COMMENTARY: Animated Feature Oscar is Still A Bad Idea

Idiots and Angels

Earlier this decade, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began handing out Oscars for best animated feature, I viewed it as a misguided decision. Increasingly, over the past eight years, I’ve come to see it not only as misguided, but as downright awful, an idea that is at best backwards and out of touch with contemporary times, and at worst, a reactionary measure designed to protect their live-action base of filmmakers from the threat of an emergent art form. Furthermore, the immature manner in which the Academy presents the animation award during their ceremony is completely at odds with what is actually happening within the art form. If I didn’t know better, I’d think their intentions were to pigeonhole animation into its own specialized niche instead of promoting the art form as a valid equivalent to the live-action process.

The Academy’s animated feature award looks increasingly antiquated as more progressive film awards and festivals begin to recognize animation on its merits as film and not as some weird subset removed from the rest of film art. Yesterday, the 29th edition of Fantasporto, a major film festival in Portugal, awarded its top prize for Best Film and Best Screenplay to Bill Plympton’s feature Idiots and Angels. Plympton beat out of dozens of live-action films for both awards. The screenplay award is notable because Idiots and Angels is dialogue-less and Plympton relied purely on visual storytelling to make his film.

Also, this week at the Fargo Film Festival, Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short I Am So Proud of You won not only Best Animation, but also Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The 22-minute short won the Best Picture award over dozens of live-action features, animated films and documentaries. Festival co-chairman Matt Olien told Fargo’s local paper Inforum that their selection of Hertzfeldt’s film falls in line with animation’s emergence “as a major player in movies” and that he felt WALL-E should have received a best picture nomination at the Oscars.

Animation filmmakers are continuing to push creative boundaries as never before and they are being recognized for their progress throughout the film community. It’s unfortunate that at the exact moment animation began coming into its own and regularly equaling live-action in terms of writing and filmmaking quality, the Academy took action to make it more difficult for animation to compete in its major categories. As animation continues its evolution so should the Academy. It should embrace animation as a film art worthy of its major awards and abolish its separate but equal treatment of animated films.


  • Joel Brinkerhoff

    I totally agree with you. It was a watershed moment when Disneys “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” won the Oscar giving the animated film validation.

  • http://www.mynameispj.com PJ

    I agree 100% Amid

    You alluded to this, but I think the major difference between the Oscars and all of these smaller film festivals is that the smaller festivals are actually concerned with the advancement of film as an art, which is why they’re happy to award and recognize animated movies when they achieve new filmmaking grounds.

    The Oscars, from my point of view, seem to consist mostly of a big group of people who are primarily concerned with patting each other on the back.

  • vzk

    I think there shouldn’t be a separate award for Animated Shorts either. Both live-action and animated short films should compete for the same Oscar.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    Big time kudos to Bill! Idiots and Angels was the best animated film I saw last year. It was not included among the films in consideration for Oscar; either Bill did not submit it or it was not eligible (release date?). It should be eligible this year, at least I hope so.

    Amid, I agree with you, the Animation feature Oscar is something like the Special Olympics. I love that animation gets some attention, but I wish animated features got more consideration for best picture. In other categories they do get some notice, Wall-E was nominated for screenplay among other nominations.

    Of course, the Oscars have their own agenda; the films are generally more entertainment oriented than innovative (of course it’s possible to do both). But that’s why film festivals are a welcome addition.

  • batsinthebelfry

    Not really…the Academy consists of a group of people many of whom do not consider animation a legitimate branch of filmmaking. They are making it harder for animators to join—a well known animator was turned down this year for no other reason than that they did not want more animators in the club.

    It is against the Academy rules to disqualify a film by genre. Any film made in the specific release year is eligible for a Best Picture nomination. Animated films may be nominated for Best Picture, even though there is the new Animated Feature Film category.

  • Steve

    Disney’s “Snow White” Oscar was a one-of-a-kind, special achievement award, with seven little Oscars on a staircase leading up to the big one. Even in 1938 the Academy was setting up animation as a second class filmic citizen. They could hardly ignore Disney’s commercial achievement but weren’t about to hand him a real Academy Award for having made what they considered a very long cartoon. Live action films have always gleaned a certain degree of automatic respect. Just look at “Zombies on Broadway”, a classic by any definition.

  • Fred Sparrman

    There’s some solace that Waltz with Bashir got a Best Foreign Film nomination, which seems to imply it’s at least POSSIBLE for an animation feature to get a Best Picture nomination. But agreed, it’s purely ghettoizing.

  • http://ryuuseipro.deviantart.com John Paul Cassidy

    Most Hollywood stars/filmmakers see animation as a threat to their overinflated egos. Just like Luddites, they’re afraid animation will put them out of business, so they condescend it, but at the same time, ghettoize it out of pity rather than omit it altogether. Same deal with the very idea of superhero movies (like THE DARK KNIGHT) winning the Best Picture Award. Superheroes have also been demonized, let alone high fantasy. (LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING was a much-needed exception to the rule. That was a day long remembered.)

    It’s all about hubris.

  • David Levy

    I couldn’t agree more, Amid. And, as you’ve pointed out on previous posts, this is a two part problem. Problem #1: the separate category for animated features. Problem #2: the self-ghettoizing of animation industry academy members that vote for commercial projects over artistic ones.

  • a reader

    “It should embrace animation as a film art worthy of its major awards and abolish its separate but equal treatment of animated films.” Who says they don’t embrace it?

    For a start: anyone who wins an Oscar is winning a “major award”. Including the categories of Animated films short and long.
    To acknowledge that the Academy does consider animation separate but equal” is to recognize that it really does pay tribute, if not in the way that some of us would see fit. I don’t see how abolishing the category does animated features any favors at all. Shouldn’t the Best Documentary people feel just as insulted and marginalized? The docs are often some of the very best features of the year, far batter than such as “Crash”.

    “The Academy” isn’t an It with one mind, it’s a large membership of actors, producers, costumers, writers, etc etc. It’s made up of branches. There’s an animation branch who approve of new animation members and vote on the submitted films, determining what the final 3 or 5 nominees will be (not all of the animation branch members are feature people, either.). Once they choose the nominees the entire Academy membership votes on the winner-they choose, just as they all do for all the other categories. For the shorts I believe they have to prove they’ve watched the films, as the guy always says in the voiceover at the end of the broadcast.

    If the feature animation category were dropped, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that al the members, the vast majority of whom work in live action, would ever vote for animation in the Best Pictuer category. Have the (independent) Spirit Awards ever given Don Hertzfeldt a nomination for best feature? Maybe the liveaction indie crowd is just as biased as the Academy. Maybe all liveaction film folk are. It wouldn’t be surprising.
    It’s AMPAS’s show, and (sadly imho) it’s a glitzy TV show. It’s important to AMPAS as it pays a lot of bills for them. AMPAS does a lot of other, very worthy stuff, often having to do with animation.

    It’s noble but totally unrealistic to expect that they “should” do this or that. The more often heard complaint is the one I read every year in the media: “why don’t they get rid of those boring awards no one cares about, accepted by nobodies?” -meaning Animation, shorts, and the so-called technical awards-like Art Direction and Cinematography. I wish the awards were presented differently, but that’s hopeless. I am just glad they haven’t banished animation winners to Siberia which is where they’d be if not for the animation categories.

  • Jay Taylor

    Seriously, who cares about the oscars? Just concentrate on making a great film.

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    I too feel that the Animation Feature category was a bad idea. It was the nomination of “Beauty and the Beast” for Best Picture that did it. As you must know, the Academy is overwhelmingly dominated by the Actor’s branch, by the numbers of members. Actors feel threatened by the animated performance, and have been for many years, even though many of them profit handsomely by doing voices. When “Beauty” got so close to Best Picture, it was time to “act”. As “performance” becomes the criteria by which so-called “animation” is judged, the actors will become increasingly wary. Even when cartoons dominated the animation field, the actors resented them, as digital puppeteering pushes closer and closer to authentic simulation of human performance, look for more “ghettoization” to occur.

  • amid

    Jay: The Oscars are the most visible film award in the world. Whether you care about it or not, the Academy should be held accountable for presenting those awards in the fairest and most sensible manner.

    Thanks to everybody for adding to this discussion with insightful comments!

  • messy

    The prejudices of the various branches of the film Academy will NEVER go away, Everyone here forgot that Roger Rabbit and Toy Story I both got special Oscars intended to mare sure they weren’t elligible for the big prize but got the recognition they deserved.

    The current award just codifies that. If you’re going to get all hot and bothered about the “segregation” then let’s get rid of “best actress” and “best supporting actress” awards as well.

  • http://www.tomsito.com Tom Sito

    Nice blog, Amid, but I respectfully disagree. The entire film industry has looked upon animation as the bastard step-child of the business since before we were born. Along with the lessons of squash & stretch we were taught by the Golden Agers, we also inherited this battle for respect for our medium. It is an incremental fight to re-educate perceptions, not an all-or-nothing showdown.

    Everyone can see that the Feature Animation Oscar has gotten the medium a lot of new exposure in the mainstream media, increased the status and influence of organizations like ASIFA, animation folks get screeners, invited to parties and other goodies. You don’t see the documentary filmmakers interviewed on Hollywood Access as much as Andrew Stanton and Marc Osborne were. The Studios don’t do all that out of altruism. They believe in the conventional wisdom that an Oscar generates greater sales and box office. All that increased activity began with the creation of the category. I daresay if Sony did not get that nomination for SURFS’ UP, maybe there would be a FOR LEASE sign on that studio by now. The nom certainly got the attention of the Powers-That-Be over there.

    And I disagree that the Feature Oscar excludes animation people from other categories. This year alone WALL-E got three, for music and original screenplay, as well as animated feature, and WALTZING WITH BASHIR got a best Foreign Film nod.

    I’ve judged Emmys, Annies, Oscars and a host of foreign festivals, and I never yet have seen a perfect system. I too hope someday that an animated film repeats what BEAUTY & THE BEST did in 1991 and gets a Best Picture nod, and I think it will happen. In the mean time consider this category a giant step in the right direction.

  • http://www.blackdotstudios.com Ian Jones-Quartey

    Though I do find the idea of the Animated Feature Oscar to be infantilizing and insulting(The silly montage they did of animated films before presenting the award last month was more than a little embarrassing), I can’t deny that the category has given animated films more exposure overall. I’m against it but I can’t say that it’s implementation has been 100% negative. WALL-E’s inclusion in several other categories was a good sign and hopefully a continuing and expanding trend(Though it really should have been nominated for Best Picture, The Reader wtf).

    Both sides to this debate raise good points, but a few comments on here undercut their arguments by feeling a little too persecuted. I’m speaking from ignorance here but it seems like the “ghettoization” is probably more of a misguided step than it is a malicious one. If anyone can give further info on it being a deliberate strategy to hurt animation I’d like to know more. Then I can join in on the handwringing!

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    At least the Academy got rid of that stupid ‘Best Musical comedy Score/Song’ category, which was basically created to cloister off Alan Menken because he kept winning them for Disney.

    But I’ve been highly dissatisfied with the Best Song winners over the last five years. It’s as if the Academy is making a huge point of making sure the animated films DON’T win this category for fear of Pixar’s composers just taking over.

    I agree that Wall*E should have gone straight to Best Picture. I gather they created the category when the Academy got scared at Beauty and the Beasts’ nomination.
    I think it’s mostly continued ignorance rather than a concerted effort to ghettoise animation. As Ian just said, the animation montage shows that whoever organised this has no clue what constitutes quality animated films warranting mention at the Oscars. Space Chimps, wtf??

  • Oscar Baechler

    I still think it’s a necessary measure, as shown by its alternative; If it had no award, Animation would have NO coverage, and still wouldn’t break in.

    Consider the alternative, the Comedy genre. The Golden Globes have a “Best Comedy” and “Best Drama” category, the Oscars do not. Do you know the last time a comedy won Best Picture? Over 30 years ago, when “Annie Hall” won.

    Now consider the fallout of that: Are intelligent, artistic comedies rarely made because there’s no market for them? Because “Comedy” and “critically worthwhile” are antonyms? Or because they have no forum to debate and display quality when it arises?

    Literally everyone complains about the poor state of animation, then adds addendums like “Well, except for Pixar…and Miyazaki’s stuff…and Triplets of Belleville was awesome.” Imagine if Belleville couldn’t put “Oscar” on its cover. The artistic, high-brow crowd would walk right by it, because there’s no award splattered across its cover. This is a demographic who will kneejerk say “Ugh, Ben Stiller” and ignore it, but will pick up an obscure film like “Waltz with Bashir” because it’s got an Oscar nod.

    Animated films, from Persepolis to WallE, can appeal to this crowd, and claim some semblance of history. Comedy can’t. Imagine if they could…would better, smarter, deeper Comedies start getting made?

  • TStevens

    I think while there are pros and cons to the animated category the major problem still facing animation is that there just aren’t that many films made in a normal year. Further, very few of those films are at the level of garnering an Academy award. It is dis-heartening at best when you look at some of the films that were actually eligible this year and then consider only three were nominated.

    I do not think that the live action community sees animation as a threat. Rather they see it as being a totally different medium. Unfortunately the arguement is that what we do is so different it can’t be compared to live action. You have to remember that animation directors (last I heard) aren’t even allowed into the DGA. Is that because they feel threatened by animation directors, or because animation is percieved as being so completely different (which it is).

    Though the goal is ultimately the same, what a director like Scorcese does on the set, is very different from what Stanton does at the studio.

  • http://www.thexbridge.com Jeff Harris

    Here’s the thing I can’t stand about the Best Animated Picture category.

    There aren’t Best Actor/Actress in an Animated Picture categories either. The fact that voice actors don’t get any recognition for their contributions in animated pictures pretty much voids the need to separate animated films from other films.

    The fact that Mel Blanc has never received an Oscar, even though he was often the sole performer in the Oscar-winning shorts he was a part of, is still shocking to me.

    Animation is still seen as a second-rate art form that should be separate from “greater, more deserving fare.” Of course, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and especially comedic films are discriminated by the academy Oh, and non-kiddy animated films are discriminated as well. Shameful.

  • Bruno

    On the Oscar telecast the year “Beauty and the Beast” was nominated for Best Picture, actress Sally Field was heard to snipe about animation “It’s all computer, anyway!” She has this one body and this one life and loathes animation when it becomes a threat. How actors who in recent years enjoyed pay increases dwarfing what artists will ever make harbor such prejudices remains a mystery. Roseanne Barr had it right when she described Hollywood as high school with money.

  • David Levy

    Hi Tom,

    I don’t doubt you are right that Sony benefitted by an Oscar nom for Surf’s Up, but imagine how all the feature studios would benefit if they chose to recognize diverse content by voting for films like Persepolis or Waltz with Bashir. These films had something to say that went beyond the fart jokes, prat falls, and pop culture references that make up most animated features today. A real pity that voting members of all stripes want to just reinforce the status quo.

    I’m with Ian Jones-Quartey in noting the embarrassment of that animation montage at the Oscars. Imagine subbing at least two of those films represented with Idiots and Angels and Waltz with Bashir.

  • Dave K

    As flawed as it is, I think the Animation category is needed for a greater visibility for animated films. If the category weren’t there, a fraction of the films would even get nominated. The method of making an animated feature is very different than a live-action feature, as far a production process goes, so the two types of films might not be considered on the same footing. I can see how screenplays should be considered equally, and, thankfully, the Academy saw the light on this one.

  • http://trevour.blogspot.com Trevour Meyer

    The Fargo paper is actually called The Forum – “inforum” is just its web address (inforum.com).

  • Corey

    I’m curious as to how Andrew Stanton feels about this topic. Actually, anybody who wins Best Animated Feature, I would like to know where they stand on the issue.

  • John

    Hey, big congrats to Hertzfeldt for pulling off a Best Picture and Best Screenplay win with an Animated Short! Has that ever happened anywhere before?

    Hertzfeldt’s career is almost like a mirror image reverse of this conversation. Here’s an incredibly talented guy who’s never won an Annie or an animation Oscar or got much attention from animation soirees like Annecy at all. It’s like the animation world missed the boat on him years ago and never caught up. Heck, somehow the Annies didn’t even nominate this short.

    Yet he’s regularly out there beating the pants off live action, winning Sundance, touring with his work, selling DVDs, et cetera, and turning into a household name. He’s one of the most prolific and popular animators we have. He hasn’t had the animation awards or industry pats on the back to help him along the way, it seems like he’s found his success as a respected and well-rounded independent filmmaker rather than “only” an animator. (I say “only” in reference to the always negative vibe animators seem to get in Hollywood.) His stuff’s so strong, like many of the best animated features we’re discussing here, they become not great animated films, but simply great films. It doesn’t matter that they’re animated. I’m not sure if that makes sense :) For instance I loved Coraline, not because it was animated but just because it was a great movie!

    I remember David Levy having written a great article about “animation outsiders” like Hertzfeldt, so I went to dig it up. I hope he doesn’t mind I share the link here!

    http://animondays.blogspot.com/2008/11/outsiders.html

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Actors aren’t threatened by the animated performance. The live action to animated movie ratio will always be enormous. There is zero chance of live-acting becoming obsolete or passé.

    And “actors” seem to be getting paid to do voices in animated films anyway. Less work for the same money… I don’t think they are threatened by that possibility.

    Actors are threatened by other actors. That’s their real competition.

  • Ron

    Sheesh… Were documentary film makers this insulted when they got their own catagory?

    I see the theoretical slight here, but isn’t the practical reality that this catagory has been a pretty big win for the animation world?

    Somehow I feel like, given Amid’s clear previous prejudices, he feels like if this happened it would weed Katzenberg out of Oscar night at last.

  • Nick

    I know this may be a bit controversial but maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe we shouldn’t be vying for Hollywood’s acceptance of animation as film. Maybe we should cut away from film and make animation it’s own thing. The whole reason I got into animation was because I believe it is one of the greatest art forms. Every form of art from fine art to acting to music is exhibited in animation.

    I guess what I’m saying is that maybe we should look at it the same way as Alan Moore looks at comics. That neither need nor try to receive validation from Hollywood. Maybe animation isn’t film maybe it’s something completely different. Perhaps trying to make animation compete with live-action film is like trying to make a novel compete with a painting.

    Personally I don’t think that animation needs Hollywood’s blessing. I believe that animation is something that can do more than film or “fine” art can do. I believe that animation should be made to create something completely new. To fuse art, literature, music and acting to become something completely different. I think a lot of new animated films are moving in the right direction I just think we need to stop giving Hollywood so much power. That’s the problem by begging for Hollywood’s acceptance we give THEM the power. I say we need to give them up, dust off our boots and begin a new Renaissance.

  • Cameron

    An interesting point Nick, though I heavily disagree with animation being able to do “more” than fine art or film (would Ingmar Bergman have ever tried to do any of his films with animation? No, you can’t convey his style of acting or even come close).

    I look at live-action and painting the same way I do photography and painting. Both serve similar purposes, and neither is superior to the other, but the process and the ultimate feel is quite different. One can photograph an image while another paints it, and they can both be equally great. Similarly, one can film an actor’s subtlety of expression while another can omit details and exaggerate others to an equal, though unique, extent.

    However, this does not change the fact that photographs and paintings are hung on walls, or that films animated and live-action are projected onto screens, or that some paintings are better than some photographs (and vice-versa). I would not expect animation to compete with live-action in fields of acting or cinematography or even design. However, they can stand toe-to-toe in terms of screenwriting or audio, as well as quality overall.

    I would like a category for “Best Vocal Performance,” even if there weren’t four acting categories like there is for live-action.

  • John

    This awards blog has struck up the same topic, with interesting comments:

    http://www.awardsdaily.com/?p=8036

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    I agree.

    Don’t play their game. Play your game.

  • Andrew

    Ever since the award was created, it was my view that this was for the best for the animation industry, up until this very minute of your post, Amid. It’s comparable to getting your own custom statue made, only to realize you’re being scorned by the rest of the world for going a different direction.

  • Nick

    I’ll admit I got a bit carried away when I said “more” than fine art and film. But don’t you think that comparing two different mediums is limiting to both? Think of it like Watchmen. Watchmen is an incredible graphic novel but the movie failed to compete with it. One of the many reasons being the awkwardness of the cinematography. It made sense in the confines of a graphic novel but when transitioned to film it felt strange.

    Similarly with animation and film. Animation shouldn’t be compared with film and vice-versa because animation has it’s own sensibilities. Just like how you can’t compare a painting with a photograph. Animation and film I don’t believe should go toe-to-toe in anything. I think animation should just be made to be animation. Judged purely as animation, the Academy, in my opinion is limiting us by making us believe these awards have any value. While they are a sign of respect from the entertainment industry who are they to say a form of art is worth respect and who are they that we’d want their respect?

    The vast majority of audiences don’t care. In the end it’s those people who I feel are worth more than a group of aristocratic elitists. Like Alan Moore said once, “We clamor around to listen to the stories of what’s going on with the members of the aristocracy when the people with the real stories are the people in our own neighborhoods.” I think every good writer and artist sees that. Dickens knew it, Degas knew it, Rockwell knew it, Hitchcock knew it, Ingmar Bergman, Brad Bird, etc. People whose work lives on, lives on because it speaks to everyone, not made for some award but made for the human race.

    I believe that the purpose of art is to advance the human race. To help us evolve further, to make us better than what we are now. I believe the pettiness of a star-studded award ceremony only holds us back from advancing. But then again I maybe totally off base.

  • Jay Taylor

    Amid: Why should they be accountable? The academy isn’t God. They’re not some kind of authority.

    I agree with Nick. Animation should do it’s own thing, and everyone should stop worrying about the politics of this commercial disguised as an awards ceremony.

    Why does everyone so desperately crave their respect? Audiences love animation. That’s not good enough?

  • Cameron

    The Oscars are basically a fund raiser for the Academy’s actual purpose: film preservation. This includes animated films.

    The Academy has done volumes for certain aspects of film history, including animation. While animation has been unduly ignored by its members, the establishment itself gives animation all the attention it deserves, including events which pay tribute to people like noted animation composer Normand Roger. Now, that’s pretty dedicated to the art form.

    If you’re going to separate animation, does that mean you would also have to separate stop-motion and cel animation? CGI and cel? Flash? I’ve heard some say anime is in its own category. Things get sticky if you completely separate animation from live-action.

    Quite a few people loved Watchmen, so I don’t know if that’s the best example (I haven’t seen it).

  • http://www.tomsito.com Tom Sito

    To add to the one person who mentioned Sally Field’s comments about BEAUTY & THE BEAST getting the Best Picture. I recall a number of other celebs including Shirley McLaine and Liza Minelli making snide comments like ” Well, I guess that means we all have to be cartoons now!”
    In response Page O’Hara the voice of Belle, took out a large page in the trades to point out that the film employed 90 members of SAG, so it didn’t put any actors out of work. And so it goes.
    After we do finally win a Best Picture Oscar, we can play Peggy Lee singing” Is that all there is..?”

  • http://daryl-rhystaylor.blogspot.com Daryl T

    Well Said.

  • http://karnabal.blogspot.com/ Dennis S.

    I for one am glad that there is a Best Animated Feature Category in the Oscars because it gives Animated Films a lot more exposure than before.

    As an animated filmmaker, I definitely wouldn’t mind if the project I work on would get a nomination or even win the award. It would be amazing icing on the cake.

  • Eric Graf

    ‘I recall a number of other celebs including Shirley McLaine and Liza Minelli making snide comments like ” Well, I guess that means we all have to be cartoons now!”’

    Well at least they both followed through.

  • Nick

    Why do things need to be categorized Cameron? The greatest stories ever told didn’t need the validation of a shallow award ceremony to preserve it. Dickens’ work didn’t need the “preservation” of some Academy to remain preserved in the hearts of billions. Hitchcock never won an Academy Award, I think that alone speaks volumes to the relevance of the Academy Awards.

    As for animation dissecting itself into smaller bits I think now you’re just taking it too literally. I don’t see that as a possible problem. Even if it did occur, maybe it would be for the best as long as people are making good work and progressing the human race I see no reason why not. We don’t need categories, we don’t need validation, and we certainly don’t need Hollywood Aristocracy’s blessing.

    As for Watchmen, how many of those people actually read the book? And how many of them actually understood it? Because if you understood the book and it’s intent then you know why the film failed. And forgetting about the novel it was just a terrible movie by itself.

  • Mark H.

    Most Best Picture Oscar winners are a bunch of pretentious garbage that are less about quality and more about advancing some political agenda. For example, Sean Penn’s win for “Milk” was less about how good an actor he might be and more about overturning California’s Prop 8 banning gay marriages.

    At least, for now, animated features don’t have to advance a political agenda to win.

  • http://oppoamazingartists.blogspot.com/ Austin “oppo” Papageorge

    I think that the “Animated Feature category just solidifies the concept that animation cannot compete with live action. Very bad thing, indeed.

    And did it really advance the artform when Shark Tale and Surf’s Up got an Oscar Nomination? Didn’t think so.

  • http://yeldarb86.deviantart.com Mr. Semaj

    There used to be a time when Disney owned the Best Music Oscars.

    This year’s Oscars was particularly frustrating, because while Pixar has become one of the most respected studios in the Hollywood community, the Academy is still afraid to acknowledge them for anything besides the fact that their films are animated.

  • Chiskop

    who cares about the oscars? Animation gets respect at the annies. the only awards that count for animation. they even give out awards for storyboarding! great! Animation left to people who understand it.

    I mean come to think of it, ten animators can and do animate one character through out a full length movie. kinda complicated to then start thinking about stuff like best actor, even best voice actor. animation should be treated differently because it is indeed different. Questions of “acting” were raised with the curious case of benjamin, because of mocap/animation. all this just points that animation is different.

    The annies are all that. the oscars do good by just having the best animation category. it works fine.

    “Most Best Picture Oscar winners are a bunch of pretentious garbage
    that are less about quality and more about advancing some political agenda.”

    <—hey hence Wall-E won best animated at the oscars while panda, which is just about noble human emotions won at the annies.

  • MadRat

    I think the problem isn’t that The Academy is afraid that animation is a threat to the jobs of live-action film makers but that if they give a Best Picture award to a cartoon they’ll loose what little respect they have left in the eyes of the viewing pubic.

    When I first started reading this thread I was thinking along the lines of John Paul Cassidy and Mark Kausler. “If animation is recognized as a legitimate form of making movies, what happens to the crews who make live action movies? What happens to the camera operators, the costumer, the make-up artists, the effects technicians, the set builders, the gaffers, the electricians and so on. The Academy needs to protect its workers so they can’t give Best Picture to an animated film.”

    But then I read what TStevens and robcat2075 said and I think they’re right. Animation isn’t making the kind of money that live-action is and there are far more live-action films being made than animated films. Therefore, animation can’t be a threat to the live-action film industry.

    I realized that just because those of us reading this thread recognize the artistry and talent that goes into animated films doesn’t mean other people do. I’m just a regular guy instead of a Hollywood insider, so I can only guess what the Academy thinks. I imagine the Academy has been numbed to animation by their own expectations. Like most people they probably think of animation as being either a really well done Dora The Explora or, if the film is intended for adults, being an animated version of x-rated doodles made by adolescent boys during math class. “Oh geeze, another stupid kid’s show. Haven’t I watched enough of the Wonder Pets today already? I don’t want to sit through that!” or “Cartoons for adults? It’s just going to be a bunch of childish porn and blood letting. I’ve seen more than enough of those terrible pictures on the internet of The Simpsons performing sex acts on each other already.” If it’s like Tom Sito said and stars like Shirley McLaine and Liza Minelli were making comments like “Well, I guess that means we all have to be cartoons now!” they were probably meaning, “Do you expect me to dress up in goofy animal costumes and deliver lines intended for 3rd graders?”

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    I kind of feel this whole thing about animation being “segregated” from film is like having an art show, and paintings, sculptures, drawn illustrations and…oh…photographs being judged equally for a top prize. It’s kind of awkward and frustrating. I certainly wouldn’t ask for things to be judged like that. I can picture myself as a live action film maker feeling very weird with my film being judged against an animated film. I don’t think it’s truly anything to do with despising either form of film.

    This was a great post, BTW; I really enjoy Amid’s and everyone’s comments and thoughts on this subject.

  • Cameron

    Chriskop, do you believe Kung Fu Panda deserved to win every category in which it was nominated?

    Regardless of who you think should have won that night, Kung Fu Panda’s sweep signals that the Annie’s are every bit as fishy as the Oscars with a different category (for the record, I think WALL-E was the better and more emotionally gripping film).

  • Jon Reeves

    While I can agree that Best Animated Feature keeps animation out of the Best Picture category, I think it raises the profile of feature animation overall, and is thus a good thing. Kung Fu Panda wouldn’t have gotten any respect from the Academy otherwise, much less Bolt. Now if only the studios wouldn’t conspire to keep the category down to 3 nominees…

    I happen to know someone who votes on the Oscars; when I mentioned how much I liked Persepolis, this person stated they could not appreciate it because it was subtitled. Now *that’s* narrow minded and parochial.

    For the record, WALL*E got 6 nominations, not 3 (song, sound, and sound editing besides those Tom mentions), and, with at least 111 awards (plus a Cannes nomination for Billy’s Balloon, in a shorts category that merges animation and live action), Don Hertzfeldt has hardly gone unrecognized — though I still think the Rejected loss at the 2004 Annies was a travesty (the only movie that has made me laugh so hard I literally hurt — twice).

  • Chris J

    “a reactionary measure designed to protect their live-action base of filmmakers from the threat of an emergent art form.”

    Nail —–> Hit —–> Head.

    100% agree.

  • Olivier

    In theory I wouldn’t mind having a separate animated category, which certainly could shed some light on animated features, but do the films selected really need that extra exposure ?
    What’s the point if it only gives more credit to movies already celebrated by the box-office ? This is of course true of The Oscars in general, but it makes the “it’s ok to pigeonhole because it sheds some light on animated films” argument a bit weak.

    For example I’m quite stunned “Waltz with Bashir” wasn’t even nominated, while in France last week it got the “Best foreign film” award at the César ceremony (http://www.lescesarducinema.com) where it was facing live-action films such as Into The Wild, There Will Be Blood, Two Lovers and more.
    Now that’s quite a win, and it’s also interesting because in “Waltz” the animation serves a purpose, it is in my opinion not necessary remarkable in itself. This helps seeing animated movies as a whole, where storyline, acting (voice), editing, sound etc are as vital as in “regular” movies.

    This leads me to a simple question : Why no more animated features in these OTHER Oscar categories ? Now that’s the real debate, and only that would be a real sign of de-ghettoization !

  • http://www.thepra.com.au Hugh

    Agreed. that’s the problem. Animation isn’t a genre, and so long as it’s sold as one it’s not fulfilling it’s true potential. once you take away the tentpole wide releases, the remaining animated features released like persepolis, the Ghibli’s etc underperform against live action films of comparable production value and genre because they’re mis-marketed as “animated genre”.

    they need to be sold as comedies, dramas, and most certainly films that can be contenders for best picture.

    Having said that, here’s the reality of seeing an animated film nominated for a best picture oscar. The films with the highest craft values – the pixars and the dreamworks (which are responsible for the bread & butter franchises for their studios) won’t get nominated any sooner than a Dark Knight, or ther live action counterparts.

    The films out of that category just can’t compete with the Juno’s and Slumdog Millionaire’s that get nominated. Then again, who would have thought a film like slumdog millionaire would have been nominated only a few yrs ago.

  • Tarun

    The very first emotion (of empathy) I have as I watch a human face in live action is never the same for an animated character.
    I love animation, I am an animator myself. But I think, you might be getting carried away a bit too much. Romantic notion can’t live without them can’t live with them! ;)

    And true, Oscars, who gives a beeeep! The lengths people need to go just for the jury to WATCH their movies!

  • http://thingsicomeupwith.blogspot.com/ Jim Gisriel

    http://thingsicomeupwith.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-best-animated-feature-really.html

    I actually I wrote a blog post on this subject a month ago. I think that it’s defently not perfect but animationed films have gotten 5 screenplay nominations since the best animated feature cateogorey was created. Which is really good because before best animated film there was no animation screenplay nominations.
    But I think there have only been a hand full of animated films good enough to be able to get a best picture nomination. Like Wall e, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. I think the bigger questions is how come you have these great animated films getting the best reviews of the year but fail to get a best picture nomination and fail to like frost/nixon or something

  • http://artofthecartoon.wordpress.com Art of the Cartoon

    This is a great topic of dialogue. The participants of which are usually those who are either in, familiar with, or a fan of animation. I’m hoping this dialogue could extend out to those outside the animation community.

    I agree with some of the comments that this isn’t only an “Academy” problem, but a greater societal perception that animation is for children only, which is a problem that has plagued animation since the term was coined.

    Even though great films like Wall-E, Ratatouille, and the Incredibles had themes that adults could relate to, the reality is that these films were still geared toward a younger audience, and the themes and messages of those films had to be toned done.

    Until studios, producers, directors,.. actually all of us make a risk and start taking a chance on more “adult” and “politically based” animated works, I believe the perception will always stay the same.

    And I know there are folks who hate “politics” tied to art and film and want a separation, I get tired of it too. But the reality is that everything is political.

  • http://www.thepra.com.au Hugh

    Ratatouille, Incredibles, and Wall E are still the animated genre equivalents of pirates of the carribean, Harry potter, Dark Knight and spiderman etc. and those films will never get a nod either.

    there’s no clint eastwood of animation making the sort of films that typically get nominated for best picture.

    It’s popcorn fare and interesting indie’s, but nothing in between. when someone makes that breakout film, the academy will consider. it might not get in, but that could mean the next breakout one does!

  • Chris

    Absolutely everybody else has taken animation alot more seriously than the Academy’s membership for decades now whether it be audiences (adults as well as children) who ensured more than one of Disney’s features were the number one movie of their release years or critics who are usually relied on to be open-minded.

    It boils down to the fact that the large majority of voters are actors and actors (as per Sally Field, Liza and Maclaine’s comments years ago prove) aren’t open-minded enough to put their vote down for something which they feel/perceive doesn’t make full use of their talents hence why genre (action, comedy etc) often gets ignored and why so many well-acted but bland dramatic movies have won the top prize historically.

    The day we see an animated picture win (or get nominated for Best Picture again) it will be either in a very poor year, which is what partially led to BATB’s nod, or in the very far future when the older, more conservative members are replaced by a younger generation who don’t have the ancient prejudices their predecessors once had.

  • move the e

    Im a photographer and I think they should separate these two mediums. Cgi Is great and amazing, but so is real cinematography. People have to understand there to different mediums. Cgi can do things out of this world but where is the realism of capturing real light with real actors? Thats where videography come in my friends. So I really wish they would separate these two art form’s in order to protect them both. I understand everyone in this time and point are obsessed with everything new, but trust me, both videography and cgi can coexist together in harmony. I say this because many people like to think cgi will replace videography, that is far from the truth. Those people are just on a future high. Time is an illusion, so is “going forwards”….

  • David Silverman

    A very interesting article and discussion. Here are s few points to consider.

    We at the Simpsons many years ago tried an experiment and withdrew from the Animation Category of the Emmys to compete in the “main” categories – Best Comedy, Best Comedy Writing, Directing, etc. We were nominated a a grand total of ZERO times. So, a number of years later we came crawling by to the Animation Category, and were for some reason accepted back in.

    The largest voting bloc by far in the Academy is the actors, numbering (in 2007) 1311, about 22% of the membership. The chance of an animated film winning Best Picture is ZERO. If any Vegas casino is dumb enough to give you odds on an animated picture winning Best Picture, bet everything you have against it. But they’re not that dumb, so forget it. Final Jeopardy answer: ZERO.

    “Hey, we’re getting into a rut!”

    While many here may not care about these awards, the industry certainly does care, and it does help animation filmmakers get gigs. It’s a prestige thing, and studio execs, producers, actors, etc, do put credence into a nomination, let alone an Oscar. Wouldn’t y’all want some of your animation pals getting a bit of help? I hope the answer here is Yes.

    As others have mentioned, it puts a great big spotlight on animation that it would never receive. There’s Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary — these categories haven’t ruined these types of film. Like it or not, animation will always be viewed as a separate category. That’s — um — that’s show biz. Go argue with the tides while you’re at it.

    It also gets photos and interviews and press for our animated pals. Huge sections of the trades devote themselves to the category. These are not bad things. Bad things are animation being ignored and the only famous animator being Walt Disney. You recall, back in the day? Publicity = bad? — no, no that’s Orwellian. Publicity = good!

    Finally — I haven’t seen any complaints that there’s a Best Animated Short Category and a Best Live-Action Short Category here. So, I’m afraid to say, here’s where the argument comes completely crashing down to the ground. If it’s not bad for shorts, it’s bad for features because — why exactly? If it’s the Purist Argument, it’s not completely so if you don’t start complaining about the Shorts Ghettoization. All or nothing, right?

    No, you all have it all wrong. The category has done nothing but help, and I predict will continue to do so. Hey, “The Secret of The Kells” was nominated, a $9 million non-Hollywood pic from Ireland. See what a difference a year makes?

  • james madison

    Just going through old post (great stuff) and came across this.

    Kudos to Fantasporto.

    ..and I agree with Amid. Why should there be a niche category for animation.