A Case for Eliminating the Best Animated Feature Oscar

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Animated Feature category in the Oscars, but I play along because that’s what all the cool kids do. This piece by Mark Harris on Grantland is a compelling argument though for why the animated feature category is, statistically speaking, silly and unnecessary. It’s such a thoughtful piece that I’m even willing to overlook Harris’s identification of animation as a genre, which we all know is incorrect..

At the very least, the Academy should consider Harris’s suggestion to cap the number of animated feature nominees at three. To date, there has not been a single year where more than three films have been worthy of the award. And it makes little sense to select five nominees out of a field of eighteen, when the Foreign Language category selects five from over sixty films. And those 60 films are already whittled down from a long list of contenders in each country. The dozen-and-a-half contenders in the feature animation category aren’t even preselected from a larger pool; films that nobody would ever think of rewarding like Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil are what make the category possible. Are animated films really that much better than live-action that every third film made is Oscar-worthy? As much as I like animation, even I’m not that deluded.

(Thanks, Chris)


  • http://omarsanimation.com Omar

    But sadly it’s needed. I can’t ever imagine the Academy picking an animated film as best feature. And then that leaves animated films forever oscarless :(

    • http://www.bencanfield.com Ben

      So?

  • Emily

    2010. 2010 there were enough good ones that everyone was calling for five nominees instead of three. When there are only three, it’s always the obvious big studio films. Five gives films like Chico and Rita and Cat in Paris some exposure.
    I also think it’s unreasonable to compare it to the number of films coming in from other categories. If they did it proportionally to how many films vs nominees there are in other categories, they would nominate maybe one film a year and it would automatically win.
    It’s a time intensive medium that is popular but rarely gets recognition compared to live action films. I’m not saying that the current system is the best, but it’s better than letting animation disappear from major awards shows.

  • ajnrules

    I confess that I’ll always have a soft spot for this category because it helped my favorite director and film (Hayao Miyazai/Spirited Away) gain the title of “Oscar winner”. That said, I am concerned that in the past few years it’s become somewhat of a “Pixar Award.” Not that I have a problem with Pixar winning all the time, but it seems to highlight the unfortunate fact that nobody outside of Pixar seems to be attempting any originality with feature film in the animation medium. Everybody is trying to woo audiences with high SFX/low story features, so when Pixar finally makes a dud there’s no other films to make this category worthwhile. While it’s premature to call for the abolition of this category, I think articles like these should serve as a wake-up call for animation studios to start stepping it up. Which I think they’re doing. I don’t understand the vitriol directed toward Rango or Kung Fu Panda 2. We’re already seven years out from when the Academy had to nominate A Shark’s Tale just to get to three nominees.

    And I disagree with the sentiment that there hasn’t been a year where more than three animated films were Oscar-worthy. I’d say all of the nominees in 2009 (Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells) and several of the films not nominated (Ponyo, Mary and Max, A Town Called Panic) would have been worthy winners. But I do agree that they should set a cap at three, no matter how many films are eligible. This “three or five” thing every year is ridiculous, and it adds an extra level of intrigue for years like 2009 when there are more than three great films

    • http://www.thepra.com.au Eddie

      Totally agree. 2009 was one of those years where all films were totally worthy of a nomination. There must always be a category for animation, not because it is a ‘genre’ but because otherwise it will be simply overlooked by live action voters who don’t take it as seriously as live action. Persepolis, The Triplets of Belville and others would have not even come close to scoring a ‘Best Film’ nomination (because of this attitude and sheer ammount of live action films eligible per year) yet thoroughly deserved of a Best Animated Feature nom. This category must stay or animation will be taken even less seriously.

  • http://robertkohr.com Rob K.

    I always looked at it as Animation Affirmative action. If we didn’t have an animation category animated films would get overlooked by the ‘film’ industry. You only have to look at James Lipton’s opinion of animation to understand that the live action ‘genre’ (:P) don’t regard animation all that highly.

    However I feel the awards should be overhauled. First get rid of Actor and Actress, it should just be one best, or at least a best on top of the male/female award. I also feel that the awards should be broken up by genre, maybe go further than the Golden Globes and do Drama, Comedy, Fantasy, Scifi, Romance and Action. Then have a best actor and supporting actor for each. Get rid of foreign film as well. All the short stuff can stay as it is.

    • Wilma

      What opinion of James Lipton? I’ve never noticed him snubbing animation. He seems to concider the Simpsons the greatest thing ever and even questioned John Cusack about that Igor movie when he was on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

    • http://www.thepra.com.au Eddie

      Get rid of foreign films? What? So only films made in or noticed by Hollywood have any chance? Seriously, foreign films are usually better and have infinitely more integrity and soul than the trite, over the top selection from Hollywood in most years. Or do you mean get rid of the idea of a ‘foreign’ film category? so that all films are in the same basket?

      • Bud

        The Academy has had ongoing discussions about revamping the entire Oscar show over the last few years. Since the Academy Awards brings in 80% of the Academy’s yearly budget, they’d like to change the show to focus on the very top awards only. They’ve discussed moving Best Screenplay[s], Best Foreign Film, Best VFX, Best Costume, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Short Film[s] to another show entirely-much like the technical awards are. So far, I’ve not heard of them discussing moving Best Animated Feature to that venue, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

        If they did this, there would be QUITE an uproar. It’s supposed to be a celebration of the art and craft of FILM MAKING. Maybe if they got rid of all the lame hosts/bits they’d have more time to do so.

  • http://www.davidessman.com david essman

    What about the idea of creating a best picture comedy category (but not comedy/musical category like the Golden Globes)

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    I agree that there needs to be higher standards for what constitutes a nominee for the animated films category. Plus, what constitutes an animated feature is very grey. But, I think it’s a worthy category to have and give recognition to the creators of some of the best films made which otherwise wouldn’t be recognized at the Oscars. I think there needs to be reform in the vetting and voting of these award shows though. In the past Dreamworks especially has really pushed hard to get their films seen and nominated for awards. Nobody wants to turn away free movies, and I think those kinds of campaigns do yield skewed results. The whole process of voting seems kind of lop-sided to me.

  • http://toonradio.net Robert

    I say we should keep the Animated Feature Oscar, and expand upon it.

    Best Interactive Animation
    Best Animated Musical
    Best Animated Comedy
    Best Animated Drama
    etc

    I could go on, but you get the picture.

    This would double the length of the ceremony as well, giving those live-action people more screen time. :)

  • Roberto

    I agree that it would be a bigger honor for an animated feature to win Best Picture. Period. But I also think this films would be overlooked if it weren’t for that category.

    I also disagree with the examples given in the article. Strongly. Wallace and Gromit: Curse Of The Wererabbitt and Rango are ,to me, as good if not better than Toy Story 3. They deserve Oscar recognition as much as that Pixar movie, or Up. In fact I really loved Up at first watching but I’m finding myself rewatching Rango and WaG more often.

    I agree with the comments that said a Best Comedy/Best Drama distinction like the Golden Globes will be nice. A lot of animated films are closer to comedy rather than drama, and comedy doesn’t usually take the Best Picture award. Maybe if they changed that first animated movies could get a chance.

    I also doubt that the elimination of the category would encourage studios to make better (or more adult) animated films. Money is more important and there is still more audience for family animated films. That’s another handicap too. Family films, even the good ones, very rarely take the Best Picture Award either.

  • Mark Sonntag

    I agree with 3. It means that the selection process would or at least should be a lot more discriminating. I love when films that are a labor of love get recognized and I should make clear that I think a commercially successful movie can be a labor of love, but come on Hoodwinked?

    That said, I like the idea of sub categories, but then I’m still waiting for the western animation industry to open up to being genre specific. Then we’ll see some real variety.

  • Lucious Parker

    The purpose of awards is to encourage some endeavor which conforms to the tastes/worldview of those who judge it. The Oscars are judged by an elite crew of ever more self selecting “artists” and “Oscar type” movies are becoming less and less popular. Check the ratings history of the Oscar telecast if you disagree. I don’t want the limited number of animated films, which for the most part I enjoy, to be reduced by award pandering to the art snob one percent.

  • Dr. Math

    Lets look at the numbers: There were 18 animated features eligible for an Academy Award this year and so 5 films were nominated. That means that every animated movie has a 1 in 3.6 chance of scoring a nomination. To contrast that, there were 265 live action films vying for 9 nominations, meaning the live action movies have a 1 in 29.44 chance of scoring a Best Picture nomination.

    So if you transposed the odds of an animated feature getting nominated over to the live action side, then there would be 74 nominees for Best Picture this year.

    I think it is time the Academy reviewed just how animated movies get their nominations and think about a way of limiting the number of nominees (the way Best Song only had 2 nominees this year) because 5 nominees for such a small amount of qualifying films seems ridiculous.

    There should ALWAYS be an Academy Award for animated feature, it is just that with so many nominees in such a small field, true excellence and originality ends up mixed in with the ordinary.

  • http://michaelaventrella.com Michael Ventrella

    There’s been an animated short category for many many years, but no one has suggested removing that.

    I love having this category, mostly because no matter how good an animated film is, we know it will never win Best Picture.

    Look at the reviews. In the past few years, there have been animated films that received much more acclaim by critics than the live-action winners. Why are they not considered “real” movies by Hollywood? And why are the directors ignored? (After all, an animation director literally has control over every single frame of the film, much moreso than live-action directors.)

    I say we take what we can get.

  • Billy Batz

    Beggars can’t be choosers. Take what you can get.

  • GhaleonQ

    Better idea: make sure to screen the dozens of animated features that would otherwise not be eligible for nomination. Garri Bardin and Mamoru Hosoda’s animated features are 10 times the films Pixar’s are, so make sure that they aren’t limited to festival crowds.

  • Altair

    In my country, animation is seen as a “genre” for very young children. Thus, “The Secret of Kells” and “The Illusionist” were never distributed (and “The Triplets of Belleville” was briefly shown at art circles). You can’t even buy the DVD.

    Sad to say, but hadn’t it been for the Oscars, it’s probable that I would had never seen them.

    So, like it or not, the Oscars give exposure to lesser known animated films. For that, and that alone, I wouldn’t get rid of that category.

  • A Painter

    To date, there has not been a single year where more than three films have been worthy of the award. And it makes little sense to select five nominees out of a field of eighteen,

    ^ I disagree. getting nominated for a Oscar is an amazing feeling am sure. When you go home for family reunion you can tell your cousin who’s a rich doctor that “am a oscar nominated artist who worked on a oscar nominated film” lol. i mean just cause the movie is kinda bad and it still went on to get a nod we can still think about the hard working artists that put hours upon hours of over time into one scene to try to perfect a director’s vision even tho they knew the film would turn out to be crap. Plus the academy can nominate whoever they want. its their show.

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/ michael sporn

    Of the five films nominated this year, four deserve to be there. I’d be pleased if any of those four win.

    Of the seventeen that were eligible for competing there were many clunkers. But that’s also true of the live action categories. Just as Alvin & Chipmunks: Chipwrecked didn’t get nominated for animated feature, The Smurfs didn’t make it as a live action feature.

    As an animator and film maker, I’m glad that smaller films like The Illusionist did have the opportunity to compete for an award; I’m also glad that Miyazaki won one. It also means that Bill Plympton was able to enter the competition. We should be applauding that not grousing about it.

  • Brandon

    Isn’t June Foray part of the reason there’s an Animated Feature Oscar?

  • Bob Harper

    It’s optional for the committee to nominate 5. They could choose to scrap the category altogether or nominate less than the maximum allowed per the rules. Instead of scrapping the category, maybe revamp the nominating committee to appease critics who don’t deem some films to be Oscar worthy.

    There are many good things for having the category, which some have mentioned, including awareness of movies that would’ve never been heard about, boosts in DVD sales to those nominated, a chance to shine a light on a part of the industry that is often looked down upon by live action peers etc.

    The negatives are, it takes up a few extra minutes on the award show, up to 2 more statues have to be made and critics will have something to bitch about.

    All in all does it really bother anybody that the category exists?

  • http://moo-cartoon.blogspot.com MooCartoon

    I like the idea of keeping the nominations for the category smaller, but I think for the medium it’s much, much better to have this category then to not have it at all. Mainly because, in my world, many of these films being nominated for the animated feature Oscar are some of the best films of the year, and while I doubt an animated feature will win best picture anytime soon, it’s good to have these amazing pieces of work acknowledges by the Oscars at least in some way.

  • John

    Personally for me, none of the films this year are deserving of the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

    • Tony

      Have you even seen all of them (And I mean “A cat in Paris” and “Chico&Rita”) to make such a statement?

  • Galen

    I’ve always thought the Animated Feature Oscar was a way to ghettoize animation while seeming to honor it. “Beauty and the Beast” scared them!

  • Old Man Father Time

    Without the Best Animated Feature category, Winnie the Pooh would have NO chance of getting in. At least with a category like this, it had “A” chance!

  • Jorgen Klubien

    It should be like the Golden Globes and the Grammy’s… with different genres! Like; Best Comedy, Best Drama, Best Action, Best Family Picture (this could be an animated film, after all that’s where most fit in these days, although my favorite this year Chico and Rita wouldn’t) and this could be expanded on as we grow as a civilization to include; Best Chick Flick, Best Goth, Best 3D Extravaganza, Best Remake, Best Sequel, etc. etc.

  • Rajesh

    You guys watch the oscars??

  • J.M.

    Is Mr. Harris really suggesting (gulp!) this: http://tinyurl.com/76eg9mz ?!

  • Andrew Farago

    There are lean years here and there in pretty much every category in the Oscars. I don’t think anyone would suggest that we cut the Best Picture nominees down to three the next year we don’t see a lot of all-time great live action films, and it’s premature to talk of nuking this category on the basis of one off-year.

    When the Academy resorts to nominating “Ratatoing,” then we can talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2c1ptxw3uU

  • Sarah J

    I think the Animated Films category should stay, if only for the fact that if the category was removed, animated films probably wouldn’t receive awards in any other categories. They’d be lucky to get NOMINATED. Though I wouldn’t mind making the nomination pool smaller. I really hate it when a crappy movie with NO chance of winning gets nominated just to fill out space.

  • paolo

    Let’s be frank: who cares? I guess that people that like animation really do not care about oscars

  • Klyph

    I think a better solution would be to handle it the way the Academy handles the best Original Song Category. Where Animation voters rank all eligible movies out of 10 and only films that rate 8.25 or higher can be nominated. That way the category won’t have ‘fill in’ movies to get to the required 5 nominations and it would range from 2-5 nominations in the category every year.