We had one film releasing this weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
What can the disappointing opening tell us about Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, a feature-length adaptation of his original short film. Debuting under $12 million has to be a disappointment for Burton whose films have enjoyed wide success in recent years. With the colossal hits of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even his minor successes like Dark Shadows, which was a mild disappointment, have done better than Frankeweenie. Sweeney Todd was the last of his films to open this poorly and before that it was 1996’s dud Mars Attacks. Burton’s film seemed to look like the kind of film families would be excited to watch, but they gave the more broadly appealing Hotel Transylvania a bigger total second week than Frankenweenie. That, however, should not prevent the film from contending for Oscar nominations.
The Academy has shown resilience in the past of rewarding films with low box office Oscar nominations even when critics seem to disapprove of them. In this case, however, critics seemed to genuinely like Burton’s stop-motion, black-and-white tale. This marks Burton’s third foray into stop-motion animation, his second as director. The Nightmare Before Christmas (the only one of the three he didn’t direct) was a huge success and has proven a strong Halloween/Christmas mainstay for many years. Corpse Bride, however, wasn’t as popular at the box office but managed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature anyway, one of only three films that year to do so. The precedent is there, but will the strong list of contenders this year keep the film out of the race? Anything is possible with the Academy’s feature animation branch.
A lot of prominent features this year have failed to live up to expectations either at the box office or with critics. That may mean the Academy has to look beyond the box office to choose its top contenders. The issue is that stop-motion animation hasn’t been having an easy time with the Academy in recent years. Last year’s critically lauded Arthur Christmas was a no show, marking Aardman Animation’s second Oscar snub in recent years. Do they not appreciate the medium or are they hopelessly devoted to DreamWorks and Pixar, studios that can never seem to do wrong and whose presence in the category is almost always guaranteed? It’s hard to know for sure, but Frankenweenie might be a litmus test. Even with the poor box office, critics still liked it overall and if the Academy fails to nominate it, especially in favor of the more successful Hotel Translyvania, then we might be able to have a rewarding conversation about their aversion to stop motion productions or their over reliance on box office. You could easily point out all the foreign entries that make the list each year, but is that to say they don’t like all animation houses the same or are they truly trying to be inclusive and want to fill the rest of the category with names people have heard of to bring attention to the smaller films? So many questions that might never have an answer.