In the realm of cinema, especially in the major awards circuit, there is one category that often gets shafted to the background: animation. With the assigned stigma that an animated movie is necessarily childlike and uncomplicated, animated pictures rarely get the respect they deserve come Oscar season. But thankfully, there is the Annie Awards, an institution that turns 40 this year.
The International Animated Film Association's award enterprise has announced its nominations for achievements in the year 2012. Recognized above all are the far-reaching greats of the year: Pixar's majestic adventure Brave, the video game celebration of Wreck-It Ralph, and the respective claymation love-letters to horror cinema of the 1950s and early 1980s: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. Check out the complete list of nominees below. Best Animated Feature Brave Frankenweenie Hotel Transylvania ParaNorman Rise of the Guardians The Pirates! Band of Misfits The Rabbi’s Cat Wreck-It Ralph Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Before Orel – Trust Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Disney Tron: Uprising – Beck’s Beginning Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury Justice League: Doom Best Animated Short Subject Brad and Gary Bydlo Eyes on the Stars Goodnight Mr. Foot Kali the Little Vampire Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ Paperman The Simpsons Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children Bubble Guppies - ‘A Tooth on the Looth’ Chuggington - ‘Magnetic Wilson’ Jake & The Never Land Pirates - ‘Peter Pan Returns’ Doc McStuffins - ‘The Right Stuff’ Justin Time - ‘Marcello’s Meatballs' Best Animated Television Production For Children Adventure Time- ‘Princess Cookie’ Dragons: Riders of Berk- ‘How to Pick Your Dragon’ LEGO Star Wars- ‘The Empire Strikes Out’ Penguins of Madagascar -‘Action Reaction’ SpongeBob SquarePants -‘It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!’ The Amazing World of Gumball -‘The Job’. The Fairly OddParents- ‘Farm Pit’ The Legend of Korra- ‘Welcome to Republic City’/’A Leaf in the Wind’ Best General Audience Animated Television Production Archer - ‘Space Race, Part 1’ Bob’s Burgers- ‘Earsy Rider’ Motorcity- ‘Blond Thunder’ MAD - ‘FrankenWinnie/ParaMorgan’ Robot Chicken- ‘DC Comics Special’ South Park -‘Raising the Bar’ Animated Video Game Borderlands 2 Family Guy – Back to the Mutiverse Journey Skullgirls Best Student Film Can We Be Happy Now– Tahnee Gehm Defective Detective– Avner Geller & Steve Lewis Head Over Heels– Timothy Reckart I Am Tom Moody– Ainslie Henderson Ladies Knight– Joseph Rothenberg Origin– Jessica Poon The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete– Karen Sullivan Tule Lake– Michelle Ikemoto Animated Effects in an Animated Production Andrew Nawrot, Joe Gorski, Grant Laker - ParaNorman Andrew Schneider - Ice Age: Continental Drift Andy Hayes, Carl Hooper, David Lipton - Rise of the Guardians Bill Watral, Chris Chapman, Dave Hale, Keith Klohn, Michael K. O’Brien - Brave Brett Albert - Wreck-It Ralph Jihyun Yoon - Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Joel Aron - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Animated Effects in a Live Action Production Jerome Platteaux, John Sigurdson, Ryan Hopkins, Raul Essig, Mark Chataway - The Avengers Stephen Marshall, Joseph Pepper, Dustin Wicke - The Amazing Spider-Man Sue Rowe, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Artemis Oikonomopoulou, Holger Voss, Nikki Makar, Catherine Elvidge - John Carter Willi Geiger, Rick Hankins, Florent Andorra, Florian Witzel, Aron Bonar - Battleship Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Dan Driscoll - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Jennifer Dickie - Justin Time: Yodel Odel Day Keith Kellogg - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge Forrest Savelen - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Shi Zimu - Dragons: Riders of Berk Sihanouk Marinona - Before Orel: Trust Teri Yam - Dragons: Riders of Berk Yan Jiazhuang - Dragons: Riders of Berk Character Animation in a Feature Production Dan Nguyen - Brave David Pate - Rise of the Guardians Jaime Landes - Brave Phillppe LeBrun - Rise of the Guardians Pierre Perifel - Rise of the Guardians Travis Hathaway - Brave Travis Knight - ParaNorman Will Becher - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Character Animation in a Live Action Production Erik de Boer, Amanda Dague, Matt Brown, Mary Lynn Machado, Aaron Grey - Life of Pi (Orangutan) Erik de Boer, Matt Shumway, Brian Wells, Vinayak Pawar, Michael Holzl - Life of Pi (Tiger) Jakub Pistecky, Maia Kayser, Scott Benzu, Steve King, Kiran Bhat - The Avengers Mike Beaulieu, Roger Vizard, Atushi Sato, Jackie Kochler, Derek Esparza, Richard Smith, Mac Tyrie - The Amazing Spider-Man Character Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Bialk - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Alvin and the Outcasts Andy Suriano - DC Nation-Plastic Man: The Many and the Fowl Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, Ryu Ki-Hyun, Kim Il Kwang, Kim Jin Sun - The Legend of Korra: Welcome to Republic City “C” Raggio IV - Kick Buttowski: Petrified Derrick Wyatt, Chap Yaep, Steven Choi - Ben 10: Omniverse: The More Things Change, Pt. 2 Gordon Hammond - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Dudley Do-Wrong Robert Valley - Disney Tron: Uprising: The Renegade, Part I Thaddeus Paul Cauldron - Secret Mountain Fort Awesome: Secret Mountain Uncle Grandpa Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Bill Schwab, Lorelay Bove, Cory Loftis, Minkyu Lee - Wreck-It Ralph Carlos Grangel - Hotel Transylvania Carter Goodrich - Hotel Transylvania Craig Kellman - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Heidi Smith - ParaNorman Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon, Colin Stimpson - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Directing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Howie Parkins - Jake and The Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! John Eng - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House Mark Cabalero, Seamus Walsh - SpongeBob SquarePants: Its a Spongebob Christmas Mic Graves - The Amazing World of Gumball: The Job Michael Chang - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Never Say Xever Zack Keller - Dick Figures: Kung Fu Winners Directing in an Animated Feature Production Genndy Tartakovsky - Hotel Transylvania Johan Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux - The Rabbi's Cat Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie - Zarafa Rick Moore - Wreck-It Ralph Sam Fell, Chris Butler - ParaNorman Music in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Adam Berry - Penquins of Madagascar: Private and the Winky Factory Alf Clausen - The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII Frederik Wiedmann - Green Lantern The Animated Series: Into the Abyss Guy Moon - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Really Big Mission John Paesano - Dragons: Riders of Berk: How to Pick Your Dragon Michael Rubin - Bubble Guppies: Bubble Puppy's Fin-tastic Fairytale! Music in an Animated Feature Production Alexandre Desplat - Rise of the Guardians Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia Henry Jackman - Wreck-It Ralph Joel McNeely, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda - Secret of the Wings John Powell, Adam Schlesinger, Ester Dean - Ice Age: Continental Drift John Powell, Cinco Paul - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Mark Mothersbaugh - Hotel Transylvania Patrick Doyle, Mark Andrews, Alex Mandel - Brave Production Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Alberto Mielgo - Tron: Uprising: The Stranger Ian Worrel - Gravity Falls – Tourist Trapped Lynna Blankenship, Sean Coons, Hugh Macdonald, Debbie Peterson, Charles Ragins, Lance Wilder, Darrel Bowen, John Krause, Kevin Moore, Brent M. Bowen, Brice Mallier, Steven Fahey, Dima Malanitchev, Karen Bauer, Eli Balser, Anne Legge - The Simpsons: Moe Goes From Rags to Riches Nick Jennings, Martin Ansolebehere, Sandra Calleros, Ron Russell, Santino Lascano, Derek Hunter, Catherine E. Simmonds - Adventure Time – The Hard Easy Peter Martin, Chris Grine, Ira Baker, Ramon Olivera, Scott Brown - hoops & yo yo's Haunted Halloween Scott Brandon James, Lee Keith - Justin Time: The Rubbery Dumplings Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin, Shannon Jeffries, Lindsey Olivares, Kenard Pak - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Marcello Vignali - Hotel Transylvania Nash Dunnigan, Arden Chen, Jon Townley, Kyle McNaughton - Ice Age: Continental Drift Nelson Lowry, Ross Stewart, Pete Oswald, Ean McNamara, Trevor Dalmer - ParaNorman Norman Garwood, Matt Berry - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Patrick Hanenberger, Max Boas, Jayee Borcar, Woonyoung Jung, Perry Maple, Peter Maynez, Stan Seo, Felix Yoon - Rise of the Guardians Rick Heintzich - Frankenweenie Steve Pilcher - Brave Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Kelly - Doc McStuffins: Righty-On-Lefty Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar - Adventure Time: Lady & Peebles Doug Lovelace - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man Holly Forsyth - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess Irineo Marramba, Ciro Nieli - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman Robert Valley, Kalvin Lee - Tron: Uprising: The Reward Ryan Kramer, Paul Linsley, Kenji Ono, Le Tang, Alice Herring, Mike Mullen, Aaron Hammersley - Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Enter the Dragon Tom Herpich, Skyler Page - Adventure Time: Goliad Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Emmanuela Cozzi - ParaNorman– Focus Features Johanne Matte - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Leo Matsuda - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Lissa Treiman - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Rob Koo - Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted – DreamWorks Animation Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production James Patrick Stuart as Private - Penguins of Madagascar: High Moltage– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jeff Bennett as Keswick - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Pup Daddy– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jessica Walter as Malory Archer - Archer: Lo Scandolo– Weissman Markovitz Communications for FX Network Kevin Michael Richardson as Willem Viceroy - Randy Cunningham:9th Grade Ninja: Gossip Boy– Disney TV Animation Kristen Schaal as Mabel Pines - Gravity Falls: Tourist Trapped– Disney TV Animation Mae Whitman as April ONeil – - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Sam Witwer as Darth Maul - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Tom McGrath as Skipper - Penguins of Madagascar: The Otter Woman– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Adam Sandler as Dracula - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Alan Tudyk as King Candy - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Atticus Shaffer as “E”Gore - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Catherine OHara as Weird Girl - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria - The Pirates! Band of Misfits– Aardman Animations Jim Cummings as Budzo - Adventures in Zambezia– Saltzman Communications Jude Law as Pitch - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Kelly MacDonald as Merida - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Writing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Doug Langdale – Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Kung Fu Day Care – Nickelodeon Animation Studios Eric Horsted – Futurama: The Bots and the Bees – Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Gabe Garza – - Penguins of Madagascar: Endangerous Species- Nickelodeon Animation Studios Ian Maxtone-Graham, Billy Kimball - The Simpsons: How I Wet Your Mother– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Kacey Arnold – - Robot and Monster: The Blimp– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Mike Teverbaugh, Linda Teverbaugh – Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House – DreamWorks Animation Stephanie Gillis - The Simpsons: A Tree Grows in Springfield– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Trey Parker – - South Park: Jewpacabra– Central Productions Writing in an Animated Feature Production Chris Butler – ParaNorman – Focus Features Gideon Defoe – The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Aardman Animations Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick – From Up on Poppy Hill – GKIDS John August – Frankenweenie – The Walt Disney Studios Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi - Brave – Pixar Animation Studios Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee – Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios Editorial in an Animated Television Production Bret Marnell - Puss in Boots: Three Diablos– DreamWorks Animation Chris Hink - Robot and Monster: Cheer Up Mr. Wheelie– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Monkey in the Middle– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Enter the Dragon– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jason Tucker - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revival– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Lynn Hobson - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House– DreamWorks Animation Pieter Kaufman - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess– Disney TV Animation Steffie Lucchesi, Matt Steinauer, May Blaisdell - Dan Vs Monster Under The Bed– Film Roman Editorial in an Animated Feature Production Catherine Apple - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Joyce Arrastia - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Mark Rosenbaum - Secret of the Wings– DisneyToon Studios Nicholas A. Smith, ACE, Robert Graham Jones, ACE, David Suther - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Tim Mertens - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios JURIED AWARDS Winsor McCay Award– Oscar Grillo, Terry Gilliam, Mark Henn June Foray– Howard Green Ub Iwerks– Toon Boom Animation Pipeline [Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures] More: 'Moonrise Kingdom' Takes Top Prize at Gotham Awards Seth MacFarlane Says Non-TV-Friendly 'Family Guy' Movie is (Probably) Happening 'The Hobbit': The Dragon Attacks, Bilbo Fights Fire with Shire — VIDEO
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There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.