AMERICAN ANIMATION: The 91st Academy Awards

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I’m taking a quick break from writing about WWII films for a bit in order tackle a more lightheaded subject – the Academy Awards, specifically how they are honouring animation this year. The films and shorts nominated at this ceremony have a tremendous effect on how both the industry and audiences in America view animation, especially in contrast to the medium’s reputation in other countries. Please note, these are not predictions or anything like that. They are just observations about what films have been nominated and their place in the history of this awards ceremony.

First up, Best Animated Short Film is the longest running of these categories. Introduced in 1932 as “Short Subjects, Cartoons”, this award has grown from a way to continuously honour Walt Disney to a way to spotlight international, independent, and experimental animators. This year, what was once the norm has been a rarity. Bao played in front of The Incredibles 2, making it the sole nominee to be theatrically released. The others – Animal Behaviour, Late Afternoon, One Small Step, and Weekends – gained recognition through festival runs.

Best Animated Feature, on the other hand, is the Academy Awards’ newest category. Introduced in 2001, it has almost consistently gone to mainstream 3D CG animation, with two early exceptions – Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away in 2002 and Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005. For the past decade, the winner has been either Disney or Pixar. While both have contenders (Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet and Pixar’s The Incredibles 2), this year threatens to break that trend with Sony’s visually innovative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Rounding out the set of nominees, the stop-motion Isle of Dogs represents a kind of auteur-led animation for adults, akin to the nomination for Anomolisa in 2015. Finally, Mirai is notable for being the first non-Ghibli Japanese film nominated in this category. It was distributed in the States by GKids, which has been continuously netting nominations for non-American animation since The Secret of Kells surprised in 2009.

Finally, we have Best Visual Effects, which has evolved to become a way to acknowledge computer animation in otherwise live-action films. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a typical example of the type of VFX-heavy studio fare that usually dominates this category. However, similar nominees – namely, Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One – also foreground the use of character-centric animation, accomplished via motion capture. Christopher Robin is another example of this focus on character over pure spectacle. Finally, First Man demonstrates how VFX can support traditional dramas without becoming the centrepiece of the whole film.

I hope you all enjoyed this little diversion from our usual material. My next post will return to more explicitly WWII-related material. If you want to learn more about the Academy Awards, be sure to check out our collection on Hollywood and American films at the 2AD Memorial Library.

-Francis

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