5 Reasons the Academy Overlooked ‘The LEGO Movie’

Best Animated Feature Oscar Contenders

It’s the morning that the Academy announces its Oscar nominations, and “The Lego Movie” is on the ballot. No surprise, right? Wrong. Thing is, “Lego” landed just one mention — in the song category for its infectious “Everything Is Awesome” anthem — but not in the animated feature category, where many were predicting that the toon blockbuster might win.

That oversight comes as a total shock to Oscar pundits — arguably the year’s biggest snub, alongside the fact that “Selma” placed in only two categories (for which theories abound). From the point of view of the animation community, however, there was always a risk, and here’s why.

1. Animation professionals pick the nominations.

At this stage in the Oscar race, it’s the die-hard animation pros who decide the noms. “The Lego Movie” may have been the year’s top animated movie in the public’s eye, earning more than $257 million and placing second highest on Rotten Tomatoes’ (adjusted) best-reviewed list of 2014 with a 96% fresh rating, but that doesn’t mean it represents the kind of artistry that the industry wants to celebrate.

2. A record number of eligible toons means tougher competition.

Back in 2001, when the Academy first added the best animated feature category, it wrote in a rule that in a year when fewer than eight toons opened in theaters, the prize wouldn’t be awarded at all. In retrospect, that seems laughable, considering how the medium has boomed, resulting in an all-time high of 20 Oscar-qualifying submissions fighting for five slots in 2014.

3. Voters watch all 20 contenders, so the best rises.

Unlike normal audiences (or the Academy at large, who often pick a widely seen film to win), the animation branch is obliged to screen all eligible contenders. Each film is scored on a 10-point scale, and the five that receive the highest score go on to be nominated. That means each toon is considered on its own merits, and for this group, technique is perhaps the most important. In other categories, nominations go to the five films that received the most first-place votes, resulting in a diversity of choices, but in this category, it’s literally the five movies the branch likes best.

4. The animation branch loves handmade movies.

This is the second time popular “Lego” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been edged out of the Oscar race by a pair of tiny toons most moviegoers haven’t heard of: The same thing happened in 2009, when “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” got shut out in favor of “The Secret of Kells.” While the “Lego” team licks its wounds, the folks no doubt celebrating today are New York-based indie distributor GKids, which released two of the nominees: “Song of the Sea” (a dazzling, highly stylized 2D toon from “Kells” helmer Tomm Moore) and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (a career-crowning hand-drawn beauty from Japanese animation maestro Isao Takahata). Also celebrating today is Portland-based Laika Studios (“Coraline,” “ParaNorman”), which earned its third nomination for its third feature, “The Boxtrolls.” Industry pros love stop-motion. It’s by far the most painstaking form of animation there is, whereas the computer-animated “LEGO” was cheekily designed to parody bad stop-motion.

5. Traditional forms and classical storytelling win out.

“Song of the Sea,” “Princess Kaguya” and “Boxtrolls” were always going to be nominated. That left just two slots open for the remaining 17 movies. The very same reasons the general public loved “Lego” — its jokey tone, quick pace and irreverent sensibility — probably worked against it with that group. After all, how often does that kind of movie get rewarded in other Oscar categories? By contrast, “Big Hero 6” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” are both relatively traditional, well-told stories hailing from studios (Disney and DreamWorks, respectively) with a long tradition of Oscar support. “Lego” fans shouldn’t conclude that the Academy doesn’t like that movie; it’s just that they respected five films more.

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  1. jedijones77 says:

    The Lego Movie was one of the best movies of the year, period, animation or otherwise. The script was absolutely ingenious and the animation fresh and unique. I wonder if the fact that the movie bounced out to live-action for some key scenes at the end hurt its score in the animated category. Maybe they felt that was “cheating” in some way. If only the nominations were by the academy instead of people who decided to vote like animation snobs, it would have got the nomination. It was, without question, a much more entertaining, original and thought-provoking movie than Big Hero 6.

  2. Jen says:

    Oscars are biased and it’s a popularity contest for the snobs and their friends in hollywood. Box-trolls was over-rated….actually it was just plain boring. And yeah stop-motion is a long, pain-stacking process but it’s been done before (to death honestly) so nothing unique about it. The Lego Movie was completely fresh, original and creative. The story was great, so clever! There are not very movies that both parents and kids can enjoy together. This is one of the best. The Academy Awards are a joke.

    • Evan says:

      A popularity contest to see what movie is the most popular? NO!!!!!!! Box trolls was an excellent film and what films have caused stop motion to be do “to death”? There are far more 3D animated films like The LEGO Movie that are out. I won’t disagree with the last part….and I won’t disagree this was a deserving film……however because YOU like The LEGO Movie so much it seems to make YOU biased against other films that are quality.

      • ALS says:

        Boxtrolls was average with the critics, and worse with the general audience. The Lego Movie did great with the general audience and amazing with the critics. Also, nobody likes stop-motion. Just because it takes a lot of work doesn’t mean the work is actually worth the result.

  3. JW says:

    So basically they are snobs. Pfft…even this article is a joke and insulting to the “general” public. The Lego Movie is irreverent, clever, funny, well-made, great story telling, original, creative and fun. Oscars mean nothing except to people who win them. Get over yourselves.

  4. Jason says:

    The Lego Movie currently ranks #9 in the best animated films of all time category (source: Metacritic.com, rottentomatoes.com, and IMDB) by industry professionals around the world. It’s right up there with Wall-E and the original Toy Story. That can’t be said about any of the other nominees this year.

  5. 2face says:

    It would be kinda like if special FX professionals decided a best action movie oscar.

  6. ascii says:

    Glad Selma didn’t get anything.. tired of the civil rights/slavery dichotomy.. There ARE other stories that can be told about black people. Yes I am black btw.

  7. Kopaka says:

    Big Hero 6 and Boxtrolls were both pretty lacking on the storytelling front, but Boxtrolls at least had good, unique animation. Big Hero 6 was generic mediocrity all the way through. There is no world that BH6 is better than The Lego Movie, but of course the snobs go for Disney.

  8. yan says:

    I thought LEGO was better than Big Hero 6. It had a fresher storyline and lovable characters. Baymax was cute but kinda boring to me.

  9. Um, many expected one of the stupid foreign films no one gives a shit about to not make the cut. The Lego Movie was widely considered a lock for the category.

  10. dawnsunight says:

    “but that doesn’t mean it represents the kind of artistry that the industry wants to celebrate.” oh my goodness, who makes this article? We love LEGO because it’s ART!!!
    “whereas the computer-animated “LEGO” was cheekily designed to parody bad stop-motion.” What? cheeky? I bet this writer never made an animation before. THE PLOT IS SO DEEP! I thought The Lego Movie has the same great plot as Dragon 2.

    The whole wrong article writings…. so sad. We need the realistic AND OBJECTIVE REASON!

  11. Interpretation: We want your dollars at the box office, but the Academy will tell you mindless rubes what is good for you and what isn’t. It’s no different then any of the other awards.

  12. Although I was surprised that The LEGO Movie didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, I believe that the Academy has good reasons for not giving it the nod.

    Some people have been saying that The LEGO Movie was cheated out of the Oscars because the nomination judges were biased. But I think the fact that two foreign animated films were nominated proves that the nomination judges are NOT biased. Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya are little-known animated films from non-American studios, and the fact that they got the nod proves that the nominators are open-minded and not biased towards the crowd-pleasing blockbuster animated films. This argument is further strengthened by the fact that the Animation branch of the Academy has to watch all 20 films before selecting the nominees. (Point 3 in the article above)

    But the Oscars do not represent everybody’s opinion. There are many people who think that The LEGO Movie was the best animated film of 2014. And fans should not despair that The LEGO Movie missed out on the Oscar (and the Golden Globe). If the number of awards is the unit of measurement, then The LEGO Movie by far has the most prizes.

  13. Veri P says:

    I’m not all that surprised that The Lego Movie didn’t get a nomination. It has a great script, and the animation itself is very good, but there’s way too much going on so the story is hard to follow, and a lot of the dialogue gets obscured by all the sound that goes with all the action that is constantly happening on the screen. The action just doesn’t let up! It’s fun, but a flawed film in my opinion, and I think animation needs to be judged on the film as a whole, including storytelling. When you put all the elements together, perhaps The Lego Movie just wasn’t in the top 5, according to the judges.

  14. Cam Ford says:

    Maybe because it was made in Australia instead of Hollywood?

    • Bobby Hill says:

      That makes no sense when you consider that 2 of the movies nominated were not made in Hollywood, and when you consider Lego Movie was better than both.

  15. nope says:

    damn your logic… it made sense and made me less mad and more understanding.

  16. mustcrochet says:

    Boo!!!! The Lego Movie was brilliant. Loved it. It is a travesty that it was not nominated. So much better than the Boxtrolls movie. Shame on the Academy – but they have been blowing it big time for years. Honestly – who has seen the majority of movies nominated and the actors/actresses nominated? They pick politically correct garbage and shy away from the blockbuster. I haven’t watched the Oscars for years and I won’t this year. Blech.

  17. John Kay says:

    This goes beyond mere taste and politics – it stinks of foul play. Like the nominators did not want their personal favorite to have to compete with The Lego Movie – clearly the standout animated film of the year and one of the best films of ANY kind of the year. I challenge anyone who cast a vote to present some kind of reasonable explanation.

    Lego Movie was indisputably the most compelling innovative animated move of the year, the most loved by viewers and critics, loved by the Annies… it’s totally absurd and those responsible should be held accountable.

    • rosy says:

      Rotten tomatoes critics are far from being cinema experts. A lot of them don’t review indie, foreign, festival winner, classics and documentary movies and you notice by the kind of reviews the majority (honorably exceptions are at most 12 critics) doesn’t take notes before after the screening, don’t spellcheck their reviews and don’t have a real knowledge of how cinema is made as they degree (if they have one) isn’t in film but in journalism/literature. The quality of critics that have been admitted to the site has decreased in the past years and their taste is questionable as they tend to give comic movies and biopics higher ratings than they deserve and label “original” things that were made before.

      I’m glad two of the best animated films this year (sea and Kaguya) prevailed above box office and the questionable acceptance of Rotten tomatoes critics. Lego was Entertaining and funny but the jokes weren’t original (if you happen to see a lot of animation from all over the world not just what gets to the american theaters) and by no means Oscar worthy.

      The people who knows about nomination didn’t dissapoint me this time in spite of having deprived several Hayao miyasaki’s films in the past of the award he deserves?

      Miyazaki who? if you don’t know then you have no merit to say if a movie should have nominated or not.

  18. theatregeek says:

    Sorry but your first three points are quite off base. I suppose artistry is subjective, but I think it displays more artistry in its stylized and creative use of animation than say Big Hero 6. Also the entire animation branch doesnt vote. Only those who volunteer to be on the voting panel. Contrary to what you say this panel is not required to watch every film submitted. Its based on a percentage. This year they needed to watch a minimum of 14 out of the 20 films. Id also like the author to explain how this year was more competitive because more were submitted. Studios submitted crap like The Pirate Fairy and Legends of Oz, or Planes Fire and Rescue. This in turn bumps the number of nominees up from 3 to 5 because enough films were submitted. Only seven films were ever competitive for the Oscar nominations: Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big hero 6, Tales of Princess Kaguya, song of the Sea, and Book of Life. So how did things get “more competitive”? Did you think they might go for “Hero of Color City” or something? It lost out because the voters are stubborn out of touch old men. ugh.

    • sameckmann says:

      Oh AND they dont rank them. Its not a matter of who gets the most first place votes. The panel scores each film they watch from 1-10. The five highest scoring films get in. If no film receives a score of at least 7.5, then no competitive nominees are chosen and they instead give out an honorary award to the highest scoring film.

  19. John says:

    Ranking by who gets the most number 1 votes is not that great. They should use a single transferable vote system.

  20. Lucky says:

    Well written, all good points. There’s solace in knowing it was one of the biggest films in any way of 2014 and is picking up every other award this season.

  21. Joe says:

    The fact that the movie had a long LIVE ACTION segment at the end I believe is the main factor for the movie not being honored in the Animated film category.

  22. Deadnstien says:

    Just goes to further prove the Oscars are nothing more than film industry snobs patting each other on the back and overpaid actors giving each other awards.

  23. JG311 says:

    Forget animated, I wanted to see it get nominated for best pic! Best, most original 3rd act in a long time. Amazingly brilliant and touching.

    Train Your Dragon looked awesome, but the story disappointed for me.

  24. Dan C says:

    Clearly the Academy is racist. Black and yellow got snubbed.

  25. jonahfalcon says:

    On a side note: The LEGO Movie earned five Annie Award nominations, including for writing, directing and effects. It also received an ACE nod for editing.

  26. jonahfalcon says:

    How in the world did The Boxtrolls get nominated over The LEGO Movie? SERIOUSLY?

  27. So many animated films have really stressful and depressing story lines. The Lego movie was one of the first animated films I have seen in a long time that was really up-lifting. It was being innovative. I would have nominated it.

  28. Rad Dad says:

    What do I care and really what does Lego care, they got my money happily and I’ll give it to them again when the sequel comes out. If I could make fun movies that made bank, I’d care way more about that over a statue on the mantle.

  29. Stephanie says:

    Lego Movie wasn’t that good; the story was confusing. It was more flash than anything

  30. Awesome says:

    I wish your reasons made sense in the way that words strung together sometimes do.

  31. Alex Seiden says:

    Thomas,

    The link from cartoon brew (which references a THR article) is about how Academy members voted once they’ve received their ballots with nominations.

    You can think of the nominations as being like a primary election, with (for the most part) a subset of the Academy voting on who gets nominated. The article you cite was about how people voted in the “general election,” where (again, with some exceptions) the whole Academy chooses between the nominees.

    Nevertheless, I am heartbroken that “The Lego Movie” didn’t get nominated. There was great work in all of the nominated films, but I really loved Lego!

  32. Daniel says:

    ´Wreck it Ralph´ featured the ´parody´ of stop-motion, also. In both films, it is not so much a parody, as an expression of the most fuild movements posible for old electronic game characters, which was actually an acurate copy. And, the fluidity that is hard, or near imposible to achieve, with the tough Lego figures, that consist of a strong fixed pose in whichever way manipulated.

    So, the assessment is the other way. Lego Movie was not mocking the step-by-step into fluid movement of stop-motion, but showing and highlighting the impossibility of such in the mini figures.

  33. DH says:

    “Animators prefer the handmade movies”. Not accounting for the fact that the we haven’t had a non-CG winner in 12 years…

    I think you’re spot on about the storytelling, though.

    • Peter Debruge says:

      The animators don’t pick the winners, just the nominees. They have a say, of course, the but film that ultimately wins on Oscar night is chosen by the Academy at large (most of whom work in live-action and probably aren’t happy that LEGO isn’t on the ballot).

  34. JJ says:

    I don’t pity the exclusion of a corporately mandated two-hour commercial. Legos are not very animated.

  35. cadavra says:

    The real reason: It’s a headache-inducing, two-hour toy commercial, with a crummy script that brings in all these beloved characters and gives none of them (except Batman) anything to do. The real snub is THE BOOK OF LIFE, one of the most original, dynamic and exciting animated features in recent years.

    • Stephanie says:

      I agree, Book of Life was interesting and different; Lego Movie was stupid. I was surprised it was not nominated.

  36. Phil Esteen says:

    The guy who voiced the Batman character in “The Lego Movie” should, at the very least, win an award involving a figurine with no distinguishable gender.

  37. Mike Flores says:

    It isn’t just this. The slap in the face by not giving GUARDIANS a damn writing nomination makes the entire list this year A JOKE

  38. Tom Levier says:

    The very same reasons the general public loved “LEGO” — its jokey tone, quick pace and irreverent sensibility — probably worked against it with that group. After all, how often does that kind of movie get rewarded in other Oscar categories? By contrast, “Big Hero 6” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” are both relatively traditional, well-told stories hailing from studios (Disney and DreamWorks, respectively) with a long tradition of Oscar support.

    The irony is the movie studios are always saying they always strive to give the audience something new, exciting, and fresh, yet they only honor films that are “traditional” at Oscar time.
    So The Lego Movie was unique, but it was not like the others.

    I agree with the notion that movies coming from the more popular among the Hollywood crowd like DreamWorks and Disney get more favorable treatment when the nominees are passed out.

  39. strauben says:

    1) False. Have you read Rule 7 of the AMPAA?
    2) Potentially the only real argument you have.
    3) Voters are only required to watch 66% of submitted films. See again: Rule 7.
    4) So you’re admitting there’s a bias in the system?
    5) If I have to list out all of the “classic” storytelling tropes that are included in The LEGO Movie, I’m going to need a bigger monitor or a smaller font.

    • Peter Debruge says:

      Yes, of course there’s a bias. The rest of my analysis is specifically based on the Academy’s Rule 7. The committee described there is made up of animation pros (mostly winners of past Oscars), and though they are individually allowed to miss a few of the screenings, all of the films are show to the committee in the lead-up to nominations, and each is individually scored on between 6 and 10 points. Therefore, the committee sees all the films and the top-rated ones advance.

  40. Selkets says:

    I find it strange that so many praise LEGO’s animation. It was definitely VERY inventive and super nice to look at, but it wasn’t groundbreaking on a technical level. I mean there’s a reason why Pixar started to animate Toy’s first with their CGI. Hard, clear edges, not a lot of surfacing, and lighting on seemingly flat surfaces makes the rendering process immensely easier. Also the idea to make everything out of Lego’s even water, dust, and the sky – again very creative but also very easy compared to creating whole other softwares for these effects. Especially if you try to make them realistically.
    Then there’s also the missing frames. No need to give character’s bones or muscles. No SKIN. The list goes on.
    All in all you can say that this movie had a STRONG art/design directions, but groundbreaking animation? not so much. .. Like just saying that there is a reason why LEGO’s budget was only about 60 Mio whereas Dragon2 needed about 145 Mio.

    • sunflow says:

      there are tons of R&D in the particle systems for lego movies as well as the subsurface scattering for the look of the bricks. It is no where easier compared to softwares that Disney Dreamworks developed internally. Being cheaper doesn’t mean they invested any less effort, but rather more creativity into creating those “inventive and super nice”look.

      I understand tho, that old classic hollywood animators would not vote for this type of animations. It doesn’t show any physics of traditional animation techniques that they had developed long ago and deemed to be the fundamentals, and it rather looks like a school project coz they automatically think “it’s easy to do a lego animation”. I think it’s time to learn that animation is not always about character animations.

    • Daniel says:

      There are effects shots in Lego Movie that may have utilized particle systems or a variation of, for the sheer number of units moved in brick assembling.

  41. Mysti Berry says:

    I’d hope they ignored it because although it is in the form of a movie–it’s marketing content. Wonderfully done, chock-full of talent and entertainment, but I think it’s good to mark the different between content marketing and movies.

    • jedijones77 says:

      What’s “marketing” is a total judgment call. Every Disney and Pixar movie also markets a buttload of merchandise along with it. It’s irrelevant. The job is to judge what you see on the flat screen for 2 hours. What happens in the outside world that may or may not be related to the movie is meaningless to judging that piece of art.

  42. Tommy Udo says:

    Movie about plastic block people was boring and silly.

  43. Polly Eurothane says:

    Ok, I’ll admit I haven’t seen “How to Train your Dragon 2”, but there is no fudging way its better than “The Lego Movie”.

    Points 4 and 5 are nonsense. Regarding 4: the way The Lego Movie faked stop motion is actually one of the film’s greatest charms and technically marvelous. Regards 5: the storytelling was classic and clever. The “Kragle” was the best and smartest use of a McGuffin since Charade.

    I will suggest the real reason it was overlooked is because the voters assumed it was a shoe-in and collectively voted for other lesser known films. Thus its lack of nomination was an accident of circumstance.

    • Peter Debruge says:

      See, this is what I wanted to set straight: The animation branch (who pick the nominees) don’t vote for one film over another. They assign a grade to all films in the category, and the top-scoring films move forward. None of that logic that applies to the best picture category carries over here.

      • jedijones77 says:

        That doesn’t mean the voters can’t manipulate their votes to hurt Lego Movie. Their honest assessment may have been that Lego Movie was in the top 5. But because they knew it had such a huge advantage going in, and was likely to win if nominated, they may have given it an artificially low score in order to try and keep it out of the running so it wouldn’t be competing against their favorite choice. They knew the only chance their favorite film had to win was if they sabotaged Lego Movie by giving it a really low score to keep it from being nominated. So if the scoring had been honest, Lego Movie would have been in the top 5 scored movies, but people giving it a dishonest low score could’ve sabotaged it.

    • therealeverton says:

      If you haven’t seen it you cannot know – and it is. They are both excellent films, Princess is a masterpiece. Possibly the finest masterpiece f tom the most revered animation studio and one if the two most respected aminsters if all time. Box trolls is very good and yes the craft if stop motion is highly respected.

      DO I think Lego Movie is a little hard done by,yes…but it has been kept out for some very,very hood reasons and at least two of the films on the list are better. (I have not seen Big Hero 6 yet.

  44. None of this will change our hurt, and once I finish my Academy qualification, I will spend the rest of my life righting this wrong.

  45. thatsfeffedup says:

    Still bullshit.

  46. “why the best movie wasn’t included”

  47. The Kingslayer says:

    I am sorry but there is no excuse for snubbing The Lego Movie, it’s easily one of the best animated movies of 2014, hell I’d even say it was one of the best movies of last year.

  48. John Miller says:

    It’s still stupid that it didn’t get nominated.

  49. Marc V says:

    In general, these 5 reasons are pretty spot-on. Nevertheless, a famous toy like Lego has been around for 70+ years and the directors behind The Lego Movie deserve a nod for how versatile they are in filmmaking. Whether it’s for kids (Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs, Lego Movie) or adults (21 and 22 Jump Street), they’ve really stretched their boundaries since leaving TV behind (Clone High).

    • Glenn C. says:

      Sounds like you are a friend of theirs! OR worked on their films!

      • Perhaps they’re just a fan? Perhaps it’s really pointless and cynical to suggest that someone speaking highly of a director is doing so because they are friends with that director?

        Seriously, that’s a ridiculous answer and you know it. Lord/Miller is an incredible directing duo. I wasn’t into Cloudy at all, but 21/22 Jump Street, LEGO Movie, and Clone High are all incredible films. The LEGO Movie should have been a complete failure in every way, but it succeeded at every turn. The writing was witty and self-aware, the plot was interesting and engaging, the voice acting was superb, and the animation was jaw-droppingly good. All of those facts alone should have made it a lock for a Best Animated Feature nod, and the fact that it got snubbed is 100% absurd.

        You can childishly assert that I’m friends with the directors all you’d like, but it doesn’t change the fact that the film got robbed.

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