Oscars 2005
Still in the Ghetto
Terrence Briggs · February 27, 2005 | Remember the year of the Academy's first Best Animated Feature contest? Shrek, the year's highest-grossing film, upended Monsters, Inc., the year's number-two animated film at the box office, with Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius serving as the third placeholder.

This year, we have another Clash of the Titans. Disney duels DreamWorks as two of the year's biggest blockbusters go head-to-head: Shrek 2 and The Incredibles.

More importantly, it's Pacific Data Images versus Pixar: Round 2. Shark Tale brings up the rear, with no chance of winning, but at least it gets to plaster "Academy Award Nominee" on the cover of its best-selling DVD release.

If you consider the Academy Awards to be Hollywood's annual office awards banquet, then the messages being sent by this year's Best Animated Feature nominees are quite clear.

CGI is king. Long live the king. As in the 2001 contest, all of the nominees are computer-animated. Goodbye, antiquated debris-based stylus; hello laser-guided apparatus! The nominees for the previous two years represented a mix of traditional cel features alongside the CGI entries, giving hope to animation traditionalists. In 2004 we returned to the future foreshadowed in the first nominated threesome: computer animation forever.

Leaks can be good omens. Past Best Animated Feature winners Shrek and Finding Nemo were also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay (respectively), which is about as close to a Best Picture nod as those films could ever hope to come. This year, The Incredibles represents animation among the 10 screenplay nominees, which bodes well for its chances among the animation seculars who never saw the Best Animated Feature nominees.

Be honoured to be nominated. Looking at the presence of Shark Tale alongside the twin behemoths, I'm thinking "Pinky and the Brain... (and Larry)." Talk about your third wheels. With fewer than 11 eligible animated features this year (Appleseed may have missed the cut), only three nominees would be named. That is to say, Shrek 2 and The Incredibles would be accompanied by a third-party candidate with no chance of winning so much as a protest vote.

This raises a quandary, not to mention several conundrums: if two intimidating films threaten to dominate the category, should not the remaining nominees be honorary contributions from the Academy, intended to highlight an animated film not of this grand Hollywood entertainment vehicle construction plant? A nomination for Shark Tale is a Participation Award, for not failing at the box office. (If the Academy chooses to honour mediocrity, The Incredibles fell on deaf ears.)

Nominating an unconventional animated film (such as Mamoru Oshii's dizzying Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) would do far more for the prestige of the Animated Feature Film category than nominating Shark Tale ever will. What does honouring Shark Tale do for the art form, other than convince Hollywood to pump out even more stunt-casted comic vehicles? Nominate Ghost in the Shell 2, and you tell your Hollywood peers that inexpensive, thought-provoking, visually alluring animated films can be just as artful as live-action Oscar bait. Nominate Shark Tale, and the disposable $100-million comic vehicle becomes a part of cinematic history. Yea for art.

Enjoy your ghetto and shut up! If Shark Tale were a live-action comedy, it would stand as much chance of getting a major Oscar nomination as Hitch. Yet the Academy's exceedingly low standards for animated films once again turn the category into a joke. With all due respect to the skilled artists behind The Incredibles, all three nominees were comic vehicles. As live-action films, they'd be considered lightweight compared to the grand human drama of Million Dollar Baby. The Incredibles may be getting some play for its theme of middle-aged male disillusionment, but I can't think of any major critic who believes that it would be just as effective if it skimped on the action and took on the tone of Sideways. Animated biopics in the style of Ray, Finding Neverland, and The Aviator aren't likely to tickle the fancy of Academy nominators.

Given the choice between a stale but visually stunning animated drama such as Ghost in the Shell 2 and a stale but visually pedestrian comedy such as Shark Tale, the Academy errs on the side of the comedy. In short, the Academy has little interest in honouring animated films as art, since Hollywood has little interest in animating anything but pop art. "Prestige pictures" aren't animated by Hollywood gatekeepers; they're shot in live-action, for adult audiences, to win awards. When Hollywood animates anything, it's to cash in on young viewers and their parents. Think of it this way: if 2004's Best Picture nominees consisted of the year's highest-grossing, live-action Hollywood entertainment vehicles (Spider-Man 2, Meet the Fockers, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), would you believe that great art was being honoured?

Once again, Hollywood refuses to take feature film animation seriously, and its celebration of the year's best animated features is a joke.
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