“Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre.” – Brad Bird
Embracing stories of Hollywood grandeur and American nostalgia, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters like what they know and know what they like. For decades, such films like Chicago, Titanic and Forrest Gump have dominated the award show, with things only starting to change in the past few years as the awards show embraces a greater representation of talent.
Whilst the coveted Best Picture award is the one that garners the most publicity, stuffed into the corner of the awards show is one of the most poorly understood awards of them all, the prize for Best Animated Feature Film. Having long been called the ‘Pixar award’ due to the American production company’s dominance in the recently established category, experts of the animation medium have criticised the award for some time, rightly claiming that voters don’t take the prize seriously, with its sheer existence acting as a barrier for a film to access Best Picture.
Coming to fruition in 2001, the award for Best Animated Feature Film has prevented the likes of Shrek, The Incredibles, Spirited Away and, most famously, Wall-E from accessing the golden crown of Best Picture. Reduced to feeling lesser and given their own category as if animation was an entirely different genre, cinema’s most creative and liberating artistic medium has been considered child’s play for too long.
Often sidelining the Japanese animation industry, the biggest producer of traditional animation in the world, the award has been treated poorly in modern cinema, with Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar favoured over many modern classics that have graced international screens. With Studio Ghibli being the only Japanese animation studio ever to be recognised at the Oscars until Studio Chizu was given a nomination for Mirai in 2018, the Academy favour animated tales that can be accessed easily and without fuss on their American screens.
Such a premise has led to some hilarious snubs across the years, with the likes of Paprika, Summer Wars, Your Name, and Tekkonkinkreet being passed on in favour of Hollywood fodder Ferdinand, Despicable Me 2, Puss in Boots and, most notoriously, The Boss Baby. Aside from being considered ‘children’s films’, it’s likely that the old, decrepit Academy also doesn’t consider the beautiful medium of animation ‘traditional cinema’ favouring live-action war epics and patriotic weepies instead.
Proof of such neglect and ignorance came in 2015 when Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter surveyed seven Academy members and asked who they voted for, taking special note of their thoughts on the animation category. From those who didn’t watch any of the films to those who presented their point of view with total arrogance, the results of Feinberg’s findings are shocking.
Of the many responses, two, in particular, stand out, with one voter stupidly insulting “two obscure freakin’ Chinese fuckin’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw,” alluding to the Japanese film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and the Irish hand-drawn masterpiece Song of the Sea. Such a self-righteous and arrogant point of view can surely be shared by many of the voting team, alongside those who consider animated films as a base art form. “I like to sit down with [the young people in her family] and watch them. We all loved Big Hero 6 and there was no discussion, no argument, no nothing,” the other voter revealingly disclosed, leaving the decision of a life-changing award up to a collection of hyperactive children.
Across the years, cinema has witnessed plenty of animated films that are capable of winning Best Picture, with Soul in 2020 the perfect adult Pixar film to swoop the award, releasing shortly after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018, representing the pièce de résistance of the superhero subgenre that the Academy has long tried to recognise. More recently, the likes of The Red Turtle and Loving Vincent were both more than worthy of the award, showing off more ‘adult’ themes alongside some spellbinding animation.
Until there is a dramatic shift in the way that animation is perceived by the Academy, it seems as though little change will be made, though in recent years it seems strives have been made to cater for more international tastes. With the likes of foreign animations such as I Lost My Body, Wolfwalkers and Flee being nominated, as the awards show desperately tries to appear more modern and relevant, addressing the broken animation category would be a great place to start.