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Oscars Animation: Why It’s Time For Toons to Branch Out

It’s time for the Acad to shed its prejudice against animation and its crafts

In terms of box office, life is good for the animation business, as audiences show their affection for the genre. In terms of awards, it’s a different story.

In the past 85 years, Academy Awards voters have repeatedly shown that they consider animation very different from live action. But when will Academy voters learn to accept the fact that if something is not live action, it’s still deserving of attention?

Maybe it’s hangover from our childhoods (Isn’t everything?). Cartoons were considered the domain of kids, and became guilty pleasures as adults.

Animated features get their own category, but only three have been nominated for best pic (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Up,” “Toy Story 3”). Shame! And while these pics have prospered in the song category, and bubbled up in others (script, sound), there has been an across-the-board shutout in art direction, costume design, directing and editing, among others.

You think it’s easy to create complete worlds, as in “The Croods,” or to create stylized realities in the other films that are both credible and attractive? I think we all know the answer. Yet animation designers get second-class status.

On the upside: Some taboos are thrown out the window. In live action, it’s rare for a sequel to be nominated. However, in animation, it’s likely that no fewer than two sequels will be among the Oscar nominees announced Jan. 16: Disney-Pixar’s “Monsters University” and Universal-Illumination’s “Despicable Me 2.”

Other contenders for those five slots (out of 19 films submitted) are DreamWorks’ “The Croods,” Fox-Blue Sky’s “Epic” and Disney’s “Frozen.”

There are other films vying for the five slots, including “Ernest & Celestine,” “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury” and “Khumba,” for example. And, of course, Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises.”

The ones I’ve seen each have an advantage and disadvantage in the voting. Alphabetically:

“The Croods”: It’s actually a sweet tale with great animation. But the title and marketing indicate it might be filled with nose-picking jokes and low-brow humor, so the challenge is to get auds to lose preconceptions ­— and see it.

“Despicable Me 2”: Voters may mistakenly think the first “Despicable Me” won; it didn’t. And it will work well on screeners, but for full impact it should be seen on the bigscreen in 3D. Still, it was a huge hit, so many voters may have already seen it.

“Epic”: The film is adventurous and fun but was probably seen by fewer voters so far. And it’s trying something different: An Errol Flynn-“Robin Hood” tale in an animated world. Voters respond to originality with either fear or enthusiasm, so it could go either way.

Frozen has all the elements of Disney’s classics: A heartfelt theme, strong musical numbers — and (not one but two) princesses! These elements make it a huge crowd-pleaser, though a few naysayers feel these elements are too calculated.

“Monsters University”: Some people weirdly resent Pixar’s success, as if it doesn’t “need” more Oscar attention. The bar was set high because the first film, 2001’s “Monsters Inc.,” was beloved. But for what it’s worth, I think this one is far superior to the first pic.

The Wind Rises might win some critics’ prizes because of Miyazaki’s meticulous artwork, his reputation and his statement that this film will be his last. But Acad members are more mainstream than critics, and strategists for the film will have to work to make sure voters can get past the film’s subject matter and sensibility.

For the record, the other films submitted for Oscar consideration in the animated feature category include two other sequels — “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “The Smurfs 2” — as well as “The Fake,” “Free Birds,” “The Legend of Sarila,” “A Letter to Momo,” “O Apostolo” “Planes,” “Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie – Rebellion” and “Turbo.”

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