If you were to talk to me yesterday and asked me what I was going to write about concerning the results of the Best Animated Feature award at the 87th Academy Awards, I would have told you I was prepared to either write about how DreamWorks finally got their due for “How to Train Your Dragon” with a win for “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” or that master director Isao Takahata got a well-deserved award for what is likely to be his final film (“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” which was one of my Top Ten Best Films of 2014). The last thing I expected to write was that Disney’s “Big Hero 6” would upset and take home the prize, making for the worst win of the entire night (and possibly the least deserving winner in this categories entire history).
Now then, I want to take a moment to stress that I do like “Big Hero 6” as a movie. I gave the film three and a half stars in my review and praised the film for its charm, solid action sequences, and it’s quirky sense of humor that Disney has been known to bring to the table. I especially like Baymax, who is such a fun character I’m still surprised he hasn’t dethroned Olaf as Disney’s most profitable character. Despite my enjoyment of the film though, it had no business being nominated for Best Animated Feature. Compared to the other four movies that were nominated, “Big Hero 6” was the least great. Compared to the unnominated “The LEGO Movie,” “The Book of Life,” and “Rocks in My Pocket” it was a Saturday morning cartoon. Compared to “Frozen?” Eh…two different kinds of movies, but yeah, “Frozen” was much better.
Everyone else seemed to be in agreement, as the guilds were dolling out awards to “The LEGO Movie,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” “Big Hero 6” had failed to win one major guild award. So what happened? It is a question I’ve been pondering. I’m one of the few defenders of the Best Animated Feature category, as I believe animation usually represents some of the best films of the years, being made by visionaries whose ambitions are so grand, no live action film can hold them. This category also seems to be a little bit ahead of the curve as it normally nominates films that your average person have not heard of. I don’t completely know how the voting process works, but it’s clear to me that visual storytellers are the one’s doing the nominated in this category.
However, I also know that this is one of the categories that everyone in the Academy can vote for once the nominations are announced, and I think that is where the problem is. I started wondering about what was going on with the voting when “Brave” took home the top prize a few years ago when that was clearly the weakest nominee of the bunch (“Frankenweenie” or “Wreck-it-Ralph” should have won that year). Recently though, thanks to some shrewd reporting by Amid Amidi, popular blog site Cartoon Brew may have unearthed the key reason this category has been produced some very strange winners the past several years. The site has produced two articles (to my knowledge) the previous two years where Oscar voters are asked what they voted on in the animation categories.
Now, the quotes themselves are experts from much bigger articles on how voters are voting (and trust me, the longer articles are no more encouraging about how the voters vote at large), but it does highlight something I believe this category has going against it that other categories don’t: Kids. A recurring theme in these articles is that most voters don’t care about the animated categories and find the films to be beneath them. Most of them simply abstain from voting. And you know, if you aren’t going to watch the movies I guess I would prefer they not vote because that would be wrong (though it should be noted that this lack of knowledge didn’t prevent them from voting in the other categories). The even worse admission comes in the fact that most of the voters are so unfamiliar with animated features that they simply had their kids vote for the category.
In at least one case, the voter watched all five films, liked “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” better than the rest, but voted for “Big Hero 6” because their kids liked that one the best and saw it three times. This is troubling because kids are, frankly, stupid. And if you have kids and feel they are smart, good for you, I’m glad you feel that way. They are still stupid in this regard though. They aren’t watching movies like they were art. They can’t relate to a movie like “The Wind Rises” or “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” They aren’t even developed enough for them to know why a movie works for them beyond the fact that the film makes them laugh and is colorful. All you need to do is look up old YouTube reviews of kid critic Lights Camera Jackson, and that is the average thinking of a kid watching an animated movie.
These are the people the voters are letting vote on a category that could be instrumental to helping others be more aware that animated films are art. It’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen if a bunch of Academy voters are letting their kids and grandkids vote for the movies. This has got to stop. Kids should not be voting on awards. Kids cannot tell the difference between art and entertainment. They can’t tell when things are both. Kids have only a very basic understanding of what makes great movies great, and even that isn’t developed very well. What’s worse, the Academy Awards wants to present themselves as the all-knowing authority on what makes for great art. That doesn’t work when word gets out that you have toddlers determining the results of one of the evening’s biggest prizes.
The second year this award was being presented Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” took home the prize of family favorite “Lilo & Stitch.” I sense that, if those movies were up today, the results would have worked out differently. Of course, that’s only one part of the problem. There is another problem that involves the studios and their lack of embracing the category that has resulted in this category becoming what it has become today. Tune in tomorrow for what that problem is.
P.S. On a positive note for comic book fans though, we can now officially say that the Academy has honored a Marvel based property movie in a big way. So good for you fan boys.