Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Drawing a blank on animation at The Oscars

Molly Boyke
Illustration Molly Boyke

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice.

I was six years old when the 2010 Pixar movie “Toy Story 3” was nominated for Best Picture at the 83rd Academy Awards. Sitting next to my father, who worked at Disney Animation at the time, it didn’t feel like anything extraordinary. Animated films had always been a respected art form in my house, and it seemed normal that they were being given equal consideration for Hollywood’s highest honor. I never would have expected that—now nineteen—“Toy Story 3” would be the last animated film nominated in this category in over a decade.

Only three animated films have ever been nominated for the Best Picture category in the show’s 94-year history: “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up,” (2009) and “Toy Story 3.” Is the Academy overlooking an artistically masterful and serious medium despite its significant contributions to cinema?

Ken Grout is a senior executive-in-residence of the communication studies department at Emerson, author of the 2014 book “And The Winner Really Is: The Definitive Ranking of the Greatest Actors and Actresses in Oscar History” and co-author of a study analyzing gender equity at the organization, “Oscar Is a Man: Sexism and the Academy Awards.”

Throughout all of his Oscars research, Grout said that he has maintained a high level of respect for animation as an art form. 

 “Animation has been underrepresented, underappreciated, and undervalued,” he said in an interview with The Beacon.

According to Grout, in adding the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, the Oscars “put them at a kids’ table,” a sentiment echoed by many animators. 

“The academy made sure that animated features were going to get recognized,” Grout said. 

The Best Animated Feature category was meant to champion the art of animation in the same way that the expansion of the Best Picture category was meant to champion the diversity of film. Instead, it became an excuse for the Academy to not elevate animation to the same standard as they do live action. 

Best Picture is not the only category that feature animation has been conspicuously absent from. Animation is noticeably missing from nearly every other category, aside from Best Score and Best Original Song. 

An animated feature has never been nominated for Best Production Design, despite the intricate craftsmanship and visual aesthetics of “Coraline” (2009) or “Loving Vincent” (2017). Nor have any been nominated for Best Cinematography, even with the excellent digital camera work of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) or “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2022).

You might argue that digital cinematography is more appropriately classified as visual effects, but particularly noticeable this year is the absence of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse” (2023) and “Elemental” (2023) from the Best Visual Effects category. The visual effects work in “Across the Spider-Verse” overflows in every frame, taking the standard its predecessor set for feature animation and elevating it to new heights. “Elemental” pushed effects animation to its limits by making its entire cast of characters visual effects in and of themselves, with sentient fire, water, air, and earth elements. These two films merit consideration for the category.

One of the most flagrant exclusions over the years has been that of animation directors from the Best Director category. Pete Docter’s films, “Up” (2009), “Inside Out” (2016), and “Soul” (2021) may have won the Best Animated Feature category three times—the most out of any animated film director—yet he remains snubbed for a Best Director nomination. 

Director Hayao Miyazaki was given an Honorary Award in 2014 for his contributions to the field of animation, but was never nominated for his stellar work on “Spirited Away” (2001), “Princess Mononoke” (1997), or “The Boy and the Heron” (2023). Miyazaki’s honorary award could be inferred as indicating that animation directors are in a rarely complimented category of their own—one more worthy of the occasional special consideration than the normal categorical treatment. 

Some argue that including animation in the Best Picture category makes the Best Animated Feature award moot. If an animated film is worthy of consideration to be the best film of the year, then surely it will win in a category of its peers as well. And while that was the case with “Up” and “Toy Story 3” in 2010 and 2011 respectively, it shouldn’t warrant exclusion from the category entirely. The winner of the Best International Feature category is often nominated for Best Picture, and rightfully so. The same should be said for animation.

“It is 100 percent possible for the best film of the year to be an animated film, just like it’s entirely possible for the best film of the year to not be in the English language,” said Grout.

There is an easy fix to the problem regardless: the Academy should consider limiting voting on Best Animated Feature to those in their Animation and Short Film branch (the Academy does not have a branch for animation alone). The Academy already limits voting in some categories, such as Best Directing, to ensure that winners are selected by their peers. The Best Animated Feature category could be selected by the Academy’s animation members while the entire body continues to vote on Best Picture.

The difference between the Academy’s animated feature winners and the animation industry’s is demonstrated through the difference between the Academy Awards and the Annie Awards, which is the annual animation award show organized by the Hollywood branch of the International Animated Film Association.

Professional members of the association vote yearly on animation-specific categories, including outstanding storyboarding, outstanding voice acting, and outstanding independent animated feature. Through these categories, the Annie Awards provide a more nuanced view of animation as a medium informed by artists working in the industry. 

The Academy’s responsibility is not to reflect an industry-specific view of animation, but rather to represent these artists’ work fairly and appropriately to the general public through their awards. They do not fulfill this responsibility. 

When filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro took the stage at the 2023 Oscars to accept his Best Animated Feature win for “Pinocchio” he said: “Animation is cinema. Animation is not a genre. Animation is ready to be taken to the next step; we are all ready for it. Keep animation in the conversation.” 

Del Toro took what those in the animation industry have been saying for decades and conveyed their message to a wider audience.

It is the Academy’s responsibility to do the same in their nominations and awards to communicate animation’s value as a medium, keep it in the film conversation, and fairly represent it as a serious and versatile art form. 

Animation is cinema, and it should therefore be celebrated equally.

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. We welcome strong opinions and criticism that are respectful and constructive. Comments are only posted once approved by a moderator and you have verified your email. All users are expected to adhere to our comment section policy. READ THE FULL POLICY HERE: https://berkeleybeacon.com/comments/
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *