For those of you who did not read my editorial on my disappointment with “Big Hero 6” winning Best Animated Feature on Sunday at the Academy Awards I invite you to follow this link and catch yourself up, because some of what I wrote in that article is going to become important here. The Academy may have a problem with not taking animation seriously as an art form, but to be perfectly fair, they are only part of the problem. The bigger problem actually lies with the industry itself, as they don’t seem to take their own animated movies seriously. The animation industry, for all their complaining that they don’t the respect they deserve, seem perfectly willing to not take any of the little respect they are given very seriously.
Let me explain: The category of Best Animated Feature was established in 2001, largely after the outcry that one of the year’s biggest hits, “Chicken Run,” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture; largely based on the fact that it was animated (for the record, another “animated” film, “Gladiator,” won the top prize). The outcry was so big that the following year saw the birth of the new category that was supposed to help solve that problem. The first three movies to be nominated were “Shrek,” “Monster’s Inc.,” and “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”…look, it WAS the first year, okay! “Shrek” walked home with that prize, a fact that is proudly displayed on the DVD case! Granted, it wasn’t until the rerelease of the movie, but the bottom line was DreamWorks wanted you to know that their movie won this award.
This is not something you can claim for too many of these films. In fact, with one other exception, none of the movies that have won the Best Animated Feature Oscar seem happy to have won the award. Or proud. In fact, to make matters worse, most of them don’t really act like they care they won. Look at Pixar movies, who were the undisputed champions of this category for years. “Wall-E,” “Up,” “Ratatouille,” “Brave,” and “Toy Story 3” have all won in this category, yet none (and I mean NONE) of the various DVD and BluRay releases acknowledge this fact! Heck, “Up” and “Toy Story 3” were nominated Best Picture to boot, and you don’t see them acknowledging that fact either! This is especially perplexing when you realize we live in a world where “Speed” brags about being an Academy Award-winning film (it won for Best Sound Editing…um, yay?).
One of DreamWorks other wins in this category was for Aardman’s “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” yet despite stock pictures bragging about winning the award, I have yet to see an actual DVD case in the store or on eBay have this statement printed on it. Nickelodeon has for years been trying to have their animation division be taken seriously in this industry, and to be known for doing more than making Rugrats and SpongeBob Squarepants movies. So they made “Rango.” It won Best Animated Feature, and…yep, you guessed it: No mention of it on the DVD (or BluRay) cover. Disney came close to acknowledging “Frozen’s” win in this category…by putting a gold sticker on certain copies of the movie after the fact. Even then, it the gesture was shaky, and it’s not clear if the sticker is even applied anymore. The only movie (aside from “Shrek”) that proudly acknowledges their win in this category is “Happy Feet.”
Look at that BluRay. That’s all you need to do. By doing this Warner Bros. is saying “hey folks, we made this wonderful movie, we won this prestige award, and we are proud of that fact!” It should be mentioned that movies that win Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary categories proudly brag about the Oscars they win as well! So why don’t the animation studios do this? I’m not sure really, but let’s look at who has won the majority of these awards: Disney. If you count the Pixar films and “Spirited Away,” Disney has won this category ten times. With the exception of “Spirited Away,” Disney movies sell themselves. They don’t need the awards to be financially successful. In fact, they are so unimportant to the box office, that when “Cars” lost the prize to “Happy Feet,” I doubt it effected the average person’s desire to see it.
While the Oscars might be about box office and making films look more respectable, animated films have rarely needed them to sell tickets. And yet…the studios spend big bucks to try and monopolize this category none-the-less. That’s because the award does hold some validation. Look at the cover for “The Illusionist,” a movie that proudly proclaims to be a NOMINEE for Best Animated Feature! That fact alone adds value to the potential number of people who will see the film. “The Secret of Kells” also advertises that it was a nominee. So does “Persepolis.” You’d think “Fantastic Mr. Fox” would brag about being nominated, but that is a corporate film, so who knows. “Spirited Away” doesn’t claim this (and that movie actually had the bonus of winning), but then, Disney was pretty upset that “Lilo & Stitch” didn’t win that year, so they are more than happy to keep that fact a secret. Would they have advertised the win if their home grown film had won? It seems unlikely.
That, I think, is the bigger issue with this category. Animation is in this comfortable little position where the films tend to make a lot of money regardless of critical acclaim. Studios spend lots of money trying to get their film to win Best Animated Feature and yet do little (if anything) to brag about the fact that they won. It wouldn’t even be that difficult to do. Seriously, fans show how this can be done easily, so the issue is that someone simply doesn’t want to. I suspect, taking all this into account, the studios want it that way. If the movies start to be acknowledged as art, they might have to try harder to make better movies in the future because at that time people might be expecting some actual quality. This Oscar, whether people realize it or not, is step one in people realizing that animated movies are real movies that win awards and can be of high quality.
To acknowledge that might be to acknowledge that not all animated movies try very hard to be good. Maybe the studios don’t want the average person to realize this. I don’t want to take away from the movies that do win this award (or the creators making them), because I do think most of them are well deserving of the awards they have won. But if you watch a studio launch a massive Oscar campaign to win this thing, only to pretend that they never did after the fact, the reason may just be because the studios don’t want to admit there is such a thing as standout films in the animation industry, or else they may have to try harder. Chances are this award won’t be embraced until movies that could really gain a financial boost from winning receive it, and I have a feeling that won’t happen until Academy members stop letting kids vote on the ballot.