Oscar’s Animation Snub

I must interrupt my regularly scheduled “Ranking Every Best Picture Winner” series; I will post the next entry in that series soon, to close out the 1940s, and I still hope to have the series finished by March 12, when the 95th Academy Awards ceremony will take place, but since my previous entry, this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced. I have some thoughts.

This year finds me, on the whole, pretty happy with the nominations. Everything Everywhere All at Once was my favorite movie of the past year, so I’m glad to see it get plenty of love in multiple categories, especially in Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and Best Actress. The Banshees of Inisherin was also a compelling watch (my husband called it the most honest movie he’s seen this year), and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon all gave spot-on performances that deserve the Academy’s recognition. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans felt a bit more like standard Oscar-bait fare, but then I love standard Oscar-bait fare as long as it’s good, which this film was. I confess I didn’t enjoy the much-lauded Tar, but then, I don’t think “enjoyment” is very high among that film’s goals; those who enjoy movies with an icy tone of clinical detachment would find much to admire in it, and Cate Blanchett’s performance in the kind of “arsehole genius” role men have gotten to play for years is admittedly a tour de force. I haven’t seen All Quiet on the Western Front or Women Talking, but I’m eager to do so; the subject matter for Triangle of Sadness doesn’t exert much of a pull on me, but I’ve seen and heard nothing that would lead me to believe it doesn’t deserve its place among the Best Picture nominees.

Yet every year brings a little something to regret. Like many, I’m not pleased to see Viola Davis denied a Best Actress nomination for The Woman King; even those who criticize the film for its historical inaccuracies cannot find fault with her performance. As much as I liked Michelle Williams’ luminous performance in The Fabelmans, her role is more supporting than leading, so Davis would, in my opinion, have made a better choice for the lead actress category. I’m also sorry to see Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery left out of every category except Best Adapted Screenplay; even Janelle Monae, whom many critics named as a strong contender, failed to score a nomination. But my greatest regrets involve this year’s animated features being shut out of all categories except Best Animated Feature, even though Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous score for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is richer and more memorable than John Williams’ weak entry for The Fabelmans, and both Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (my second favorite movie of the year, and my husband’s favorite) would have been more deserving of recognition for Best Adapted Screenplay than Top Gun: Maverick.* It’s become increasingly clear over the last few years that Academy voters feel a Best Animated Feature award is all the recognition animated films really deserve, even if they’re among the year’s very best. Too many Academy voters can’t even be bothered to watch them.

The tendency of Hollywood’s movers and shapers to relegate animation to its “lane” was never more apparent than at last year’s Oscar ceremony, when Amy Schumer, who caught a lot of (deserved) grief for her lackluster hosting job, quipped that she hadn’t watched any of the Best Animated Feature nominees except Encanto, and that one only “because I have a toddler.” Making matters worse was the choice of Halle Bailey, Naomi Scott, and Lily James — actresses who have played (or in Bailey’s case, will play) Disney princesses in the live-action remakes of animated classics — to present the award for Best Animated Feature, rather than anyone known for their work in the medium of animation. Just how grave a mistake this choice was became even clearer when these ladies started to talk, and revealed pretty clearly that they have little to no interest in, or admiration for, animated films. Their presentation speech revolved around the joke that children watch these movies over and over and over and over, much to parents’ weary dismay. The idea that any adult might enjoy an animated movie on its merits as a piece of storytelling lies beyond their comprehension. Phil Lord, one of the producers of 2021’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Tweeted that they were basically “position[ing] animation as something that kids watch and adults have to endure.”

This misguided notion most often meets with two responses, both of which I agree with. The first is that, as Guillermo del Toro points out, animation is not a genre of film but a medium through which a wide variety of stories can be told, and as such it should not be forced into some narrow pigeonhole. The second is that dismissing animated movies as children’s entertainment ignores the existence of films like last year’s nominee Flee, as well as Anomalisa, Mary and Max, Waltz with Bashir, Persepolis, and the magnificent, heartbreaking The Tale of Princess Kaguya, all of which are geared toward more mature audiences; these are the kinds of movies that animation-ignorant Academy voters don’t watch, the result being that the Best Animated Feature Oscar is almost always awarded to a Disney, Pixar, or Disney/Pixar release. And anime has delved into many films not intended for children nor families- but that list is too long.

But there’s a third response that I hear far less, and that I feel deserves an airing. Let’s concede that many animated films are indeed “family entertainment,” designed to please an audience of all ages. The best of Dreamworks’ films, like the How to Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Panda trilogies, can be described this way, along with most of Disney/Pixar and even the works of Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (with the possible exception of The Breadwinner). Yes, youngsters are going to want to watch these movies, maybe even repeatedly. And I have to ask: why is that a bad thing?

A review of the first Minions film, released back in 2015, made a distinction between it and Pixar’s Inside Out, arguing that while the latter was a family film in the truest sense of the word — a movie that would touch and intrigue child and adult viewers alike — the former was merely “a kids’ film that adults will tolerate.” The live-action Disney princesses and those who share their views fail to understand this distinction. They see all animated films in the same light that the reviewer sees Minions, because they don’t comprehend just how much skill and ingenuity go into crafting a story that can honestly resonate with audiences of all ages. Renowned theologian and SFF author C.S. Lewis once stated, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally — and often far more — worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” I would argue that the same logic applies to movies. Well-told stories have value and should be honored, regardless of their presumed target audiences. This is why my husband and I, child-free unless you count our beloved tuxedo cats (and they have no say in what they watch, but Demelza does enjoy “Star Trek Discovery” for Lieutenant Tilley), hurried to the theater to see Inside Out almost as soon as it was released. It’s why when we were waiting in line to see Toy Story 3 in IMAX, almost everyone in line with us was a millennial who had grown up with the first two films and were now eager, as twentysomethings, to reconnect with the Andy’s-Room gang.

As a fifty-three year old woman, I’m drawn to films like Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, and Turning Red for the same reason I would be drawn to any film: their stories are involving and their characters engaging. But they also have something that Tar and The Banshees of Inisherin lack, something we adults in the middle years of life may value more than some folks seem to realize: hope. Many (though far from all) films aimed at adults are made by directors and screenwriters who mistake cynicism for intelligence, who think that scrubbing out sentiment and increasing despair are signs of substance. Yet the best family films offer a mix of wit and warmth that an audience can take heart from. This mix takes real craft to achieve. And it’s past time for the Academy and all other arbiters of culture to honor that craft

*I have not seen Top Gun: Maverick, but my husband has, so I’m working with the information he gave me. He is not the only one who questions the nomination.


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