Should Animated Features Have Their Own Academy Award Category?

Academy Award Trophies, Oscar
Buckle up, we're talking Oscars. Do animated films need their own categoy? If they didn't, would they be going toe-to-toe with live-action best picture nominees?

It’s a new year, and you know what that means, Oscar season is upon us. People love to try to predict who is going to get best actress or best director or best film… but the category that I care about is Best Animated Feature. Before I dive into this year’s nominees, I want to talk briefly about the history of the category and list the films I think deserved a nomination.

The first animated feature film to win an Oscar was… the first ever animated feature film, Walt Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Well, it was only an honorary award, presented as one full sized Oscar with 7 tiny ones, but it was a promising start.  Animated films can in fact be nominated for many categories, including Best Picture (such as Beauty and the Beast in 1992). However they rarely get nominated for most categories, and (outside technical awards) almost never win. In fact, animation as a genre was mostly snubbed by the Academy until they created the Best Animated Feature category in 2002. While this guarantees an animated film will always win an Oscar, it has been criticized as a way to keep animation out of other categories. Luckily this has not proven true (Toy Story 3 and Up were both nominated for Best Picture,) but the category itself has been put into question. Several reports have come in over the years that show that the people eligible to vote in the category mostly abstain because they don’t actually watch the films, or vote based not on the merits of the film but on how much their kids liked it. Is that really a problem though? Isn’t animation for kids? Yes it is a problem and no it isn’t just for kids (just look at Sausage Party). But that is a rant for another day.

This years nominees are….

The first film to win in the Best Animated Feature category was DreamWorks’ Shrek, followed by Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). It wasn’t until 2003 that Pixar won one with Finding Nemo. So far, Pixar has won eight out of the 15 years it has received nominations, with Disney and DreamWorks tying for second with only two awards each. This year, however, Pixar does not have a film in the running, with Finding Dory falling just short of a nomination. Disney, however, has two films competing for the title, with Zootopia and Moana both making the cut. 13 of the Best Animated Features have been full CG films, with only one traditional hand-drawn animation and one stop-motion animation winning a place. However, this year only the two Disney films are CG, leaving three other films the chance to change the trend. Excitingly, two of them are stop-motion!

But not every film worthy of an award gets nominated. There are many films that, for various reasons, don’t get selected. I have not seen all the films on this year’s list, but here is who I would nominate:

scene from The Little Prince
  • The Little Prince is at the top of my list, with various styles within the same film, and a quirky story that was exceptionally well executed.
  • Miss Hokusai, a hand-drawn anime (Japanese animation) about Katsushika Oi, the daughter of the famous Japanese artist Hokusai.
  • Your Name, an anime about a country girl and a city boy switching bodies and influencing the life of the other. A disaster strikes the country village causing chaos for both of them.
  • Sing is a CG film following a broke theater manager trying to save his theater with a competition when a typo accidentally lands him and his competitors in a world of trouble.
  • Kung Fu Panda 3 is a film I fear most people forgot came out last year, right at the start of the year. I felt this was a beautiful film with good character development and grand visuals full of saturated colors and stylizations.

Now that you’ve seen my wish list of nominees, here’s who actually got nominated in the category this year, along with my pick for winner:

Scene from Zootopia

Zootopia – an excellent Disney film about life in the big city where all the residents are animals. This story focuses on very controversial issues, such as racism, and has some very adult themes mixed with great storytelling and plenty of excitement. It follows the newest recruit of the Zootopia police force, Judy Hopps, the first rabbit officer, and her investigation into a disappearance that not only puts her job on the line, but the safety of everyone in the city. This is my most likely to win pick based on overall public reception, it’s box office performance, and it’s popularity.

Scene from Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings – an amazing film by Laika, the creators of ParaNorman and Coraline. This stop-motion film follows the adventures of Kubo, a young boy with one eye and the ability to manipulate origami paper with music. He must search for magic armor in order to protect himself from the Moon King who wishes to take his other eye. This is the film I would like to win based on…everything! The visuals are stunning, the stop motion animation is immaculate, the story and characters are engaging and well developed, the technology that goes into this is amazing (including a giant puppet skeleton monster,) and the skill required to do this is awe-inspiring. Out of all of the films listed, I felt this was the best executed, however it did not receive the same level of acclaim or box office numbers as Zootopia.

Scene from Moana

Moana – another Disney CG hit. This film is about Moana, the daughter of the chief of her village in the Pacific Isles. She must go on a journey to find a lost demi-god, Maui, to save her village from an evil magic that is corrupting the land. It is full of great songs, adventure, amazing effects, and good storytelling, and is the first Disney film to have exclusively Pacific Islander characters in the cast. This film, while one of my favorites this year, was not as well received as Zootopia and didn’t make the numbers of Kubo either. I would be surprised if this wins over Zootopia, which feels to me to be the stronger of the two Disney films.

Scene from The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle – A traditional, hand-drawn film that is the joint project between Germany’s Wild Bunch and Japan’s Studio Ghibli, was directed and co-written by Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Wit. It is a dialogue-less film that chronicles the life of a man lost at sea; unable to escape a small island he is stranded on. Despite many attempts to escape, he ends up capsized thanks to a giant red turtle that turns into a beautiful woman. This film only just hit the United States and it has not yet seen a wide release (and probably won’t). However, the reviews have been very promising and the style is unique and engaging. It has the whimsy of a Ghibli film, with the look of a Cartoon Saloon film (think The Secret of Kells, or Song of the Sea). Due to the nature of the Academy Awards, and the fact that this has seen such a small release, I fear that even if this film is deserving of the award, too few will have seen it yet, and it will be passed by for a more popular film.

Scene from My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini – is a stop motion film, using a more traditional medium than Laika films, which gives it a less polished but more unique and child-like quality. It is a French-Swiss film about a little boy whose single, abusive mother dies in an accident. He is then sent off to an orphanage where he meets with other children his age in similar situations. He makes friends and falls in love with one girl, who has a manipulative aunt that wants to adopt her to take control of her inheritance. Rated PG-13, it has the most adult themes of all the nominees, and yet has been well received by critics. Unfortunately, it is one of those films with a very limited release, and will not hit US shores until February 24th. This film suffers from the same distribution problems The Red Turtle has, keeping its popularity in the States low, and also has the most mature themes, making it the least likely in my opinion to win the Oscar.

I feel that every one of these films is Oscar-worthy and should be watched for their own unique merits. I highly suggest you go out and see these films when they are available, especially in theaters. Remember that animation is a very demanding and time-consuming process, and it takes hundreds of artists years to put one of these films together. Let us celebrate the art and the effort that go into these amazing films!

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