It’s the beginning of 2017. You know what that means? That’s right, it’s time for awards season! And that also means it’s time for articles and Internet comments railing about how the Academy is rigged, complaints about how Movie X didn’t get nominated or how Film Y is going to win because it’s made by So-And-So Studio. Now, I’m not going to lie: it’s fun to guess which movie is going to win, to hope for your favorite film to secure an Oscar and to be either ecstatic or disappointed by the results. I’ve been through all that before. However, I feel like some get so caught up in it that it takes the fun out of things.
When the Academy released the nominations for the upcoming ceremony, I immediately saw an article pop up on Cartoon Brew. After presenting the list of nominees, the article opened up its commentary with: “No Oscar category has been so controlled by one film company as the animated feature has been by the Walt Disney Company… There is significant reason at this point to question the Academy’s voting procedures.” This statement rubs me the wrong way for several reasons, but all of them can be boiled down to a single phrase.
It does not matter.
It’s nice to recognize the hard work that filmmakers put into their productions, but the Oscar statue is not the end-all-be-all. It may be the most prestigious award given out in Hollywood, but it’s certainly not the only one (see the Golden Globes, and the Annies especially for animation) and it can only carry so much weight. For example, in 1940 the Academy recognized Rebecca, Kitty Foyle, The Westerner and so on. You know what didn’t even get a nomination? The Wizard of Oz! Yet out of these titles, I’d argue that The Wizard of Oz has impacted the most people and embedded itself most strongly in our culture. The Shawshank Redemption famously received zero Oscars, yet is now considered one of the finest films of all time. And you know what? That is okay.
In a world where fan communities stand ready to unleash gloating and reprisals the morning after the Academy delivers its decisions, I come with a radical idea. It is perfectly possible to like a movie if it doesn’t get a nomination. Just because the Academy chooses not to recognize it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to like it. Studio executives and producers don’t particularly care, since they’re more focused on movie grosses. As for actors and writers and directors, an Oscar is a nice embellishment for a portfolio. I’d dare suggest, though, that if their explicit goal is only to get a prize, they may be in the industry for the wrong reasons. So, when Cartoon Brew rails against the Academy and encourages readers to “pressure them to institute more fair voting rules,” I simply reply that there are far more pressing causes for our time and political capital.
Now as I said, it’s perfectly fine to recognize films independent of the Academy. That’s what I intend to do right now. Sit yourself down for the first annual David’s! Just watch, it’s gonna take off. Here are all the animated productions I want to recognize this year:
Kubo and the Two Strings: Laika is an exceptionally skilled studio, and they put their heart and soul into their stop motion productions. Kubo was nothing less than a triumph for them. First of all, the visuals and cinematography were amazing. Every emotion felt sharp and raw, and the scenes made the screen feel like a window to another world. Kubo dealt heavily with the theme of storytelling, and held back no punches. The peril is real, the characters fleshed out, and the plot gripping from beginning to end. It’s nothing less than art, and the animators can’t have enough praise heaped onto them.
Zootopia: My personal favorite out of the year, as any of my friends and regular readers can tell you. When the teaser first aired, I laughed at the tagline: “Like nothing you’ve seen be-fur.” The pun aside, of course we’d seen this before. Disney practically invented the idea of animals walking around on two legs and doing human things. But boy, did my mouth get shut quickly. The movie breaks from the Disney formula and delivers one of the most original plots I’ve seen from the studio. The animation and design are top notch, the characters are all phenomenal, it’s funny and smart, and social commentary that’s actually organic and intelligent? It turns out it was like nothing I’d seen be-fur.
Moana: Lin-Manuel Miranda got signed onto Disney? This was a no-brainer. Moana is going to be remembered in decades along with the likes of The Little Mermaid and CInderella, sharpening the Disney formula to a fine point. It successfully married traditional Disney storytelling with Pixarian technology and the leading edge of today’s cultural icons. Just as the river reaches the shoreline and creates an estuary unlike any other ecosystem, old and new talent combined here to create a beautiful picture.
Sing: I’ve already talked enough about the importance of Sing in my previous columns. So to reiterate briefly, this movie put Illumination back on track, and gave it an out from the Despicable Me franchise before it was needed. With great characters and a surprisingly enjoyable soundtrack, this movie left the year off on a high note (pun very intended). There is plenty to be said about films that are enjoyable without being ground-breaking. Sing was a pleasant movie to relax with and enjoy, and sometimes that’s just we need.
Sausage Party: This was certainly an intriguing title. Seth Rogen’s parody of Pixar was just as crass and irreverent as promised, and then some. The humor certainly got old quickly, but it was still a competently produced picture that talked about religion in a way that actually went better than I would have expected. Even if I disagree with its message, I can still respect the effort that went into the production. Of course, the movie has come under controversy for mistreating the animators that worked on it. To any of them reading this, I want to say that your effort has not gone unappreciated.
Storks: Warner Animation made waves in 2014 with The Lego Movie, and they proved their comedic skills with Storks this past year. Again, it was not any kind of groundbreaking movie, but still very enjoyable nonetheless. It was full of gags that had me rolling with laughter, with witty dialogue and great visuals combining to maximize the humor. Warner knows how to tell jokes, and it’s their strongest asset right now. If you’re ever looking for a fun way to relax, Storks is the movie for you.
Trollhunters: DreamWorks’ Netflix series Trollhunters seemed generic from the trailers. A high schooler finds a secret world living alongside the humans’ world, and he has to go on a bunch of adventures while balancing his schoolwork and personal life? Yawn, been done. But dang, did it deliver a punch! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a series this much since Gravity Falls ended last year. I still intend to really pick apart this series, but for the moment let me say this: it’s rare to see a series build an arc so well, to develop characters as well as DreamWorks’ did here. The peril and conflict feels real. And while it employs some common tropes, it actually takes them in unique directions that I appreciate greatly. If this had been a film, it would have surely been a contender this season.
David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Animation Analysis appears online alternate Tuesdays this semester.