“Surely no one set out to diminish animated films, but it’s high time we set out to elevate them,” said Phil Lord and Chris Miller, producers of last year’s Oscar-nominated The Mitchells Vs. The Machines and 2019 winners of the best animated feature award for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
Using last month’s problematic Oscars ceremony as a jumping off point, Miller and Lord wrote an op-ed in Variety that reminded readers of a particularly uncomfortable moment that evening when three actors referred to as “Disney princesses” took the stage to present the best animated feature prize. In their speech, they misguidedly reduced animation to a children’s art form, telling viewers that “kids watch these movies over and over… and over and over and over and over,” without ever acknowledging the breadth and potential of the medium for mature storytelling.
That particular phrase rang out like nails on a chalkboard to anyone in the animation community and any adult fan of the medium, Cartoon Brew staff included. Even the The Mitchells vs. the Machines official Twitter page reacted to the gaffe.
Lord and Miller didn’t appreciate the dig, recalling similar slights from their years working with major Hollywood studios.
Framing the five Academy Award nominees for best animated feature as a corporate product for kids that parents must begrudgingly endure could be dismissed as simply careless. But to those of us who have dedicated our lives to making animated films, that carelessness has become routine.
Reflecting on their own experiences, the two recalled a time when they were told that if they played their cards right in animation, perhaps one day they would “graduate to live-action.” In another bitter memory, the pair shared that they were once praised by a studio executive who said one of their animated films was so enjoyable it reminded them of “a real movie.”
In their column, the two also dedicated space to raising awareness of the current #NewDeal4Animation movement.
We are currently negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to get studios to pay animation workers fairly, especially when animation is such a large and important part of their bottom lines.
Miller and Lord also pointed out, correctly, that during the pandemic, animation was one of the only forms of filmmaking, which was able to continue, and that animated films kept the business afloat at a dire time for movies.
After extoling the virtues of animated filmmaking, well known to Cartoon Brew readers but perhaps less so to many moviegoers who don’t understand the work that goes into creating an animated film, they detailed undeniable box office and viewership evidence which demonstrates that animation is as vital to the screen industry economy as it is for the creative doors it opens.
When broadcasters bemoan the fact that so many of the nominated films have not been widely seen, they must be forgetting that animated nominees Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon and The Mitchells vs. the Machines were three of the 10 most-streamed movies of 2021. (Seven of the 10 were animated!) Or that 13 (25%!) of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time are animated.
Lord and Miller were full of praise for the films present at this year’s Academy Awards, before repeating best animated short winner Alberto Mielgo’s undeniable claim that, “Animation is cinema.”
Their measured and respectful defense of the animation medium prefaced a simple yet powerful suggestion for the Academy to “invite a respected filmmaker to present the award and frame animation as cinema.”
The pair then shared a brief who’s who of A-list talent that has demonstrated the highest respect for animation, which they believe could fit the bill. Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, and Mahershala Ali all made the cut, but their most ambitious suggestion was that Hayao Miyazaki might be invited to give the award, in what would be his first visit to the Oscars stage. It would also be timely, as 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of Spirited Away winning best animated feature.
Response to the column has been overwhelmingly positive, including a retweet from the name-checked Guillermo del Toro, who is creator of the Tales of Arcadia trilogy and director of Netflix’s upcoming stop-motion feature Pinocchio:
Each day, I feel we move closer to demonstrate that animation is a medium- not a genre – and that is a powerful story tool! and I agree with Phil Lord and Chris Miller: Hollywood Should Elevate, Not Diminish Animation (Guest Column) https://t.co/Ggiw0J63dL via @variety
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) April 6, 2022