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Feature FilmStop Motion

Charlie Kaufman Is Surprised That Animation Gets No Respect

It’s hardly a secret that animation gets little respect from the rest of Hollywood, but the sheer amount of disregard for the art form within the broader film community isn’t immediately evident to outsiders.

Charlie Kaufman discovered the chasm between how live-action and animation is treated with Anomalisa, his animation screenwriting and directorial debut. During a panel discussion last month at Sundance, he expressed bewilderment that the Oscars, the film industry’s most outward annual display of disregard for animation, had lumped in Anomalisa with other animated films, rather than considering the film alongside the rest of Hollywood’s output:

“It doesn’t seem like it’s taken seriously as a form. I mean, it’s weird to us that that’s the thing that it’s identified as: animation. Not that we made a movie, and it happens to be animated, because it’s a movie. It doesn’t have anything in common with the other movies in the animation category [of the Academy Awards]. I mean, it certainly has less in common with those movies than it does with live-action movies. It’s a weird prejudice, I think.”

Kaufman’s point can be interpreted in a few ways, but I believe he’s voicing an unspoken truth: the Academy Awards animation category isn’t really intended to honor animation in all its many forms, so much as it’s intended to honor a specific type of animation: Hollywood-style family entertainment. In the 14-year-history of the category, every winner in the category has been a G- or PG-rated movie. Prior to the R-rated Anomalisa, the four PG-13 nominees (Persepolis, The Illusionist, The Triplets of Belleville, The Wind Rises) have all lost to Pixar or Disney films.

The one-hour Anomalisa panel at which Kaufman made his comments can be viewed below in its entirety. If you’ve seen the film, it’s worth a watch, and offers some good insights into the film’s themes and symbolism, while also highlighting the sheer amount of labor that went into its making. The other speakers on the panel are co-director Duke Johnson, director of photography Joe Passarelli, and producer Rosa Tran:

  • Comedy don’t get much respect either. This is a problem that unfortunately will take time and perseverance to overcome. As long as there are more animated films being produced for an adult audience, there will be more opportunity to help open the eyes to those who still just see it as a kid thing.

  • Doconnor

    If it wasn’t animated I suspect Anomalisa wouldn’t have gotten any Oscar nominations and probably only a fraction of the attention it is getting now. It would just be another low budget independent feature.

    “the Academy Awards animation category isn’t really intended to honor
    animation in all its many forms, so much as it’s intended to honor a
    specific type of animation: Hollywood-style family entertainment.”

    This year only one big-budget Hollywood-style family movie was nominated and the other nominations do take many forms. The Hollywood-style family movie may win, but I dare say it worthy despite being a big-budget Hollywood-style family movie.

    • ea

      Yes. As much as we bash the Oscars around here, we have to hand it to the Academy for recognizing such diverse animated works. How many other award ceremonies even paid attention to Boy and the World? How many would’ve heard of Song of the Sea or Triplets of Belleville if not for their noms? Plus, we finally have an adult animated film in that category, so the medium is no longer officially family-fare in their eyes.

  • Owley

    The Wind Rises didn’t lose to Pixar.

    • AmidAmidi

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • Patrice Jean-Baptiste

    Because Animation is treated as a family comedy type thing, well here in the US. If there’s an animated movie that comes out here, it’s likely a comedy of some sort or another (all of them 3D CGI btw but semantics) or they have be marketed like that first. And I’m not saying that’s bad, I like alot of them, but I personally don’t think animation itself should be tied to just one specific genre.

    • Barrett

      I’m glad that someone else is trying to use animation to tell adult stories here in the states, and I plan to buy a ticket to see Anomalisa rather than wait for DVD. I try to support unconventional animation whenever I can, and it’s a shame that even in 2016 so many Americans still view “animated” as synonymous with “for kids.” It seems like films like this and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” are rare, once-in-a-decade type things. Maybe if more of them aimed for widespread adult audiences rather than arthouse ones (many of whom are already inclined to treat animation as an art form/technique rather than a genre) we could see a breakthrough. Pixar is probably the closest thing in the past 20 years to a studio that makes animated films that adults with no kids are excited to see, but it feels like most of their films have gone in a more kid-friendly direction recently.

      • Patrice Jean-Baptiste

        imo Pixar Filims have always been that way honestly, the kid-friendly direction.

      • ea

        I wish DC released their animated films theatrically. Seeing The Killing Joke on the big screen would be amazing.

  • Lucky Jim

    If it’s any consolation to Charlie, “Anomalisa” didn’t get much respect in the animation community either.

    • Patrice Jean-Baptiste

      Wait it doesn’t? Is it because it’s Stop-motion or what?

      • Lucky Jim

        Cartoon Brew and Animation Scoop are the only two animation sites where I’ve seen any discussion at all of Anomalisa.

        I’m not sure why there’s so little talk about it. I’m guessing it’s because Kaufman comes from live-action filmmaking. The animation community in general seems highly suspicious of anybody with a non-animation background playing in our corner of the sandbox.

        Sad really, outsiders can help the medium grow and mature.

      • ea

        Probably because they didn’t see the point of it being animated instead of live-action. I guess animation is only for princesses and talking animals/objects.

        • Doconnor

          The same could probably said about When Marnie Was There.

        • Fried

          “I guess animation is only for princesses and talking animals/objects.”

          No, anything can be animation, but if you don’t utilize animation to it’s potential, even with a small highly visual stimulating scene, to justify it being animated, then it’s just boring animation.

          Nobody talks about Anomalisa because it might as well have been live-action, so there’s no real “animation aspect” to talk about. It’s the same reason why we aren’t talking about The Revenant, despite that being a good movie as well.

          It would be like hanging a photo in a gallery of oil paintings and wondering why are the aspiring painters not bothering to gather around and talk about it.

          • Lucky Jim

            Anybody who says Anomalisa doesn’t take advantage of being animated obviously hasn’t seen the movie. Once you’ve seen Anomalisa, its intentions regarding the medium become abundantly clear.

      • I wouldn’t say it’s because the medium used was stop-motion, as Laika, Aardman, and Tim Burton champion stop motion and they get attention/respect.

        ea is going in the right direction where the film could’ve been a live-action instead of animation altogether, as a reason why it feels less respected or talked about.

  • David

    Well, a better question is why is a lot of the animation made today mostly family-friendly cartoons and whenever there is an adult animated film it’s a raunchy comedy cartoon. Waltz With Bashir was somewhat of a game changer since it was not only a dead serious non-cartoon drama that also blured genres but it was nominated for Best Foreign Film, not Best Animated Film.

  • Impheatus

    I haven’t seen Anomalisa, but I think Mr. Kaufman may be overrating his film.
    When animated movies have been truly outstanding, they have been nominated in the Best Movie category (Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3). True, there have been only three in the whole history of the Academy Awards, and I do think that many animated movies should be nominated in many more categories; but let’s not exaggerate this.
    As much as we “love” the Academy Awards and wish it was truly a diversity-rich awards show, it really is just a show that recognizes, mostly, Hollywood-style movies.

  • KW

    Honestly why does anyone need the Academy for validation? The Oscars are nothing but a giant circle jerk involving people with egos too big for their own good, and its all behind the scenes politics. Why do you need a trophy for your efforts, is the only reason anyone makes an animated feature is to try and get an Oscar? I sure hope not.

    While I agree the Oscars and Hollywood in general dont take animation seriously and only see it as family friendly comedic entertainment, why does it matter what the Academy thinks? I dont think a “serious” animated film winning an Oscar is going to be the start of some new wave of animation where everythings rated R and taken seriously. That will happen when someone makes an R rated animated movie that makes money or at least get enough main stream attention.
    I think its better to impress your peers (in this case people that understand and care about animation) than to impress a bunch of disconnected wealthy old people. The Oscars and their meaning aren’t as important as everyone lets them self believe they are

    • Alyosha

      KW, I agree with you, and I’m confident that the makers of independent animated features today aren’t naive in making the animation Oscar their only aim or even a real motivation for their efforts. But, why this is an important issue to me as an animation artist is that the Oscars (as much as they’ve fallen short of their former peak viewerships) command a certain respect in the mind of a large pool of movie consumers.

      Interest in a film noticeably increases when it’s been nominated for an Oscar, and winning one is a great way to advertise the legitimized “goodness” of a film to consumers unsure of whether or not to buy or watch a given movie. Essentially, independent animated features or even foreign animated films need all the help they can get in the US market. Disney/Pixar films rarely suffer from a lack of adequate advertising funding and thus will almost always perform at least at reasonable levels if not incredibly high levels (i.e. Frozen) in the US market. I think conflict lies in that the animation Oscars are almost a double snub in: one, segmenting “animation” completely from the larger category of filmmaking; and, two, skew toward celebrating commercial successes rather than films of artistic and filmic excellence.

      No one needs the validation, but it would go a long way in helping boost non-Hollywood animated features in American culture.

      • Barrett

        I think the boost of “Oscar winner” is declining, and that’s a good thing. Streaming video and the rise of more and more home video viewing in general has made the whole box office/Oscar pissing contest less and less a factor in what films people at home choose to see. It will always matter to Hollywood insiders and the money people, and still has an effect on what gets approved for production in the future by always risk-averse studio heads, but indie films and niche/cult things are able to spread much more today than ever before. Remember when we used to trade tapes with one another, or go to out-of-the-way independent video stores, hoping the one copy of some obscure overlooked gem was in stock when we arrived? That crap is OVER now, and that’s a good thing for filmmakers.

        F the Oscars, if you make what is meaningful to you or your team and apply honed skills of writing, filmmaking and (in the case of animation) artistic ability to a project, it WILL find an audience if you get it out there and promote it.

  • Go down the list of pictures, actors and directors who have been nominated for the last 10 years and you’ll find comedies are sorely unrepresented.

    • Strong Enough

      i dont need too. Birdman won best picture AND best director last year. lol. if its a great comedy (which is surely lacking these days) it will get nominated. The academy doesn’t hate comedy. only when its done poorly which is plenty these days. Dramedy is a sure fire way to get an oscar nomination

      • Fried

        You saying “The Oscars respect comedy, see, here’s Birdman for proof” is the equivalent of me saying “The Oscars respect animation, see, they’ve nominated foreign films! That’s a sign they respect them enough if they bother to list them. Everything is fine guys!”

        Just because there are “exceptions” doesn’t mean the Oscars doesn’t shun comedy films away unless it’s already done by a reputable director with an arthouse background.

        • Strong Enough

          the oscars don’t shun comedy films and I gave you plenty of examples. Your whole comparison doesn’t even make much sense. Silver linngins playbook wasn’t done by an art house director yet got tons of nominations. I can go on with other films. If it’s done right then it will get recognition. The problem is that there aren’t that many good comedies out. That’s the problem.

      • Barrett

        I think there is a bit of a gap between what different people hear mean when they say “comedy films.” The movies like “Birdman” or the work of David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, Flirting With Disaster, I Heart Huckabees) may be comedic in a certain sense, but they are not what your average person on the street considers a “comedy.” I’d say they are more like “dramedies” or maybe “dark comedies.”

        OP is most likely referring to films like the following:

        -The 40 Year Old Virgin
        -Tropic Thunder
        -Wedding Crashers
        -The Hangover
        -Step Brothers
        -21 Jump Street
        -Shaun of the Dead

        You get the idea…… Films like those (which even among themselves vary widely in tone, writing, acting) are almost never considered for Academy awards. They might get some Golden Globes, or sweep the MTV Movie Awards or some other more pop culture-centric show. Not all of them are just popcorn crap, many are truly excellent films that make you laugh and make you think……. (glaven!)

        The last out-and-out comedy I can recall getting any critical consideration was Borat, and a lot of that had to do with the unusual structure of the film (documentary-meets-mocumentary, but only the film crew knows it’s fake) and the topics that Borat touched on at the time (Bush’s “War of Terror”, anti-Semitism, general American discomfort with “foreigners.”) I would love to see truly excellent comedy films get more Oscar and other award consideration, but it seems like they are doomed to stay down in the gutter with animation.

        • Strong Enough

          Yeah I can understand those types of movies. But all of those aren’t really that good anyway. Not enough to warrant a nomination. Maybe in the acting category but that’s about it

          • Dark comedies, especially Woody Allen films are the exception to the general principle of not nominating comedy films – John Hughes got no nominations. And those token few that get a nod are still a fraction of non comedies that do. It’s one of the reasons Golden Globes has a Comedy category.

          • Strong Enough

            i still hold on to the fact that not a lot of great comedies get made. on the acting side yes but best picture wise, no way. you have your birdman’s and annie hall’s but the rest …ehhh

          • We’ll have to agree to disagree. Movies such as, Groundhog Day, Big Lebowski, Rushmore and many more just don’t get the love.

          • Strong Enough

            Blah to all those movies lol.

  • honbadger

    In the words of my late teacher John Culhane, the animated film category is just a way of segregating animated films, the same way the Oscars segregate foreign films.

  • It’s not just Hollywood that gives animation the lack of respect. Try living with people who are your family that don’t give you much respect for animation as if they would for a live action film. That’s even worse! They don’t attempt to relate or try to fully understand, they just accept it as a ‘children’s’ medium, or something that only ‘weird’ people get into.

    As for the animation community to not talk about it, I do find it quite odd. Even I heard a little bit of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (great film btw), though it was not rated higher than PG. With that said, this animation community will have to get use to more live action directors AND actors coming into the animation industry, making it more competitive for animators and voice actors to do the jobs the live action people are now doing.

  • JodyMorgan

    It’s not that they direct themselves, it’s that Disney directs them from his cryogenic suspension chamber, and it’d be awkward to invite him.

  • Mister Twister

    An important thing to remember is that no one should force anyone to like animation.

    • jjstarA113

      True, no one should be forced to like all animation – or force to like anything for that matter – but when both Inside Out and Anomalisa, two of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2015, are snubbed from the Best Picture Oscars, I believe it’s fair to say that something is up.