. And while Toy Story and Frozen both have their trophies, HTTYD does not.

Will having two huge Disney flicks in contention against each other, presuming they are both among the nominees (and DreamWorks’ also very good Abominable doesn’t end up in contention as well), allow for the biggest “not a Disney” animated hit of the year to sneak in and triumph? Will general fondness and appreciation for Dean DeBlois’s singular animated trilogy give it an edge? Yes, I will argue that Toy Story 4 is probably the best animated feature of the year, at least among the major theatrical offerings and give-or-take my fondness for Laika’s Missing Link. Yes, there were many years where the Best Animated Feature category had the strongest “average” in terms of quality of its contenders. Nonetheless, there would be something… appropriate about The Hidden World snagging the Oscar victory as a testament to the sheer consistent qualify of this defining animated trilogy.


The National Board of Review winners...

Best Film: The Irishman

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Best Actor: Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Best Actress: Renée Zellweger in Judy

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell

Best Original Screenplay: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein – Uncut Gems

Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian for The Irishman

Breakthrough Performance: Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell

Best Directorial Debut: Melina Matsoukas for Queen and Slim

Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite

Best Documentary: Maiden

Best Ensemble: Knives Out

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917

NBR Icon Award: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino 

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: For Sama 

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Just Mercy 

Top Films

1917

Dolemite is My Name

Ford v Ferrari

Jojo Rabbit

Knives Out

Marriage Story

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Richard Jewell

Uncut Gems

Waves

Top 5 Foreign Language Films

Atlantics

Invisible Life

Pain and Glory

Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

Transit

Top 5 Documentaries

American Factory

Apollo 11

The Black Godfather 

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Wrestle

Top 10 Independent Films 

The Farewell

Give Me Liberty

A Hidden Life

Judy

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Midsommar

The Nightingale

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Souvenir

Wild Rose

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Mostly by virtue of going first, The National Board of Review has made headlines this afternoon by dropping their list of the the best movies of the year and the various “best of” winners. I was intrigued by the absences of both Joker and Hustlers and the inclusion of Knives Out (which Lionsgate didn’t necessarily designate as an awards season contender) over Bombshell (Lionsgate’s big awards movie) and the inclusion of Netflix’s Dolemite is My Name over Netflix’s The Two Popes. Adam Sandler has a shot at an Oscar nomination, since he’s terrific in Uncut Gems and that it’s Sandler giving that high-wire performance only makes it more likely to snag media attention no matter how well the A24 thriller performs when it opens on December 13. However, the one result that caught my eye was How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World for Best Animated Feature.

With the caveat that the National Board of Review is no more a predictor of the Oscars than any other critics group/year-end association (it picked A Most Violent Year in 2014), does this point to anything going forward in terms of what will presumably be a three-way slugfest between Pixar’s Toy Story 4, Disney’s Frozen II and DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 3? And no, Disney isn’t submitting The Lion King for the animated feature category as they consider it a “live-action” film, which almost makes sense if you consider the intent (creating the illusion of live-action reality) in relation to other heavily-animated live-action flicks like Avatar or Avengers: Endgame. And unless one of the smaller-scale indie toons breaks out, or Laika pulls a miracle with Missing Link, well, can the two Disney flicks cancel each other out and allow DWA’s defining franchise to finally win that Oscar?

The Best Animated Feature category has been around since 2001, when DreamWorks’ triumphed over Pixar’s Monsters Inc. to take the inaugural award. DreamWorks has won only one other time, for Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were Rabbit in 2005. Needless to say, the winner’s circle for this category has been dominated by Disney. Even Spirited Away, the surprise winner for 2002 (and also, minor detail, the best animated feature ever made) was brought to domestic distribution by Walt Disney. Since then, Disney and Pixar have won in 2003 (Finding Nemo), 2004 (The Incredibles), 2007 (Ratatouille), 2008 (Wall-E), 2009 (Up), 2010 (Toy Story 3), 2012 (Brave), 2013 (Frozen), 2014 (Big Hero 6), 2015 (Inside Out), 2016 (Zootopia) and 2017 (Coco). Meanwhile, DreamWorks Wallace and Gromit, WB’s Happy Feet, Paramount’s Rango and Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2018.

Three of those (Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia) were non-Pixar Disney winners, and you can debate whether Kung Fu Panda (2008), How to Train Your Dragon (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) should have triumphed in their respective years, but they generally had the bad luck to run into a Pixar juggernaut. I like Big Hero 6, but I would argue that its victory over How to Train Your Dragon 2 (most folks’ pick for DWA’s best movie ever) was an upset in a year where The LEGO Movie wasn’t even nominated. Spider-Verse’s victory over Incredibles 2 was notable because it was the first time since 2006 (Cars) that a Pixar movie had lost in a year where Pixar was among the nominees. Whether you think HTTYD3 is as good as the first two, the franchise is arguably “due.”

Not only did it earn solid reviews, it also bucked a grim trend of “many years later” sequels that disappointed or outright flopped over the last few years, earning $160 million domestic and $520 million worldwide against a $129 million budget. And, yes, it showed the value of prioritizing characters over IP, as folks turned up not because of the abstract “Hey, it’s another How to Train Your Dragon movie!” factor but because the film was (accurately) sold as a coming-of-age finale for the generational friendship between Hiccup and Toothless. With all the “end of the decade” talk, it should be noted that How to Train Your Dragon is among the very best animated franchises in play over the last ten years, as well as the best which actually began and ended within this decade. And while Toy Story and Frozen both have their trophies, HTTYD does not.

Will having two huge Disney flicks in contention against each other, presuming they are both among the nominees (and DreamWorks’ also very good Abominable doesn’t end up in contention as well), allow for the biggest “not a Disney” animated hit of the year to sneak in and triumph? Will general fondness and appreciation for Dean DeBlois’s singular animated trilogy give it an edge? Yes, I will argue that Toy Story 4 is probably the best animated feature of the year, at least among the major theatrical offerings and give-or-take my fondness for Laika’s Missing Link. Yes, there were many years where the Best Animated Feature category had the strongest “average” in terms of quality of its contenders. Nonetheless, there would be something… appropriate about The Hidden World snagging the Oscar victory as a testament to the sheer consistent qualify of this defining animated trilogy.


The National Board of Review winners...

Best Film: The Irishman

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Best Actor: Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Best Actress: Renée Zellweger in Judy

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell

Best Original Screenplay: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein – Uncut Gems

Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian for The Irishman

Breakthrough Performance: Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell

Best Directorial Debut: Melina Matsoukas for Queen and Slim

Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite

Best Documentary: Maiden

Best Ensemble: Knives Out

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917

NBR Icon Award: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino 

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: For Sama 

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Just Mercy 

Top Films

1917

Dolemite is My Name

Ford v Ferrari

Jojo Rabbit

Knives Out

Marriage Story

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Richard Jewell

Uncut Gems

Waves

Top 5 Foreign Language Films

Atlantics

Invisible Life

Pain and Glory

Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

Transit

Top 5 Documentaries

American Factory

Apollo 11

The Black Godfather 

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Wrestle

Top 10 Independent Films 

The Farewell

Give Me Liberty

A Hidden Life

Judy

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Midsommar

The Nightingale

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Souvenir

Wild Rose

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I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

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