March 15, 2024

A medium for kids? Why we should award more Oscars to animated films

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Justin Sau in Hong Kong

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The Best Animated Feature Oscar has been awarded by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 2001.

Picture by: Alan Light

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently held its annual Academy Awards, which shone a brighter light on the potential of animation.

Among other buzz generated by the nominations, this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Feature went to Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. With 33 movies eligible, it was the largest field of qualified films in Academy Award history.

Miyazaki’s perfect blend of magic and existentialism –The Boy And The Heron Review

The nominees included Nick Bruno and Troy Quane’s Nimona, Peter Sohn’s Elemental, Pablo Berger’s Robot Dreams, Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and the victorious The Boy and the Heron.

The Boy and the Heron has found great commercial success and won numerous accolades, becoming the first foreign film to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Animated.

Yet the recent Oscar win combined with previous acclaim and commercial success of the film has raised an important question: can an animated film win the Academy Award for Best Picture?

Movies such as Persepolis, A Silent Voice, Grave of the Fireflies and many other animated films definitely should have been nominated for Best Picture, if not win the award altogether.

Persepolis tackles complex social and political issues with a blend of humour, honesty, and raw emotion. A Silent Voice is a masterful blend of visual storytelling, nuanced character development, and a heartfelt exploration of human connection. Grave of the Fireflies confronts the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit, which left me devastated in a way no film ever has before.

Each of these films has received universal praise for their unique storytelling, emotional depth, and thought-provoking themes yet were largely ignored at the Oscars.

As the industry progresses, the Academy, as one of the leading authorities on film, must spearhead the effort to challenge preconceived notions until one day the world truly recognizes animation’s artistic potential.

Historically, only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture. Beauty and the Beast in 1991, Up in 2009, and Toy Story 3 in 2010. None of these nominated movies won, but in 2002 the category of Best Animated Feature was created to recognize such films.

However, the category has since been met with criticism, with some feeling that the category only exists to prevent animated films from having a chance to win the Best Picture award.

Perhaps the most significant example of this is the 81st Academy Awards, when WALL-E won the Best Animated Feature but was not nominated for Best Picture, despite receiving widespread critical acclaim and being considered as one of the best films of the year.

The decision sparked controversy over whether the film was deliberately snubbed, with film critic Peter Travers stating that “if there was ever a time where an animated feature deserved to be nominated for Best Picture, it’s WALL-E.”

The Academy Awards themselves have not been too helpful in bridging the gap. The Best Animated Feature itself has often overwhelmingly favoured major corporations such as Disney, with independent and foreign films being frequently looked over.

The Boy and the Heron is one of just eight anime films nominated for Best Animated Feature, seven of which have been produced by Studio Ghibli. Pixar, however, has already received 16 Oscar nods with 11 wins while Disney boasts a record 33 nominations and eight wins.

Reports that voters choose the winner based on which ones their kids liked the most haven’t helped much either. Indeed, Best Animated Feature tends to go to kid-friendly movies such as Frozen or Big Hero 6, which may perpetuate the stereotype of animation being a medium only for children to enjoy.

Kirk Wise, director of Beauty and the Beast, attests to this prejudice in an interview with Vulture, stating that when the movie was nominated, “there were those in the awards broadcast who had to be snarky and pooh-poohed the notion of a ‘cartoon’ being included with ‘real movies.’”

That said, the Best Animated Award category is important. Spirited Away’s victory launched Hayao Miyazaki into the international spotlight, and can help promote further progress in the field of animation.

Perhaps the success of The Boy and the Heron will lead to greater recognition and appreciation of Japanese (and all non-Western) animation. Or maybe one of the many upcoming animated films, like Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, Kung Fu Panda 4, or Inside Out 2 will snag a Best Picture nomination. Either way, I’m excited to see what the future of animation will hold.

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Justin Sau

Culture editor

Hong Kong, SAR

Born in 2007, Justin studies in Hong Kong at the HKIS. Fluent in English and Mandarin, he is interested in journalism, English literature, history, and sports.

Justin joined Harbinger’s Magazine in 2023 as a contributor, writing predominantly about culture. In 2024, he took over the Culture section of the magazine.

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Megan Lee

Culture Section Editor

Hong Kong | United Kingdom

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