For 25 years, the Los Angeles branch of the International Animated Film Association has celebrated the best in animated features. Since first honoring Beauty and the Beast with an "Annie Award" for Best Animated Feature, Walt Disney Studios has been the primary recipient of the industry's illustrious accolade. The acquisition of subsidiary Pixar secures that tally even greater, though exceptional full-length films from DreamWorks, Paramount, and Fox have been known to take home the honor.
The 44th Annual Annie Award (the organization's celebration pre-dates the feature award) nominees for Best Animated Feature included three Disney films (Zootopia, Moana, Finding Dory) up against DreamWorks (Kung Fu Panda 3) and Laika (Kubo and the Two Strings). Zootopia landed the coveted award, along with five additional wins from its total of eleven nominations.
Zootopia is now considered a front-runner for Oscar, where it's nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. It could also take home a BAFTA (the film is known across the pond as Zootropolis). Last month, it won Best Animated Motion Picture at Golden Globes, and additional "Best Feature" category wins have been awarded by the AFI, the Critics Choice Awards, the Hollywood Film Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards as well as numerous others.
An assortment of last year's animated features vied for Annie consideration. Broad campaigning included those Timberlake-twirling Trolls, the anthropomorphic animals of Sing, and the foul-mouthed edibles of Sausage Party, just to name a few. Many of those brought enough at the box-office to satisfy their studios, but the early-released Zootopia held out to be one of last year's most critically acclaimed animated features. Of course, it was a win-win for Disney, as it crossed the $1 billion mark world-wide, and secured the fourth highest gross for the studio in 2016.
Critical acclaim has kept Zootopia on a higher pedestal than even Disney's anticipated progressive princess musical Moana. It might be possible that the film's Q1 release gave it more exposure, having landed on Netflix in September with early screeners going to voters soon-after. For fans of the feature, the win is a triumph that honors the rarest of animated animals -- an original story, with original characters, not necessarily reliant on musical numbers. 2016 brought many heavy-message movies, without the feel-good packaging, which Zootopia attained perfectly. Peter Travers summed it up best in his Rolling Stone review which sighted it "may be [last year's] most subversive movie."
Zootopia contains a timely fable of racism, xenophobia, and, oddly enough, the perceptions of police in a modern metropolis. The studio was smart to market it less like a kid-friendly Animal Farm, and focus on other universal parallels of the human world, such as the scene-stealing DMV sloth.
While the BAFTA and Oscar may be next for fox Nick Wilde and bunny Judy Hopps, Disney, naturally, already has its sights on spinoffs or sequels. Before it gets to that point, winning the respect of the animation community may be its most important achievement, or at least one of animation's most impressive accomplishments.
Additional Annie Award wins for Zootopia included:
Directing in an Animated Feature ProductionByron Howard, Rich Moore
Writing in an Animated Feature ProductionJared Bush, Phil Johnston
Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production(tie with Moana)Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde
Character Design in an Animated Feature ProductionCory Loftis
Storyboarding in an Animated Feature ProductionDean Wellins
Source: Annie Awards (via The Wrap)