Can Finding Dory make it three-for-three for Disney?
Twice before this year, a Disney-distributed animated film has topped $1 billion in global gross, and both times, that film (Frozen and Toy Story 3) won the Oscar in the animated feature category.
This year, Disney adds two such candidates to the Academy Awards race, with a third title to consider, as well.
Over the weekend, Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory became only the fifth animated film ever to cross the billion-dollar mark, not adjusting for inflation. Even if you adjust the figures, it's the second-biggest Pixar film at the domestic box office.
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This also marks the first time that two animated films - Dory and Disney's Zootopia - have grossed $1 billion in the same year. And a third Disney film this year, mostly crafted from digital effects, The Jungle Book ($966 million), is near to that magic number as well. (Jungle Book, as a hybrid, would be an interesting test case if the studio lobbied for its consideration as an "animated" film - but don't expect Disney, which its embarrassment of animation riches in 2016, to test those waters.)
Yet it is especially significant that Dory enters that box-office pantheon because to me, that would seem to cement its status as the front-runner for the best animated film Academy Award. Dory already had numerous factors working in its favor, including: the high respect Pixar is accorded within Hollywood; Dory's long-beloved characters; and the film's Oscar pedigree (its predecessor, Finding Nemo, won best animated feature, and was nominated in three other categories).
Those factors help offset the fact that the movie scores a "77" average among reviewers (via Metacritic.com), not quite the glowing number that Finding Nemo (90), received - and neck and neck with in-company rival Zootopia (78).
Box office is not the most crucial consideration in the animation category, but when two films are so close, every box that Dory can check certainly helps.
In that way, 2016 could prove to be reminiscent of the Oscars race three years ago: The Pixar nominee, Brave, had a Metacritic score (69) not quite as good as the Disney Animation nominee, Wreck-It Ralph (72), but it helped Brave's cause that it was able to score big at the box office, too (grossing $540 million worldwide vs. the Disney Animation film's $471 million). Brave took home the trophy.
As we look around this year, the other films that could reasonably score animation nominations include Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings ("84″ on Metacritic) and Disney's forthcoming Moana - with The Red Turtle and A Silent Voice poised as intriguing foreign productions this year.
So while I judge Dory to be the front-runner, the big winner should ultimately be Disney, which could well have three nominees by early next year.