When it comes to animated films, I’ve always been more of an “old school” kind of guy. I realize I am in the minority with this opinion, but I believe Pixar will never be able to touch the magic and charm of the Walt Disney glory days.
Perhaps it’s just the nostalgic feeling of a childhood long lost that comes creeping back whenever I watch “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King.” As a chronic film addict who needs the theater to get his fix, it could also be that my first memory of going to a movie theater was to see “Aladdin” with my mom. Regardless, there’s a reason the Essential Disney Love Song Collection has occupied my car’s CD player since Valentine’s Day.
Now, I realize I am quite biased toward Disney’s traditional hand-drawn animation; therefore, I’m not going to use this column to rant about why it’s better than Pixar. As stubborn as I may be, I’m not entirely ignorant and I understand why others have fallen in love with Pixar’s computer-animated tales, even though it’s not my cup of tea. It’s near impossible to deny the company’s hold on people when Pixar films have continued to dominate film critics’ “best of the year” lists, the box office and award ceremonies for more than a decade. Yet, despite all this universal acclaim, a Pixar film has never been offered a shot at the granddaddy of them all: the Academy Award for Best Picture. In fact, only one animated film (“Beauty and the Beast” in 1991) has even been nominated for the award. While animated films do have a shot and will be nominated in the future for Best Picture, the academy will never give an Oscar to an animated film..
I first started to think in depth about this topic after a recent argument at the office that occurred while discussing the best films of this decade — a shameless plug for the Top 50 Films of the Decade feature in tomorrow’s paper. During the argument, a point was brought up that the emotions of the animated characters from films like “WALL-E” and “Up,” and the way these emotions make the audience feel, are just as real and meaningful as those of actors in live-action films.
That’s true to a point — the emotional pain that comes with the death of Mufasa or the joy when Marlin finally finds Nemo or the love between WALL-E and EVE is just as poignant as anything else you are going to see on the silver screen. Who cares if it’s lions, fish or robots? I give more credit to a director who can elicit these emotions from audiences by using these creatures instead of people. It means the director is getting viewers to look beyond the character to connect and associate with emotions that are familiar even if the character is not. For this reason, I don’t think it’s strictly the use of animation and not live-action that has kept animated films from winning Best Picture.
On the other hand, the tendency for most people to view animated films as simply “kids’” movies is one of the major aspects holding this genre back. Sure, animated films often cover adults themes such as death, love and violence to an extent, and they usually attempt to cater to both kids and their parents in some way. But the chances that an animated film will ever cover weighty subjects like the Holocaust, war or any sort of interactions or themes that are solely adult in nature is extremely slim and, historically, these PG-13 or R-rated topics are the typical Oscar bait that wins Best Picture. In fact, no PG-rated film has won Best Picture since “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989, and the only G-rated film ever to win was “Oliver!” in 1968. While there are adult animated films out there, they have yet to make much noise at the Oscars — only two PG-13 films have even been nominated for Best Animated Feature. Yet, even if Pixar decided to go way out of the box and create an adult animated movie that managed to still incorporate the creativity and originality of their kid flicks, it wouldn’t win Best Picture.
The main issue at hand is this: animated movies, just like foreign language films and documentaries, have their own category. When the Academy decided in 2001 to introduce the Best Animated Feature, they essentially killed any animated film’s chance at winning Best Picture. Even if an animated film were to be universally acclaimed by almost every critic, as many of Pixar’s films have been, it will be deemed enough if it wins Best Animated Feature because that is the top award for that genre. For this reason, Academy members are going to continue to choose live-action films over animated films in the years to come because the former don’t have a chance to win anywhere else whereas the latter do.
However, animated films have a chance to at least be nominated for Best Picture in the future now that there will be 10 nominees in the category. In fact, I think only the second animated film ever will be nominated this year when “Up” earns a nomination. Yet, while “Up” will win Best Animated Feature this year, it won’t win Best Picture. That milestone will forever remain a pipe dream.
Tony Lewis is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies. Do you think an animated film will ever win Best Picture or agree that old-school Disney is better than Pixar? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.