Should the Oscar for Best Animated Film need to be rethought?

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Twenty years ago, the first ever Oscar was awarded to the best animated film, which was added to the one for the best animated short film, awarded since the 1930s. It was the first new award after the best makeup award was created in 1982, and it was introduced because animated films were more and more seen and appreciated. Even then, however, there were those critic the choice fearing that it would isolate animated films and prevent the best of them from winning other awards, including the one for best film.

It is a criticism still current, given that many continue to think so, helped in their arguments by what they have seen in the last twenty years and by the parallel doubts that the award for best film has in the meantime become too commercial and American. In short: the Oscar for best animated film turns twenty, and it’s time to take stock, which for many are anything but positive.

The decision to institute the Oscar for animated films was made in 2000, at the end of a decade marked by the so-called “Disney Renaissance” and in years in which what had been an almost undisputed Disney domain was beginning to be under discussion by Pixar (which was bought by Disney only in 2006), by DreamWorks and, to a lesser extent, by foreign production houses such as Aardman Animations and Studio Ghibli. There was also considerable – and in hindsight quite right – confidence in what computers could do in that industry.

The Oscars, it must be said, had not been entirely indifferent to what was happening: as had already happened in 1938 for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsalso in 1988 and 1995 the Academy – the association that awards the Oscars – had given special awards to Roger Rabbit And Toy Story. And already in 1991 The beauty and the Beast it was the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, later won by the Silence of the Lambs.

The increase in competition and production, combined with intense lobbying by interested parties, eventually led to the establishment of a special Oscar for animation. The initial rules, then changed over the years, provided that the candidate films were three or five depending on the total number of eligible films, and that only the experts would choose which animated films to nominate. In 2002, the three candidates were Jimmy Neutron – Boy prodigy, Monsters & Co. And Shrek. The latter won, after coming close, it is said, to the nomination for best film.

– Read also: Shrek changed the animation

In the following years they won, in order: The Enchanted City, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille, WALL • E, Up, Toy Story 3 – The great escape, Rango, Rebel – The Brave, Frozen – Big Hero 6 and Inside Out. For the past five years, the award has gone to Zootropolis, Coco, Spider-Man – A New Universe, Toy Story 4 and Soul. On 11 occasions, Pixar won, and in five of the remaining nine the award went to a film produced by Disney or one by Dreamworks.

Among all these films, only two have also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture (meanwhile expanded to more than five nominees): Up And Toy Story 3, in 2010 and 2011. It is considered a rarity that Inside Out was nominated alongside non-animated films for his screenplay, and since then the main criticisms for a failed nomination have been WALL • Ereleased in 2008 and to which they were preferred Ratatouille (winner, and in turn from Pixar), Persepolis And Surf’s Up – The kings of the waves.

Although among the animated films awarded in the last twenty years, many have actually entered the history of recent cinema, almost none have managed to get out of the animation enclosure at the Oscars. It is also quite evident that, albeit with some exceptions, the most viewed and most famous animated film of the year has almost always won. The more niche films, perhaps made outside the United States by small more or less independent studios, only showed up among the candidates. And it is likely that, given that for a couple of years all Academy members and not just animation professionals have been choosing which films to nominate, in the future the award will tend to favor even more famous films.

This perspective has convinced more and more critics and insiders that the functioning of the award for the best animated film needs to be changed. Their hope is that instead of such canonical and predictable nominations, something similar to what happens regularly in the category for the best animated short, often populated, and sometimes even won, by smaller, more independent and original projects.

While the decision to support the growth in relevance of animated films has paid off, according to many experts much remains to be done to ensure that animated films are perceived as cinema in all respects. In some ways it is similar to what others do for documentaries, which are also often relegated to a category of their own from which they rarely leave. In recent years, however, international films – understood as not in English – have finally managed to appear more and more often in other categories, including that for best film.

One possibility cited by someone to make the Oscars for best animated film less “commercial” is to return, as it was a few years ago, to making only professionals choose which film to nominate. This would make judgments more competent and informed, limited to those who follow animated films for work. But it is also true that the problem seemed to exist even before the rules changed, and that at the same time, even since all the members of the Academy have voted, there have been unsatisfied nominations, for example that – in 2021 – of the film Wolfwalkers – The wolf people.

On the other hand, there is objectively not much to be done to favor the inclusion of animated films among those chosen as candidates for the best film. It is simply something that happens or does not happen (as for an international film), depending on the preferences of the thousands of Academy members, and indeed it can be assumed that it is easier to happen precisely to commercial and commercial animated films. success, as are generally those of Disney and Pixar (and as it was in its time The beauty and the Beast).

– Read also: How to make an animated film

This year, the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Film are: Encanto (the favorite, from Disney), Luca (from Pixar), The Mitchells against the machines (from Netflix), Raya and the last dragon (another Disney movie) and finally Fleeon the story of an Afghan refugee who escapes to Europe, who is also nominated for both an Oscar as best documentary and, representing Denmark, for the award for best international film.