Oscar Keeps Animation in the Ghetto

Image from Pixar's 'Wall*E', opening June 27th

It’s made huge advances in the past twenty years, but apparently, to the Academy, animation is still a ghetto.

Last week, the Academy of Motion Pictures announced its latest list of nominees for Best Picture for 2008 as it does every year. What was predictable is the list didn’t include a single animated feature film - something the Academy has done every year, with the one exception of 1991.

This is particularly ironic since Pixar/Disney campaigned heavily to get their own film, Wall*E a Best Picture nomination. The films that got the nod were Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire (we look at the lack of The Dark Knight on that list over here). Then again, considering the history of Oscar and animation, many critics aren’t acting that surprised, including Wall*E producer and supervising director Andrew Stanton.

“We are ecstatic and grateful for the Academy's generous and humbling recognition of Wall*E, Stanton said in a press statement. “It is an honor and privilege to make films at Pixar, where we have grown into a great, big family. This is a tribute to all of us at Pixar and Disney who do our best to make films, not just animated films, but films for everyone that just happen to be animated."

Not that Stanton should be completely non-plussed. Wall*E received six Oscar nominations, for Best Animated Feature Film, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Score, and Original Song. That tied it for most awards for 2008, the other being Millionaire. The other two nominees for Best Animated Feature Film were Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda and Disney’s Bolt. Still, as any pro in the industry will tell you, there are light years of difference between winning Best Picture, period, than any film subcategory.

Actually, some of the roadblocks are the rules set up against the animation industry. According to Oscar rules, there must be at least seven films released in a given year to qualify for a specific Academy subcategory. If that number is met, three films will make the list. If the number of films exceed 15, the list is increased to five.

At the same time, there appears to be a strong bias inside Hollywood against animated features being considered “real” movies. The record books show that only one such film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, ever received an Oscar. But even then, it was a special award given in 1938 to Disney by then child superstar Shirley Temple. From that period on, only one feature film, 1991’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, ever received a nomination.

The Best Animated Feature Film category was only actually created in 2001, with Dreamworks’ Shrek being the first recipient. There was only one year where the list of nominees, 2002, went up to five, with Miyazaki’s Spirited Away receiving the award.

What’s interesting is if you ask the bulk of the critical community, Wall*E should have been in consideration. At RottenTomatoes.com, it scored a remarkable 96% positive rating, higher than any of the five nominees. The only film to actually score a higher rating, at 98%, was The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. As one can now see, that film also wasn’t nominated.

As Matthew Bandyk of US News wrote, “Even though the technology has progressed so much in the last few years, animated films just can't get real respect. That's the reaction that movie geeks across the globe are having to the list of nominees for the 81st Academy Awards… A bunch of the commenters (sic) at movie news site Ain't It Cool are mad. Here's one example:’WALL-E was amazing and it would have been nice to see it recognized, but now that they have the Animated category you will likely never see an animated feature make it for BP.’”

After all, in an interesting twist, Ali Folman’s fully animated feature film Waltz With Bashir also received a nomination, for the Best Foreign Feature subcategory. It makes one wonder what it will take for an animated film to land a nomination for, much less win, Best Picture, period.


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