‘Inside Out 2’ Is 2024’s First Animated Feature Oscar Contender. Will the Academy Feel It for Best Picture Too?

The ongoing struggle to elevate animated features to the same level of best-picture recognition as live-action films will undoubtedly resurface by year’s end. This time, the spotlight will be on Pixar’s highly successful sequel, “Inside Out 2,” a film that could bring joy and success amid a dark cloud hovering around Hollywood studios.

With debut director Kelsey Mann taking over from Pete Docter, the second installment follows Riley (Kensington Tallman) during her teenage years. Along with her core emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling) — she begins encountering new emotions, notably Anxiety (Maya Hawke).

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The first film had a budget of $175 million and made $858 million worldwide. It received two Oscar noms for original screenplay and animated feature, winning the latter. However, during the era when the Academy recognized 5-10 movies for best picture, it didn’t land among the eight that included eventual winner “Spotlight” (2015). The Academy returned to having 10 guaranteed slots in the top category in 2021. Still, this change has yet to increase recognition for animated feature nominees or winners outside the category. Although Neon’s “Flee” made history with three noms for animated, documentary and international feature, there’s been little to no recognition anywhere else (except for original song).

As we approach this year’s halfway point, some of the most financially successful franchises are seeing awards contenders. “Inside Out 2,” already seeing an impressive $155 million domestic debut, is expected to surpass “Dune: Part Two” as the year’s highest-grossing movie — that is, until the release of its Disney counterpart at Marvel, “Deadpool and Wolverine” in mid-July. While I have traditionally avoided the “follow the money” approach to the Oscars, big-budget studio movies and IP seem the most prevalent in the second half of 2024, largely due to the strikes. Furthermore, being the standout success of the summer could generate significant goodwill within the Academy, especially considering the current concerns surrounding box office numbers. Look at how “Top Gun: Maverick” performed in 2022, soaring to a best picture nom. This could be duplicated within the Academy, adding to “Inside Out 2’s” chances.

Many prognosticators argue that the first “Inside Out” movie didn’t receive the best picture attention, so the sequel will likely follow suit. However, again, in the example of “Top Gun: Maverick,” it wasn’t deterred by the original movie’s lack of recognition to secure a nomination.

INSIDE OUT 2 - FEELING ENVY – In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Envy may be small, but she sure knows what she wants. She’s perpetually jealous of everything everyone else has, and she’s not afraid to pine over it. Envy’s wishful thinking and fascination with the newest, coolest thing pulls her attention in all directions and longs for what Riley doesn’t have. Featuring Ayo Edebiri as the voice of Envy, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Securing a nom for an animated movie in the top category can be tricky. Only three animated films have ever been nominated for best picture in Oscars history: “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) — all under the Walt Disney banner. However, the latter two occurred in years with a guaranteed 10 nominations. The reviews for this sophomore entry are positive, boasting a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although it’s not as high as the outstanding 98% rating of the first. The main question is whether it can maintain the same palpable enthusiasm for another seven months until voting begins.

The animation community has expressed disappointment with the lack of recognition at the Academy Awards. But, the screenplay categories have shown better representation, with nine films receiving nominations for writing — seven for original and two for adapted. “Inside Out 2” is expected to be considered an adapted work, following the guidelines set by the Academy and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) that sequels are typically classified as adapted, even if the first movie was based on an original concept. That will have scribes Mann, Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, competing against buzzy literary adaptations, such as “The Nickel Boys” (based on the novel by Colson Whitehead), “The Piano Lesson” (based on the play by August Wilson), and the presumed animated contender “The Wild Robot” (based on the children’s book by Peter Brown). “Inside Out 2” will hope to join the follow in the footsteps of past nominees “Shrek” (2001) and “Toy Story 3” (2010).

When you consider the artisan categories, there’s an opportunity to gain more traction, such as with the strong, albeit subtle score from Andrea Datzman. Also worth considering is the possibility of making its mark in the best visual effects race. In recent years, films like “Soul” (2020) and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (2023) have made it onto the initial visual effects shortlist but ultimately came up short. “Inside Out 2,” with its stunning characters, impressive sequences and incredibly inventive world-building, could be among the top 20 (announced internally within the branch) before moving on to the publicly announced top 10.

It’s also worth noting that studios and strategists have made a considerable push over the years to get animated movies considered for the SAG Awards’ best cast ensemble prize. With a stellar voice cast, wouldn’t this be a fine candidate for such an honor?

Nonetheless, as “Inside Out 2” progresses through the summer, it becomes a ray of hope for movie theaters and studios. It finally puts Pixar as a strong contender in the animated feature category, which hasn’t been seen since its last win for “Soul” (Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto” won in 2021). The studio’s potential comeback story could generate a lot of excitement in the race, and all “Inside Out 2” needs to do is maintain these current happy feelings.

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