Sunday, March 10, 2013

Memo to the Academy: Think Outside the Box in the Animated Category

In 2001 the Academy Awards added the Best Animated Feature category.  The category was added namely because over the years there have been numerous animated films which have been snubbed in the Best Picture race.  Prior to the addition of more nominees in the Best Picture race, and this category existing only one film was nominated in the Best Picture category, Beauty and the Beast.

In the inaugural year of this category there were three nominees, Shrek, Monsters Inc., Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.  Both Shrek and Monsters Inc., were two of the highest grossing films of the year, and they were also two of the best films of the the year.  Within this category these two fought it out very competitively and either could have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.  Both films could have been Best Picture contenders, but animated films have not been taken seriously until they added more nominees (Toy Story 3, and Up), but I am not going to go on a tangent about this topic.  Shrek and Monsters Inc, set the archetype for the films which have won this category.

While Shrek seems "typical" it was also the start of the anti fairy tale or a film which took traditional characters and challenged the past concepts within animated features.  Shrek has the ogre not a prince as the hero, the princess is also an ogre, and the noble stead is a donkey. While many would argue this formula is a bit predictable, I argue that it breaks the norm, and beating out the Disney/Pixar juggernaut is a feat rarely accomplished.

Monsters Inc., while good, not great (in my opinion) represents that traditional Pixar machine.  Now mind you I think most Pixar films are some of the best made in the last almost 20 years, and they have paved the way for animation to be taken more seriously.  Films like the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles, Up, and of course Wall-E.

Wall-E is the most unique Pixar film, without straying away from their traditional ideals.  Wall-E should have been a Best Picture nominee, and won the award in 2008.  Wall-E did win the Best Animated Feature Film prize deservedly beating out the much weaker Bolt, and Kung Fu Panda.  The latter two films fall in line with the more traditional or old school ways of the animated feature, they are more by the book style wise.  Many of the films nominated within this category fit the mold, but every so often the Academy does something right, and picks nominees/winners that are not "typical."

Even though it was only one year after the creation of this category, the Academy went for their first "atypical" winner Spirited Away. Spirited is in the vein of more traditional anime and comes from the genius mind of Hayao Miyazaki.  This is potentially one of the most deserved wins in this category, and while it was somewhat expected there was no true history yet within this category to help prove who had the best odds.  Spirted was up against Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

2005 was the first year with three completely quirky nominees, and winner.  The nominees were Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (winner), Corpse Bride, and How's Moving Castle.  None of the nominees were Pixar or Disney related and none were made by American film makers.  Quite an interesting array of nominees proving this can be an incredible category.

2011 had a few interesting and less predictable nominees with Chico and Rita, and A Cat in Paris, boxing out Cars 2 (thank goodness).  The winner Rango while predicted was also not a typical animated film, sure it has many prevailing themes, but the story is a bit out there with ugly animals.  Shutting out a Pixar was a bold move, and proved that Academy would not rubber stamp any Pixar film as a nominee, but they reverted back to their old ways this year, and that's where this memo comes from.

This year animated films were a bit off beat, and the best films were not the top grossing at the box office.  Of the five nominees two were successful at the box office, Brave and Wreck-It Ralph.  The other three nominees were ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.  The latter three all made less than 60 million never truly catching on with popularity.  While they not have been the most popular ParaNorman, and Frankenweenie along with Wreck-It Ralph were all far superior to Brave.  Brave is by the book, and fits some of the most basic formulas within the animated genre.

This category has pioneered the way people look at animated film, pushed boundaries, and shown that animated feature films can be some of the best films out there.  While Brave was not a bad film picking Brave is could be a sign that this category has lost its spunk.  While this is only one flawed win, the category held so much originality and potential.  No disresepct to the makers of Brave because the film broke boundaries and was the first movie where the princess does not conform to the norms, and the first win by a female director in this category, two huge landmarks.  Yet going to beyond those points the Academy needs to assess quality, and Brave's win sets this category back.

Is Brave winning an Oscar the worst thing to happen, No, but were there better options, yes!  After the dust from the Oscars has settled its time to evaluate this category, the nominees, and the winners.  Was this a one year fluke, or will this signal a pattern of populist voting.  Only time will tell but in the words of Brave's heroine "if you had the chance to change your fate, would ya?"

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