There is a lot of talk that goes around the Oscars about how it is all political, how the best piece never wins, ect. In the major awards though sometimes there are still surprising upsets or the true deserving movie/actor getting what they are due. However, even these glimpses of hope are absent from the Animated Feature category where there is no place this cynical outlook is more true. This award runs off simple box office profits and favoritism. In no other category have so many truly phenomenal works of art been passed over in favor of corporate products.
There is no use beating around the bush here, the problem, at least in terms of who the award is given to, is Disney. In the sixteen years the award for best Animated Feature has existed, the mouse has taken home the trophy an astounding twelve times either through their own animation studio or through Pixar. Not only that but one of the four pieces produced outside of Disney, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, was distributed by Disney. The last time a non-Disney produce won, Rango in 2011, there were no Disney products competing against it. It isn’t even that Disney pays everyone off, but that they are the largest media company in the world. Their publicity is done for them and their films are almost invariably the ones with the highest box office receipt.
In many of these cases the winning Disney show in are not even half as good as their competitors. Most of the recent Disney winners, with the exceptions being Coco and Inside out, have been markedly childish and even somewhat immature. Frozen is probably the biggest offender in this regard as it can’t even deliver its “you can have other types of love besides romantic love” without muddling it incredibly. Zootopia at least tried, but it pulled too many punches and focused too much on entertainment and keeping children happy to adequate be addressing race relations in America. Meanwhile other works that were nominated present complex plots and themes that, even if not portrayed in the most realistic setting, are not watered down. The Wind Rises has it’s protagonist struggling with his wife dying of tuberculosis and the plane he spent years designing being used for war and destruction. Anomalisa deals head on with depression and the difficulties of human connection. My Life as a Zucchini addresses the emotional trauma an orphan faces. And while Coco is one of the exceptions, it did win over The Breadwinner which is the story of the struggles of a young girl growing up in Taliban controlled Afghanistan
Animation is one of the truest forms of expression as just about anything can be conveyed, the limits on reality are loosed and the characters within the story can look however one chooses. The options are limitless. But here again, the animated feature Oscar awards only the exact same type of animation again and again.
These are the winners from the past six years. Giant eyes, colorful irises, and smooth pleasing features animated in CGI. They could almost be from the same movie.
Meanwhile, these are some of the more stand out ‘also competed’ movies. The spread of styles here is vastly improved. Not only that but the techniques used to animate are myriad, not just CGI, but hand-drawn animation, stop motion, even claymation. This offering gets closer to exemplifying the true potential and creative potential that animation offers.
But, quite frankly, the academy just doesn’t care. And they don’t hide it either. Quotes abound about academy members picking what their kids liked best or not bothering to watch all the nominations. The absolute worst is one voter referring, in rather a vulgar language, to 2014’s Song of the Sea (Irish) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Japanese) together as “Chinese f*ckin’ things.”