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.