The problem isn't that "Dragon" is a terrible movie — it's not — but that of the nominees in its category, it's the least deserving by a substantial distance. "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," by Isao Takahata, is a flat-out masterpiece, possibly the last to be released by Japan's famed Studio Ghibli; "Song of the Sea," by Tomm Moore, who was nominated for "The Secret of Kells" is close behind. "Big Hero 6" has a lazy superhero plot at its center, but the details around it are enchanting, especially the characterization of the squishy robot sidekick, Baymax, and "The Boxtrolls," while relatively disappointing compared to its Laika predecessors "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," still bristles with visual invention.
That leaves "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a fine but unremarkable sequel that in all honesty I don't remember well enough to muster specific criticisms against. It was enjoyable while it lasted, but forgotten almost immediately thereafter. If you'll pardon the pun (and you probably shouldn't), it's utterly toothless. I'm baffled as to how anyone find it superior to even one of its fellow nominees (with the possible exception of "The Boxtrolls,") let alone all four. Its presumed win seems to be the latest triumph of a category that overwhelmingly favors studio product over individual expression, and which has been shameless rigged to shut out innovative techniques like the interpolated rotoscoping of Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly." Even when movies that play with the form aren't explicitly cast out, they're shunned the way "The LEGO Movie" was this year, deemed unworthy for failing to hew to the most conservative definitions of "real" animation.
With the documentary and foreign film categories' overhaul, Best Animated Feature now has the dubious honor of being the Oscars' most compromised and questionable category. If "How to Train Your Dragon 2" wins on Sunday, it will be just the latest example.