Every year, Oscar pundits speculate whether animated films will be recognized beyond their own category.
And that long-dormant recognition is finally happening — but slowly.
An Oscar turning point came with the best picture nomination for the 1991 “Beauty and the Beast.” Since then, other toons have been nominated in the best pic, screenplay, music/song, sound and foreign-language categories. The second breakthrough will occur when there are multiple toons nominated for best picture in the same year —and when they are recognized in such categories as direction, costume design and art direction.
It will happen, and the sooner the better.
It’s never easy for any film to get Oscar attention but the battle is particularly steep for animated works for three reasons: guilt, the kiddie factor and the sheer mystery of the art.
When you’re in a “serious” discussion of great films, it’s easy to bring up “All Quiet on the Western Front” or “The Godfather.” But the conversation may come to a screeching halt if you talk about the brilliance of “Pinocchio,” the tear-jerking power of “Dumbo” or the awe of “Finding Nemo.” Sophisticated adults love these films, but for some reason are sheepish about discussing that fact. Animation has the same handicap as pop music and slapstick comedy — people seem guilty about their enjoyment.
Folks sometimes refer to them as “guilty pleasures,” but why should anyone feel guilty about something that gives them pleasure?
The second major hurdle for animation is the perception that it’s the domain of children.
We don’t feel bad when we admire an oil painting, or a hand-drawn portrait — but when those pieces of art start moving, we start to define them as kids’ stuff.
It may stem from the early days of television, when stations raided the vaults of major studios to find programming. Gangster films and romances from the 1930s weren’t suitable for kids on afternoons or Saturday morning, but Donald Duck, Popeye and Bugs Bunny were A-OK. So somehow kids and toons became synonymous.
Maybe it’s insecurity. Whether it’s an action film or animated movie, we notice that geeks and children like them, so we don’t want to be uncool by getting lumped in with either group.
And the final reason for the toon prejudice: It’s harder than it looks. Even if live-action veterans have never directed a film, they kinda/sorta know what is involved, so feel qualified to vote on it. But animation? That’s a foreign country.
In truth, it’s not that different. The costume designs for Snow White and Cruella de Vil are iconic. The production design of “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Wall-E” are breathtaking; so is the editing on “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” These things weren’t created by pushing a “magic animation” button on the computer.
Whether cel animation, CG or stop-motion, there is huge creativity behind any animated film, certainly as much as in live-action. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members won’t vote for a film simply because it’s animated — nor should they. They vote for a specific film, not for a style or genre. But people need to overcome their shyness about animated films — and I’m not talking only about Academy voters, but every awards voter, and every human in general.
Take the lead from Japan, where Hayao Miyazaki is as revered as Akira Kurosawa. Because they know that art is art, no matter how it’s created.