The Willoughbys The Willoughbys

The Critics Choice Awards have just made a pretty bad choice. The ceremony will not hand out its usual award for animated features this year. The category was nowhere to be seen among the nominations, which were announced yesterday.

Animation has been relegated to a separate ceremony, the Critics Choice Super Awards, the inaugural edition of which was held on January 10. Both ceremonies are hosted by the Critics Choice Association (CCA), which launched the Super Awards to celebrate “the most popular, fan-obsessed genres across both television and movies, including superhero, science fiction/fantasy, horror, action, and animation.”

In the CCA’s view, animation is now a genre and should be honored as such.

The CCA was an early adopter of the “animated feature” category: the Critics Choice Awards have handed out the prize since 1999, before the Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and many others. The category had become a bellwether for the Oscars — in the 19 years in which the two ceremonies honored animated features, they picked the same film 16 times, including Pixar’s Toy Story 4 last year.

In its press release announcing the nominees, the CCA did not address the absence of animation features or explain its long-term plans for the category. Cartoon Brew has contacted the organization for comment; we will update this article if they respond.

An insight into their thinking was provided in November, when the Super Awards nominees were announced. Speaking to Deadline, CCA CEO Joey Berlin commented on the decision to launch this new showcase for animation and other “genres”:

We have given out best horror movie and action movie and animated series and those things, and they often didn’t get on the air. Just like we broke out the documentary awards into their own event, and we broke out the reality television for the same reasons because there is good stuff that doesn’t get to shine on its own at the Critics Choice Awards. I think it makes a lot of sense, and I think it is going to be really entertaining. I think it can really grow into its own annual event.

These changes are problematic for two reasons. Firstly — and we’ll say this till we’re blue in the face — animation is not a genre, and is not considered as such by anyone in the industry. It is a medium suitable for any genre. Ironically, the range of genres represented in animated features is now broader than ever: recent adult-skewing nominees, like the biopic Loving Vincent or psychological drama Anomalisa, attest to that.

Secondly, animation’s move to the Super Awards is clearly a demotion. True, there are now more animation categories than before (see below). But the Super Awards lack the weight of decades of history, and were conceived from the start — even before Covid — as a virtual event. Their very premise smacks of condescension in both directions: it suggests that so-called popular films are unworthy of Critics Choice Awards’ prestige, while also implying that the films fêted at the main ceremony are unpopular.

Of course, a “best animated feature” category — even within the main ceremony — is still a kind of ghetto. We dream of the day when the year’s best animated films are seen as viable candidates for “best film” awards (which, very occasionally, they are). In the meantime, the CAA has taken a step in the wrong direction.

But the buck doesn’t stop with awards bodies. As Berlin says, the animation category at the Critics Choice Awards was often cut from the broadcast. The same is sometimes true at other major awards. Animated nominees often have high profiles and big fanbases; people are interested in them. Why shouldn’t they get airtime?

Earlier at the Super Awards: Pixar’s Soul cleaned up at the Super Awards last month, winning best animated movie, as well as best actor and actress in an animated movie for Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. Netflix’s Bojack Horseman won best animated series, with the show’s lead Will Arnett winning best actor in an animated series; Kaley Cuoco won the equivalent actress award for HBO Max’s Harley Quinn. Check out the full list of nominees here.

Meanwhile, the Critics Choice Awards are still handing out their vfx award. The nominees this year are Greyhound (Apple TV+), The Invisible Man (Universal Pictures), Mank (Netflix), The Midnight Sky (Netflix), Mulan (Walt Disney Pictures), Tenet (Warner Bros), and Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros). Additionally, Soul has picked up a nomination for best score (Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross).

The 26th Critics Choice Awards will air on The CW Sunday, March 7. The ceremony will be a hybrid affair, with host Taye Diggs and some of the presenters filming from a stage in L.A. and nominees appearing remotely.

Pictured at top: Netflix’s “The Willoughbys” was one of the Super Awards nominees in the animated feature category.