The Complications of the Animated Oscar

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The Oscars and animation…

The nominations are now out, and once again it’s the same old predictable game. There are nine Best Picture nominations, as a tenth slot is inexplicably missing. All of the films on there are filmed with real-life cameras on real-life sets with real-life people, or films that have a lot of animation in them, but it’s animation that is an exact recreation of real life. No room for any other kind of film that happens to be all-animated.

I don’t take the Academy Awards very seriously. To me, they’re nothing more than a ritzy, overblown ceremony. Who is to say they are the authority on what makes a good quality film? It’s a band of out-of-touch voters who don’t even watch all the movies they should be watching, and then some. Yet we all tune in, because we like to play fun guessing games. Who will win? Who is taking home that little gold man that will in turn translate to a sexy “Winner of 5 Oscars!” blurb that looks nice on a DVD jacket? Will there be upsets?

My main point of contention with the Oscars lies in their treatment of the animated medium. They have sidelined it ever since the beginning, the biggest award for “cartoons” for many years being an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject. Animated feature-length films were never eligible for the Best Picture trophy, though they could take home Oscars in the music categories. Voice actors and the respective animators that brought their performances to life were and never are considered, among many other things.

No Toons Allowed.

By the end of the 1990s, something upset the balance. More good quality “toons” were being made by other houses, it wasn’t just Disney’s game anymore. This wasn’t the late 60s/early 70s where a one-timer like Ralph Bakshi or Yellow Submarine rustled the feathers a bit, this was more than one studio establishing themselves as worthy competitors in the field. Films like Antz, A Bug’s Life, The Prince of Egypt, The Iron Giant, Toy Story 2, and Chicken Run… With many more on the horizon.

MONSTERS, INC. 3D

The Academy then created the Best Animated Feature category. I’ve never really cared for that, because it is really just a token award at best. A sort of “yes yes, very nice, now move along” kind of award that gives animation cheap congratulations for even existing. Often times, when the nominees and winners are presented, it’s either celebrities being clownish and goofy, or Hollywood kids being kids. Subtly saying that animation is inferior, is for children, isn’t real filmmaking, etc., etc. I think the category has more downsides.

The only upside I can see in the Best Animated Feature category is that it could give some spotlight to independent films that would – in another world without such a category – quietly slip by the general public. Would anyone even find about films like The Secret of Kells, A Cat in Paris, Chico and Rita, Ernest and Celestine, Song of the Sea, et al?

Doing away with the Best Animated Feature category could lead to one or two animated films being nominated for Best Picture, and leaving 5-7 other worthy contenders without a shot at winning or getting recognition. Like if this past year’s Best Picture line-up squeezed in mainstreamers Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, where would the room be for things like The Red Turtle, My Life as a Zucchini, Phantom Boy, April and the Extraordinary World, and other well-received films?

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My other problem is, the Best Animated Feature category’s maximum amount is five films. Best Picture? Ten, but the Academy never meets that limit all the time, showing their sheer inconsistency. Why 9 slots this year? Why not 10, add in animated film? It’s like they’ll do anything to keep it out of the race, when not too long ago, Pixar’s Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated for Best Picture in their respective years. What happened?

Here’s my ultimate suggestion.

Either spruce up the Best Animated Feature category and give these films the respect they deserve, or divide Best Picture into two categories:

Best Live-Action (or Photoreal CG) Film

and…

Best Animated Film, for caricature animated films that *know* they are animated. Not things like The Jungle Book or Avatar or Gravity.

Of course, that could create some problems for them. What would they call category number one? Best “Real-Life Sorta” Movie? Best “Photoreal” Film? A film like those aforementioned three have really muddied things up. The Jungle Book may be all animated except Mowgli, but it’s meant to look just like real life, and when you watch it, they don’t want you to know you’re watching something animated. By contrast, Zootopia wants you to know you’re not watching real life, filmed. It still feels real.

To say “Best Picture” and “Best Animated Feature” still kind of insinuates the former is more of a movie than the latter. Things get muddy here… In an art show, this wouldn’t be a problem. Photographs and paintings. That’s literally how I see these two kinds of films. Because of how far CGI and VFX have gotten, the lines have been – to quote Steve Hulett – blurred. So do we say “Best Picture – Real Life” and “Best Picture – Caricature Animated”. Again, too much words and technobabble for them.

It’s finally time for the Academy to carefully pick the nominees for Best Picture, whether they are live-action/hyper-real or caricature animated. Say one ceremony has 6 live-action films and 4 animated films, another year has that reversed. In the process, though, you may lose many worthy candidates on both sides of the coin!

Perhaps it should be this. “Best Picture – Type 1” and “Best Picture – Type 2″… Type 1 goes to films that are real-life subjects filmed, or films with lots of hyper-real CGI that’s an exact re-creation of real life. Type 2 goes to the other side, all the Disneys, Pixars, stop-motion films, 2D animated films, every animated film that embraces that special unreal quality that makes animation what it is. But is the Academy up for that? Probably not, probably never.

If they won’t budge or make an effort, they might as well at least do better for the token category. Enough of this celebrities goofing off/kids doing kiddie stuff, present these animated films as works of cinema! None of this pat-on-the-back nonsense, none of this clowning-around sideshow bullcrap, if you’re not going to let them be in the running, you might as well pay a little more respect to them.

Animation is an art form, and a legitimate way to make motion pictures. Time to recognize that. You’re over one hundred years too late…

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