Big-studio CG-animated movies "Frozen," and "Monsters University" topped the film categories for the Annie Awards nominations announced Monday, collecting 10 apiece.
But a couple of little-known entries from niche distributor GKIDS also made the cut in the animated feature category, which should help them find audiences among both lovers of the medium and Oscar voters.
"A Letter to Momo" and "Ernest and Celestine" are foreign-made, hand-drawn films of the type that have earned New York-based GKIDS Oscar nominations before, for movies such as "The Secret of Kells" and "Chico & Rita."
"Ernest & Celestine" received six nominations, the most for any independent or internationally produced film — in addition to animated feature, the film collected nods for directing, writing, production design, character animation and editing in an animated feature.
A French-Belgian production based on a series of children's books of the same name by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, "Ernest & Celestine" centers on the unlikely friendship that develops between Celestine, a young mouse who lives in an orphanage, and Ernest, the hungry bear who tries to eat her.
In an often surprisingly funny fable about bigotry, directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner preserve Vincent's illustration style of watercolor backgrounds and light strokes.
"A Letter to Momo," directed by Japan's Hiroyuki Okiura, is a supernatural story about a 13-year-old girl coping with the death of her father. The last time Momo saw her father, they fought, and all she has left of him is a note he had begun that says, "Dear Momo." After moving with her mother from Tokyo to a remote island, Momo discovers goblins in the attic who may be able to help her understand what her father was trying to say.
Some critics have compared the film favorably to Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro," another Japanese animated movie where charmingly rendered magical creatures soothe lonely children touched by tragedy.
"Ernest & Celestine" will open March 14 in N.Y. and L.A., followed by a national expansion. GKIDS has not set a release date for "A Letter to Momo."
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