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Award Season Focus

One Corporation Cannot Own the Animated Feature Oscar

Big Hero 6′s Oscar win, along with the snub of The LEGO Movie, has generated more discussion about the Oscars’ animated feature category than ever before. The discussions happening though are for all the wrong reasons. No one is talking about the films themselves, but rather about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has a tenuous grasp on judging the merits of animated features.

Now would therefore be as good a time as any to point out how overwhelmingly skewed the Academy Awards animated feature category has become in favor of one corporation and why the Academy must address the issue of blind-voting in this category. I explained my position earlier this afternoon in a series of posts on Twitter:

Bottomline: Modifications to the Academy’s voting process for the animated feature category are necessary to break the monopoly on the award.

Award shows routinely revamp their rules to make things more fair. For example, a few years ago ASIFA-Hollywood overhauled the voting process of its Annie Awards after (get ready for irony) Disney threatened to withdraw all of their films from the show because, they claimed, the voting process was skewed.

The Academy needs to recognize that there’s something woefully wrong when one corporation essentially owns one of their categories, and must institute meaningful rule changes to create a fairly judged category.

  • Kirielson

    Agreed 100% I think the most annoying thing is that the Academy won’t recognize this issue, and that is harming their reputation just as bad.

    • Kirielson

      Funny enough, if it was allowed, I have my own mini write up that I would post (don’t want it to count as spam).

  • Hmmm, how long has the Disney-owned ABC aired the Oscars?

    • Mack

      So *that’s* how Saving Mr. Banks got so many nominations!

  • May1979

    Amen! As it stands, the animation feature film category has become a contest of which film can best babysit their kids for 90 minutes. That’s not fair, because I know they would never outsource to their kids their choice for best live action film.

    But I think it could be our fault for not pushing back. So many kids, and quite frankly, many veterans, are obsessed with working for the Big Studios. It’s all well and good for Brad Bird to grip when someone calls animation a genre, but it isn’t as if he is out making a different mix of animated films. No, I haven’t seen him be bold since Iron Giant! Iron Giant. And how long ago was that? 16 yrs ago. Now, the Incredibles was brilliant and unique, but he’s moved on to making live action movies with George Clooney and Tom Cruise. That’s showin em, Brad!

    We should demand from studios the opportunity to make different mix of animated films. Films that tell stories from angles not necessarily sugary or catchy or (gasp!) commercial. Not have it both ways when Corp. Hollywood promises us a lifetime supply of porridge for our artistic birthrights.

    Trust, once you start finding alternatives to those decaying gatekeepers, put out world class art, and make bank–Hollywood will look for you. It worked for hip-hop. Once, it was marginalized, but today it’s a global force. All animation artists need to do is start thinking like underground rap artists. Exploit these new tools and think like artists with an eye for art and business, and with time–with time!! not over night–you’ll see the change you want in the marketplace.

    So, you want the Academy to respect us? Let’s start by respecting ourselves enough not to take Corp. Hollywood’s b.s.

    • ea

      They should just rename “Best Animated Feature” into “Best Family Feature”, because apparently that’s what all theatrical animation is: for kids.

    • HalSolo

      Why shouldn’t Brad Bird make big-budget live action features? He doesn’t owe the animation world squat. He already gave us TV Animation that aspired to incorporate a more cinematic visual language with THE SIMPSONS. He made one of the great last hand drawn features of Hollywood, then moved on to making two of the hands down, best Pixar movies EVER. He has a better understanding of filmmaking regardless of what background he comes from, and MI: GHOST PROTOCOL proved that someone from animation can make better blockbusters with more flair than the live action world can these days. I want Brad Bird to follow his guts, and why shouldn’t he benefit from the biggest budgets imaginable? He’s constantly proven he deserves them (and his imagination expands with the larger budget) unlike certain gatekeepers of Hollywood who get opportunity after opportunity to squander $100 million + on a film.
      Besides, if you don’t think RATATOUILLE is bold filmmaking, I don’t know what is – it’s really the only Pixar movie that doesn’t appeal to children at all.

    • Dusty Ayres

      Expecting Bird or any other creator to be stuck to one medium is like expecting somebody to eat the same meal each and every day.

  • AnimationGuy

    Umm… Dunno about the rest of you, but for me Big Hero 6 does not even *come close* to The Lego Movie.

    • paul

      Oh boo hoo already, haven’t we already established that opinions are subjective? For me personally, Lego movie was dumb and superficial.

  • AmidAmidi

    For the artists who are nominated, it is a genuine honor and one that most of them do not view as cynically as you do. As long as the artists competing for the award feel that it’s an honor, it’s our community’s responsibility to hold the Academy accountable and insist that all the animation nominees get a fair shot.

    You’re correct in that there’s no foolproof voting system that ensures everyone who votes is an expert on animation. However, I believe that anything can be improved when there’s a will, and that the Academy could implement new measures to create a more thoughtful voting process.

    I’ve got my own ideas about what can be done, but I’m not an Academy member and these issues can only be addressed internally. What we, the general public, can do is to identify the problem and create pressure for change.

    • RCooke

      Lego movie aside (it should have at least been nominated this year), the NOMINATING committee (for each branch) tends to take these issues far more seriously than the general Academy membership. But the final nominees are brought forth by the membership of each relevant branch.

      Most of the general membership who vote for the final Oscars are from the Acting Branch, followed by mostly retirees and production and publicity people. Followed by everyone else.

      “The Film community needs to demand Oscar voters actually view the films”

    • Dusty Ayres

      Tim Callaway, AmidAmidi: As I did last year (and just recently), here’s my way of the Academy doing this:

      *All of the people who select the Oscars will be paid employees of the Academy (no professionals, since most of the pros mentioned in the article(s) were/are usually ‘too busy’) who would be the only ones with the power to nominate what films are to be awarded (there would be about 400-500 people employed thus, paid out of a special fund set up by the academy and the major studios, as well as donations)

      *These people would be cineastes who are knowledgeable about all film, and about all genres of film (as opposed to the people mentioned in the article who know nothing about film at all-there would be a rigorous selection process for the job as well)

      *These people’s jobs would be to watch all of the films in a given year in the genre that they’re a specialist in (horror, sci-fi, drama, comedy, romance, war, documentary, action/adventure, animation [including anime], and foreign)

      * As with the first point, what these people decide is final. I know that this sounds drastic, but it might soothe some ruffled feathers.

  • May1979

    By that logic what qualifies anyone who isn’t a director to vote for best director, a nonactor, best actress, or a non-writer best screenplay? There are SAG awards and DGA, and yet we have the Oscars. There’s no reason these voters shouldn’t be held accountable for their indifference.

  • Animator606432

    Yes but generally people view them as the same entity. And really, Disney owns Pixar and they both produce a similar style of animation, so there isn’t a huge difference there.

    • Magenta White

      I thought only John Lasseter was in charge of both companies.

  • Carlos

    It is no surprise since the adding of Best Animated Feature was added when Disney built the monstrosity Kodak Theatre to host the Oscars. Losing that year to Shrek. They’ve made sure to never let that mistake happen again..

    • RCooke

      I don’t think Disney built the Kodak Theater. They may have been consulted, and all the studios may have contributed. But 80% of the cost was covered by Kodak.

      They DO own the block across the street however.

      • Dusty Ayres

        Kodak built the Kodak Theater, since that’s the name on the building. Plain common sense.

        The thing is, although the redo of that part of LA was done by corporations, at least it looks better than it used to (if you ask any of the old-timers in the movie industry with long memories.)

  • Toonio

    So what’s up with the double morals here. You post a Di$ney win and everything is unicorns and candy, good for this.. sweep that.., but now this post?

    Anybody with a high school education knows when you win the game of monopoly. It is the end of the game.

    All those laid off Disney artist working at subpar studios in Vancouver learned it the hard way. Yet nobody speaks because of the proverbial “keep the head down” dogma, powered by the “animation is a cool career” karma.

    (When you stand up for nothing, you will fall for anything)

    I say good for Disney, its’s a despicable company, but they have outlasted and outwitted all their competitors. with a tight grip on its fan’s balls. For that alone they deserve to be on top, deciding who gets to go to mount Olympus and who can’t

  • Anonymous

    Correct me if I’m wrong but if you win an Academy Award you become an instant member of the Academy, right?
    If that’s so Disney and Pixar may have the deck stacked.

    • RCooke

      No. You still have to be sponsored, even if you win an Academy Award. I don’t think even Jeffery Katzenburg is a member of the Academy, although he’s been honored by them.

  • Matt

    I guess it doesn’t hurt that John Lasseter has served on the Academy’s Board of Governors since 2005…

  • Mack

    I think there’d be a stronger case here if the Academy had also showered love upon Disney’s shorts. But aside from Paperman and Feast, that hasn’t been the case. Heck, the Academy flat-out shunned The Blue Umbrella and Lava.

  • As much as it goads me that much better films weren’t nominated, the year’s awards show is demonstrative of how irrelevant the Oscars really are.

    Animation filmmakers should worry about making films so good they can’t be ignored. Animation fans should make sure to tell everyone they know they’ve found a great film.

    • Fried

      But how can I possibly love animation if the general population doesn’t love and respect it as much as I do??

      And by love it I mean just love the things that interest me and bash Disney and Uncle Grandpa when I get the chance.

  • Or better yet, imagine if Disney proposed an awards show to honour the entire industry. Only, they would own the network, the venue, the awards, and their films would do most of the winning.

    The industry would scoff at such a scenario.

  • Wreck-It Ralph was good though

    I think there’s a reason Amid is bringing this up now, rather than in 2010 — the Disney/Pixar wins *since* 2012 are the alarming ones. Brave is probably Pixar’s worst film outside the Cars films, Frozen was a story disaster, Big Hero 6 just not that great… In other words, yeah, those Pixar wins between 2003 and 2010 were well-deserved so the trend was not alarming. But now… three stinkers in a row?

    • Fried

      I don’t know if you can flat out say those films were stinkers as a fact. It’s not as if films like Delgo or Cars 2 got the awards.

      People seem to be using Frozen, Brave, and BH6 as examples of bad films and how could they possssibly have wooooon.

      I don’t think you guys actually know what a real “bad film” is. Just because you don’t like it or think it’s boring =/= it’s bad. Millions of people (Not just kids) loved Brave and BH6. I know many over 20-year olds who adored the hell out of Hiro and Baymax.

      • May1979

        So let me get this straight. You measure the quality of a film on box office totals and how “adorable” the characters are?

        So, Brando won his Oscar in Godfather not because he was the better actor but because he was “adorable” with cotton stuffed in his jowls.

        Who knew?

        Kidding aside, those are not solid indicators of an excellent film in any category. If they were, Michael Bay would be an Oscar champion.

  • Stephen Worth

    About twenty years ago, when I was asked to come up with a set of judging criteria for an animation award show to bring it more in line with the realities of the animation industry, I conceived it as being a way to honor individual artists who normally don’t get recognized. Since I have not been involved any more, they have corrected my error in judgement.

  • Erik

    While I agree that Disney is not “the best”, what exactly are we arguing here? Artistic mediums are incredibly diverse so the idea of best “overall” is pretty straining.

    I think if we’re really getting down to it, we’re still trying to fight the animation ghetto. Animation in the public perception is indeed still dominated by the sense of family entertainment. And I can certainly understand that 50 years ago, innovative animators had to carve their paths under the specter of Disney.

    In any case, I think the argument is framed oddly. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the winners. Would I have preferred others? Of course. The underlying issue, though is still trying to break the perception of the Academy and the general public.

  • Jay

    Disney threatened to pull out of ASIFA because DreamWorks not only actively signed-up all their employees for ASIFA by default, but also had an in-house voting campaign that actively pressured its employees to vote on their own films. I know because I used to work for them. I kinda miss getting the screeners.

  • Erik

    Indeed, if we’re trying to showcase diversity, having our only our “best” animated films being judged is already pretty flawed

  • ea

    It’s been happening since day one. During the 1930s Disney won every single year Best Animated Short. MGM’s The Milky Way broke the pattern, yet Disney still won a few more times after that.

  • Taco

    Mark, I’ve posted these before and at some point I’ll probably post them
    again. The fantastic Richard Feynman on the Subject of Honours &
    Awards. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dkv0KCR3Yiw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f61KMw5zVhg

    • Willona DuBois

      Saying awards mean nothing when you’ve won a major award is like a rich executive saying titles mean nothing and soldiers saying rank means nothing and Wal-Mart managers saying every employee will be treated as if they were at their level and so on. It’s the opposite of sour grapes.

      • Taco

        That’s actually not what Feynman is saying at all. He is saying that the work itself is more important than any superficial award, title, status or club. Maybe you should listen…

  • Reu Att

    The best solution is we all band together and boycott the Oscars..

  • Steven Bowser

    I think my demands are very simple. All judges should be required to watch the films that they are judging. That is all. At LEAST do that, and then I would feel more at peace with it all.

  • Who at all cares about the oscars, ESPECIALLY the Best animated feature category? The only one semi relevant is the shorts, but even that is questionable…

  • Curtis

    The awards are a big distraction from the art itself. Judging and rating films is useless, absurd and misses the point of film completely. So who cares about the oscars, they’re a nonentity for anyone who really love the art of film.

  • HalSolo

    The question is, what difference does it make, and why would the Academy change anything? It’s not as if Miyazaki winning for SPIRITED AWAY really ushered in a substantially larger audience for international animated features. At least the shorts category seems like it can help artists get some exposure and opportunities. Had, say, FANTASTIC MR. FOX won or PERSEPOLIS, most people would NOT have rushed out to see it any more than they did – it would still be “that odd little weird puppet movie” and “the animated movie about some Iranian girl.” Hell, this isn’t even restricted to the Animated Feature – how many people have seen/sought out MR. TURNER even with its Oscar nominations?

    Every year GKids puts out great animated features but doesn’t have the marketing push to be as “in your face” as Disney/Dreamworks/WB/Pixar/Paramount/Fox (or even the Weinstein Company with PADDINGTON). But the success of PADDINGTON proves to some degree it just comes to solid marketing of these quality features to create interest and make money (that and a feasible production budget) – I’d say this marketing push is essential even for Oscar wins as well. These corporations have the leg up in every respect through the old Citizen Kane approach of “…I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars *next* year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in… 60 years.”

  • Tyler Grant Jacobs

    Working in children’s television, this is all too familiar when it comes to The Emmys…

  • Fried

    Sorry you were unable to see that my sarcastic post was a comment on how even the people here, supporters of animation, are selective of what they support and don’t actually care about the medium as a whole and only care about what they like, which is typically what they think is “mature” because they are so against the animation ghetto, they are willing to put down shows and films that do not deserve it just for the sake of being against it.

    And in that regard, my sarcastic post actually aided more to the discussion than you complaining about sarcasm. So there you go.

    • I have a feeling we’re on the same side here but your comment was aimed directly at me instead of the greater community. If that wasn’t your intention, then so be it. No harm done.

      Saying I’m selective in what I like or support is kinda ridiculous because you don’t know what I watch. If you did a moment’s research you’d know how I feel about animation in general.

      That being said, if you could be a little more specific in your generalizations it would go a long way in reducing hostile responses. FWIW, sarcasm rarely aides in the discussion.

      Could you define the ‘animation ghetto’ for me? Honestly, I don’t know what you mean by that.

  • This entire comments thread is a train wreck. The reason why the Oscars are such a big problem for animation are because the judges refuse to take any of the films seriously but instead judge, as it was before so aptly put, by “how the judge’s kids liked” the nominees. Let’s turn the page back to last year’s Oscars. Frozen won only by technicality: only 2 out of the 7 judges bid a vote on Frozen, the 3rd judge just voted because “the other two voted for it,” and the other 4 withheld their votes, mostly because they didn’t sit down and watch the nominees. Frozen didn’t even have the majority vote, but it was the only Best Animated Feature picked by the minority of the judges. Mr. Hublot, the winner of the Best Animated Short, won by an astounding zero votes. Let me break that down if you didn’t catch it: NONE of the judges vote for Mr. Hublot. Not. One. 6 of the judges didn’t even vote! Do you know which Short nominee got the only vote cast? It wasn’t Mr. Hublot. It was Get A Horse!. Yeah. And they buried that vote. The other judges who chose not to vote followed the example of the judge that didn’t watch the nominees because, and I quote, “Life’s too short” to consider the nominees for the Oscar. So I guess Mr. Hublot was just the film they drew straws for the night of the ceremony, because by god that’s the film that got the win. There is a fundamental problem within the judging panel of the Academy that has nothing solely to do with Disney/Pixar, or which films received what nominations.

    As a collective animation community, we need to stand up and say “No More Bulls–t” and demand that the Academy either revises their judging criteria or bring in judges with experience in objectively judging animation as an art form.

    Either that, or we as a community need to boycott the Academy Awards forthright, and every year to come until change is brought. And don’t even stop there… we need to spread the message to SFX people, live action film buffs, and everybody who might have considered the Academy an authoritative name in the film industry: either the madness stops, or one day, the Academy Awards ceremony will proceed to an empty house with no viewers. So much for that Lady Gaga Sound of Music solo.

    I want to know how serious the animation community is in taking real action, rather than complaining about the problem than gluing your faces to the boob tube next time the Oscars come on.

    • Magenta White

      There’s about 6000 members of the Academy. I’m sure Frozen and Mr. Hublot received more votes than that.

  • Andy Pozzoni

    Absolutely agree. I have 2 kids, aged 7 and 11, and we are big movie watchers. I have been thinking this about the Academy for some time. I also think the ratings at IMDB are skewed or even rigged. BH6 is a good film but the story is patchy, predictable and not very original. The writing is also lacking and stilted. A good film? Yeah. But not the best animated film out there.

  • Kurt

    Unfortunately, many people who haven’t seen a film yet, judge it by it’s awards

  • Kurt

    Paranorman was good (I like that clay model animation style), but Wreck it Ralph for 2012?!

  • Kurt

    Love doesn’t mean good!

  • Magenta White

    I don’t think its “children” so much as “young people” particularly teenagers. Most Disney films have late teenagers (i.e. The Disney Princesses are all teenagers, except Elsa) or young adult characters as protagonists (the closest to “child” I can think of is Alice from Alice in Wonderland) and I think the first “child” protagonist from Pixar will be in Inside Out. Though I agree that even with adult like characters, they don’t usually act like their supposed age (sometimes), or are bombarded with the kid-like/animal characters.

  • Polyvios Christoforos

    I agree, Amid, I most certainly agree. Maybe the next studio’s avant garde film would and could get next year’s Oscar over Disney if the House of Mouse and the Academy hopefully haven’t rigged the special event for the contestants.

  • Polyvios Christoforos

    P.S., that film should.

  • Chris

    Big Hero 6 was created by artists who happened to be payed by a corporation. Do not take away from their accomplishment or the artistic merit or what they created.

  • megadrivesonic

    Am I the only one bothered that Book of Life was never mentioned once? Why did people like Big hero 6 so much when its literally how to train your dragon with robots?

  • Cathy

    I worry more about the short animation category than the feature length. Corporations & large companies who see the short category as more publicity for their company have made it a David vs. Goliath task for independent animators who don’t have anywhere near the budget, teams, time, equipment, resources…

    I say keep big companies OUT of the animated short category!

  • Henrique

    Who needs oscars? There are lots of awards that do a much better job… even with live action film. For animation you could try Annecy for example.

  • Sim x

    This moanful echo throughout the animation community is beyond tiring. Many complain that animation isn’t being treated fairly; that it should be respected as a unique and ripened art form. Yet Amid, this rallying only encourages the strength of an industry and not that of an individuals art.

    An honest artist who may extend out from the self-crippled state of a medium as such, would never be that honest artist if they felt the need to measure their strides by the means of justly, parental praise.

    If you wish animation to be treated with artistic respect, stop demanding this from inept academics who don’t have a clue as to what makes something truly artistic.

  • Magenta White

    I didn’t even know that was from TIME Magazine (I hardly read it). But my point was that there were at least more voters than the ones presented.