Animation’s 2nd-Class Status

Film reporter Patrick Goldstein, in today’s LA Times, writes about movies that are long shots for the Oscar’s Best Picture nomination. One of them is Pixar’s Wall•E:

A wonderful, critically beloved movie, “Wall-E” in any normal world would be a shoo-in nominee for best picture. Its problem? It’s an animated film, the one genre (along with comedy) that gets no respect from the academy — no animated film has won an Oscar for best picture, even though many classics, notably “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 2,” “Spirited Away” and “Ratatouille,” were just as good as the live-action winners in their year of eligibility. Actors, who make up the biggest branch of the academy, almost never vote for animated films, so it’s virtually impossible to put together enough support from other branches of the academy to register a win.

Hence, the best animated film ghetto, which, just like at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, allows an animated delight like “Wall-E” to get some recognition without having a legitimate shot at best picture stardom. Some commentators have suggested that if Disney had spent just another $20 million to push “Wall-E,” it could’ve gotten over the top, but Disney is probably right not to throw good money after bad — too many academy members have a built-in bias against animated films, viewing them as just not “important” enough to vote for.

As much as I’d like to see an animated film recognized alongside live action in the Best Picture category, I’m afraid Goldstein speaks the truth. This is the reality: no matter how much money animation makes, or how many hits Pixar and Dreamworks churn out, animation is still a 2nd class citizen in Hollywood.

I don’t like it that way. It’s not how I think — but it’s the way it is. And nothing that happens seems to change that perception. Four of the top 10 movies of 2008 (in U.S. box office gross) were animated features – four – and the other six were blockbusters that had more than their fair share of CGI effects (Iron Man, Dark Knight, etc).

And consider this scenario, which is entirely within the realm of possibility: Waltz with Bashir could be nominated (and win) in three categories (Animated Feature, Foreign Film and Documentary), Wall•E could be nominated (and win) as Best Picture, and leave, perhaps, Kung Fu Panda (my pick) winner as Best Animated Feature. Even if this could happen (and it’s not impossible) animation would still be considered by non-animation folk, as Goldstein says, “not important enough”.

It’s been a hell-of-a-good year for animation but, according to some, we still rank 2nd place.