Oscars 2003
Oscar and the Grouch
Treasure Planet: There goes the neighbourhood
Emru Townsend · February 22, 2003 | Damien Bona recently made an interesting comment about the Best Animated Feature Film category in "Oscar: Raw and uncut" on Salon, describing it as "a category that shouldn't even exist." His justification? "Very few cartoons are good enough to merit Academy recognition; if something truly remarkable does come along, a special Oscar can take care of it."

As animation fans we're familiar with the casual arrogance of that last sentence and the contempt it conveys for animation as a medium. But then, on some days I'd probably agree with him. I liked Powerpuff Girls in much the same way as an afternoon at the arcade, but it's certainly not Oscar material. And I recently read of P3K Pinocchio 3000, which immediately brought to mind Pinocchio in Outer Space, which made me cringe even when I was nine. But then there are live-action movies like The Hot Chick, XXX, and Blue Crush. They may be to your taste or they may not, but no one argues that they're Oscar contenders. Yet they peacefully coexist with the Oscar bait that starts to show up after summer.

Bona goes on to say that having a "bomb" like Treasure Planet up for a statuette "diminishes the stature of the Awards." (He doesn't say if "bomb" refers to its box office take or its quality as a movie. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't like the film.) But whether or not Treasure Planet was any good isn't the point, is it? Either way, it was one of the year's best animated films. That's what the award measures. If there had been few decent documentaries in the same year, I'm sure it would never have crossed Bona's mind to seriously suggest axing the category, even temporarily.

I happen to think that feature animation as a whole has been in a terrible state for years. Unlike Bona, I don't think that eliminating the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar is an appropriate response. Having the category means that animation studios eager to prove their mettle now have a shiny target to aim for. It's Darwinian: DreamWorks winning for Shrek last year means Disney and Pixar will have to work harder. If Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon wants a serious shot at Oscar, they'll either have to create far better spinoffs from their TV fare or apply their creative talents to something new. Alternatively, the studios can go the cheaper route and import more work from foreign studios as Disney has with Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke and Sony Pictures did with Metropolis—and let's not forget DreamWorks' success with Chicken Run a few years ago.

Perhaps most important is that animated features will now be part of the annual discussion of what makes movies tick, and as more people talk and write about how they fit within the movie industry and take note of how limits are and can be pushed, the people who make animation will find themselves challenged and inspired. Change won't happen overnight, but with Oscar in the mix it will certainly be egged on.
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