The Oscars have passed us by and you know what that means! It’s time for commentary on Academy Awards, Animated Anarchy Style!
Any mention of the Academy Awards will get you a knee-jerk reaction of praise or retribution because something was snubbed or the wrong “insert category here” won, this year being no exception to the rule. This year’s biggest egregious error was the exclusion of The Lego Movie for The Best Animated Feature Award. When I heard the news I was deservedly frustrated, as I didn’t just consider it to be the best-animated project this year, but it might also be my favorite movie of 2014 period.
This is one of those really bizarre cases of how could get ignored, as critics and audiences alike lauded it and the film earned 480 million dollars for a February release. So most people in the animation community were gearing up How To Train Your Dragon 2 as the expected winner, as it was also critically acclaimed, financially successful, and it won both the Golden Globe and Annie Award. Sadly, the Academy followed through as many cynics suspected with Big Hero 6 winning for Best Animated Feature.
I really wanted How To Train Your Dragon 2 to win, but in all honesty, I’m okay with Big Hero 6’s victory. I’ll go far to say I enjoyed Big Hero 6 more than fellow nominees The Boxtrolls and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. I’d love to see Song of the Sea, especially coming from the same studio as 2009’s The Secret of Kells, but it’s near impossible to find it unless you live in a major metropolitan city. Even then, I can only name five people total who have watched the movie.
The problem with Big Hero 6’s win is something much more systematic within the Academy. Last year, animation buffs were agitated that Frozen won despite the fact that several votes admitted to only watching that movie compared to other nominees. In 2013’s case, there was no questioning Frozen would win as it was a cultural phenomenon against very paltry competition. But if you were to ask me, the problem goes another year back.
I’ve wanted to write an article about 2012 ever since I started this blog for One of Us. When Pixar’s Brave won the Academy Award, there was a noticeable backlash as many saw it as the weakest film amongst Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. I wanted to write this retrospective to revisit the nominees and how the events from that year have left the category without any respect, especially with this hat trick of bias towards Disney/Pixar.
So let’s look back at those who were neglected and which movies still stay alive in the public consciousness. Put away your Google Glass and return to a time when 3D was in full swing at the theaters again, to 2012!
Wreck-It Ralph was my favorite animated movie of 2012. It’s a loving dedication to video games that managed to establish great new, original characters with an impeccable voice cast. The animation is fantastic, as it could transition seamlessly between scenes 2D sprites and smooth CGI. From retro gaming, to arcade culture and the emphasis on tough-as-nails, modern shooting games, Wreck-it-Ralph encapsulated various eras of games that we all remember.
Although I understand people’s complaints with a large portion in the movie set in a Candyland-based original property, there’s no lack of character development. Ralph is a pretty loveable curmudgeon, Felix and Calhoun work as a great foils and Vanellope is really good at twisting the entire story together amongst all these games. Heck, many people confused this as the Pixar movie, as it focuses on an uplifting journey that’s explored by really colorful characters. You can tell that this movie was made by people who absolutely loved video games. From opening credits to kill screen stinger, this has become one of my seminal Disney favorites.
Paperman is a groundbreaking short; as several people I know prefer it over Wreck-It-Ralph when it came to theaters. It’s an awe-inspiring, 7-minute story about love and taking the chance to follow it when a moment feels to good to be true. And yes, that incredible flow of emotions you felt when seeing this is called Disney Magic.
Disney’s collaboration of using traditional hand-drawn animation and 3D computer graphics is simply breathtaking. There’s an unmistakable pop to the animation when you see actions of the paper flying through the wind or observe several angles of the main character’s office. It’s so incredibly darling and emotional using black and white with the sweeping orchestra as the plot plays out. Seeing this short win the Academy Award along with 2014’s Feast, I can’t wait for Disney to create a feature-length movie with this striking style.
What I would consider to be the animated indie-darling of 2012 is ParaNorman, with its shockingly large fanbase and hauntingly wonderful stop-motion animation. This was a real success for Laika Entertainment, who had earned some fans with the eerily enchanting Coraline. This was an even bigger success by being a strong, brutally sincere Halloween film that introduces children to themes of death and legacy.
For myself, the movie was overhyped as being one of the best movies of the year. Similar to The Boxtrolls, it’s hampered by on-the-nose commentary about society and the general fear of the unknown. What does succeed about this movie is how the voice cast and characters show phenomenal development throughout stressful situation. ParaNorman is mostly decent, but the third act is beautiful when it folds Norman’s arc into the big moral payoff of the story. In the end, Laika created a very fascinating, atmospheric movie about understanding the supernatural as good as the best.
Speaking of people obsessed with weirdos, Tim Burton’s return to animation felt like a genuine comeback. (And washed out some of the taste from Dark Shadows) What I really love about Frankenweenie was how surprisingly simple and effective it was. Telling the story of a boy and his dog with the macabre twist really gave the movie this relatable draw, despite the typical Tim Burton-isms of bizarre characters and denouncing suburbia.
This film is a beautiful tribute to early Horror films as shown in the character design, scene references, and voice work. I really loved how climatic scenes combined elements of Frankenstein, Gamera, and Gremlins with a form of patchwork-inspired glory. The black-and-white tone manages to be gothic and genuinely sweet. We earned a one-two punch of terrifying tales for toddlers and I hope we continue to have more animated films for every time of the year.
Rise of the Guardians
Now this movie was a real surprise by reminding us how good Dreamworks can be with the right talent in charge. What sounded like one of the silliest, destined-to-fail ideas on paper became a true-blue movie that celebrates everything we love about winter while mixing together all the great holiday myths. And several of the gambles in voice work from Alec Baldwin as the Russian Santa Claus or Hugh Jackman as Australian Easter Bunny made for some great, memorable performances.
The movie has the flow and feel like an amazing graphic novel unveiling this magical world of protectors with a touching, emotional core at the center. I’m ecstatic that we have this new version of Jack Frost who captures the whimsical nature of his season but is a loveable scamp all the way through. My only critique is the underwritten role of the Boogeyman as the main villain, but when everything else in the movie is so good, it is something easy to look over. This was one of the most significant snubs of 2012.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The Pirates! Band of Misfits or In An Adventure with Scientists! was another notch in the belt British studio Aardman. Having just made Arthur Christmas and earning an Academy Award for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit, it looked like they were primed to get another award using their unique charms of clever gags, a surprisingly deep plot, and literal gallows humor.
Using delightful UK actors like Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant and Brian Blessed makes everyone in the cast a fleshed out, realistic character. All the characters get various moments to tell great quips or commentate on running gags to a hilarious effect. The plot is ingenious, mixing together Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria for a fun romp that makes you remember how great pirate stories can be for commentary and enjoyment for all ages. Heck, who’d have expected The Pirates to contribute to the slew of pro-science movies for kids?
Although La Luna is technically a 2011 release, many of us became familiar with the heartwarming tale as it was shown before Brave. And this is one of those very rare instances where the short is much, much better than the feature film shown afterwards. The CGI is simply enchanting by bringing out so much color and brilliant uses of light only amongst the sea, stars, and moon.
This tale is all about a boy following in his family’s footsteps to be a caretaker of the moon, sweeping away the stars that fall on it. Between his bickering father and grandfather, he becomes his own man by discovering his own personal tool, bonding everyone together through hard work. There are themes of family, tradition, and generational influence that make it very easy to resonate with in this beautiful, cutely told story.
Does this sound familiar? La Luna is a vastly superior version of Brave about family and destiny told in the span of 6 minutes with an all-male cast. Yet, no one seems to remember it.
Brave is such a disappointment as a Pixar film. There was so much buzz when the first trailer was released and we would get master thespians at Pixar to do their take on the Disney princess story. Sadly, the film’s change in directors from Brenda Chapman to Mark Andrews really indicates all of Brave’s major faults. Every single Pixar movie, aside from the Cars series, was fantastic at creating well-defined characters in a fascinatingly large world with a genuinely nuanced form of storytelling. Yet Brave is…so paint-by-numbers simple that it hurts.
I can understand that people can bond with this movie because they connected to Elinor and Merdia’s relationship, but I find both of them are frustratingly unlikable characters. When you re-watch movie, you realize that Elinor’s pomp and circumstance of trying to make Merida the perfect bride is completely pointless. Every other character is silly, one-dimensional, and doesn’t seem to care at all about keeping up traditions. All that conflict trying to sell the importance of being a proper lady, is completely undermined halfway through as Merida can give a half-baked, poorly cobbled together speech to fix centuries worth of conflict. And with that second half, all the development is stopped flat in its tracks by silencing Elinor with a played-out, dull conclusion.
In my eyes, the film doesn’t even work as an empowering, feminist tale. Merida sympathies go completely out the window when she decides to poison her mom when there was every opportunity not to. The film could have had a great juxtaposition detailing Merida’s frustration with her life being wasted as a princess, while her three little brothers are allowed to be destructive hellions. Her father manages to be the most lovable and sensible characters, but he’s primarily ignored. And the only other women in the film are the anachronistic witch and the poor, miserable screaming maid.
All this movie has is admittedly beautiful, stunning animation. But where’s the exploration? Where are the great, insightful characters like Gill from Finding Nemo or Anton Ego like Ratatouille? There’s nothing here, with the villain even lacking dimension or sinister undertones. The dialogue wastes time by giving clunky foreshadowing or parroting the message of the film. A movie that has won the Academy Award should be prized on something better than how well you can render out strands of hair.
The Oscars are not completely biased towards Disney and Pixar, with films like Happy Feet and Rango winning Academy Awards. An article was just released showing some anonymous votes for the Best Animated Feature for 2014. It’s not as blatant as last year with Frozen, but there are some startling reactions as found here. Though it does bring a smile on my face to see many of write-in comments talk about how they’d vote for The Lego Movie if it were included. Many of the voters took the time to watch all five films, but many of them chose Big Hero 6 for being visually pretty and being the most family-friendly.
Unfortunately, that’s the key here: “Family-Friendly.” I’m all for family friendly…but the kids aren’t voting. And we all know that children can be pretty undiscerning when it comes to animated movies. Big Hero 6, Frozen, and Brave all received their victories for being colorful, simple, and not too mature. It baffles me even more to why The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated, because it may have earned the win for entertaining everyone with its happy-go-lucky tone.
I don’t know why The Academy is backsliding on animation. Not everyone is happy and doesn’t seem to try hard enough to vote, as one person complained: “…for that movie not to be in over these two obscure freakin’ Chinese fuckin’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw.”
You lose so much creditability by nominating Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya for diversity’s sake alone. We have so many cartoons that appeal to adults and have incredibly mature themes. If you want people to take your ceremony much more seriously…why are you resting your laurels on what toddlers enjoy?
The Best Animated Feature category has proven to be a highly contested race for 14 years. Let’s keep it that way by judging fairly on what makes an animated movie work. Not just the looks or morals or if you can show it to someone without giving them nightmares. These films are for everyone and are to remind you of the emotion, intelligent writing, and visual storytelling that make you appreciate your position in Hollywood.
That was a pretty long diatribe there. What were your thoughts on the Academy Awards? Fine with Big Hero 6’s Win? Do you think Lord and Miller still came out on top? Thoughts on Brave or the other films of 2012? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to talk with you about them!
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