Come the next Oscars submission season, Disney will be flush with top animation options for consideration. There will be Zootopia, of course, and the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory. And then there will be The Jungle Book.
The smash hit new film from Jon Favreau is being characterised as Disney's latest "live-action remake" of one of its many animated classics - a wave of recent releases that includes Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella.
But the new Jungle Book has a distinction apart from all such recent kin: Despite the live-action tag, it's actually mostly animated.
Sure, the film has a human actor (Neel Sethi) in the role of Mowgli. But it's the visual artistry here that renders this film so fascinating. As Favreau has illuminated in interviews, for every dozen feet or so that Mowgli walks, the animators must create a dozen feet of jungle out of digital thin air. The technology at work isn't simply motion-capture (or performance capture), by which live-motion recording of performers is used to model the animation. Instead, this film is true "key-frame" animation, in which certain "key" frames are rendered to determine beginning and end points in each transition.
Put more simply, The Jungle Book feels like perhaps the most animated live-action feature film ever, especially given that Avatar obviously had more live actors.
This isn't just about blurring the line between live-action and animation, which Hollywood has deftly been doing for years. This is about rendering that division false.
This milestone may not matter so much to the viewer, but it could matter soon to film-awards judges. Because what's to keep Jungle Book from becoming a heavyweight in animation races, short of a backlash that results in quickly cobbled-together eligibility tweaks?
Although most viewers may not harbour such prejudices between styles, the Academy certainly does. Just recently, Disney/Pixar's animated Inside Out - clearly one of the best eight films of 2015 - did not receive a best picture Oscar nomination. Yet a film like 2013's Gravity, heavily reliant on digital pre-visualisation and animation, did receive a best picture nod.
As the line grows ever blurrier for those charged with drawing such categorical demarcations, one thing is clear: The Jungle Book looks to meet all the Academy's eligibility requirements for competing as an animated feature - from permitted technology to a majority of key characters being animated.
It's unclear whether Disney wants to test those waters. But when Jungle Book animators can digitally paint water that looks more realistic than actual water, then nothing seems beyond the bounds of the studio's imagination.
- Washington Post