By Joel Davidison
After cleaning up at the box office and garnering rave reviews, the cleverly written and gorgeously animated The Lego Movie was denied a Best Animated Feature nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards. There has been a lot of uproar from fans regarding the decision, and there’s no denying that it’s an odd ruling, to say the least. After all, the film was one of the highest grossing animated movies of the year and arguably the most critically successful. Some have speculated that the Academy found The Lego Movie too brand-oriented to earn a nomination. This might be accurate, but I think the truth lies deeper than that. Frankly, it doesn’t appear as if the Academy takes animated films very seriously, after mostly ignoring them until 2001 and then dominating the newly-formed animated awards categories with the same two or three studios. In fact, the curious snubbing of The Lego Movie is just the latest in a series of offenses by the Academy Awards against animation, and we only have to go back one year to find the previous one.
Following the 2013 Oscars, Hollywood Reporter ran a series of anonymous interviews with Academy voters. Of the eight members interviewed, half of them admitted that they abstained from voting in the Best Animated Feature category (either because they didn’t watch all of the nominees or because they didn’t feel strongly about any one film). One voter went even further and said “I have seen none of them. I have no interest whatsoever. That ended when I was 6.” (“Oscar Voter Reveals Brutally Honest Ballot.” Hollywood Reporter. Feb 26, 2014)
The remaining four voters Hollywood Reporter spoke to said that Frozen was the only animated movie that stood out to them that year, and was thus the only film they considered worthy of the Best Animated Feature award. Although I enjoyed Frozen a lot, it didn’t break much new ground with regards to its classic Disney lineage. Its plot, in fact, eerily resembled The Lion King in some places.
With that said, let’s take a look at another nominee from that year: The Wind Rises. The last film from acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the A6M Zero (the main Japanese fighter plane used during WWII). Subtle in its storytelling and heart-wrenching in its emotional impact, the film shows just how great animation can be. It managed to tell a mature story while, at the same time, using the medium of animation to stylistically depict the thought processes involved in airplane design. The film also raised thought-provoking questions, forcing me as an American to view the Second World War through the eyes of Japanese engineers who created weapons to fight against the Allies. The Wind Rises is a ground-breaking story from a master filmmaker at the top of his craft, and it’s a sterling example of Japanese cinema (animated or otherwise).
Whether you think Frozen is better than The Wind Rises or not, it’s difficult to look back at those anonymously interviewed voters who considered Frozen to be the only worthwhile film of the year and imagine that they could have seen The Wind Rises. It’s even more difficult to see both films’ artistic achievements and believe that animation could only appeal to 6-year-olds. Either way, 2013 proved to be yet another unfortunate year of the Academy Awards mistreating animated films, in its motivation for voting if nothing else.
Animation is an incredibly powerful art form. Its ability to depict boundless human imagination without the limitations of live action can provide endless possibilities for storytelling. The fact that children have so readily embraced the medium shows the influence it holds on impressionable young people (many of whom may become the future of entertainment). With that in mind, the attitude the Academy seems to have towards animation is pretty embarrassing, and we can only hope that the Oscars will be more respectful to the Best Animated Film category in the future.