Lego fans – I feel your pain.
The talk of the town today has been the outrage over the
“snub” for The Lego Movie in the Best Animated Feature category – and no one is
more surprised than I.
It was in the bag: The Lego Movie was one of the biggest
money making films of the year and certainly the highest grossing animated
feature released during the calendar year. The film was funny, it had a strong
message, and looked different from the cookie cutter Hollywood fare we were
used to. It is brimming with innovative animation techniques – and it features
Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt and Morgan Freeman in lead voice roles. What went
If the Academy wants more eyeballs to watch its awards
telecast on Febraury 22nd, there would be no better way to ensure
the desired demographic than to nominate this film. But they didn’t.
Oscar looked the other way. Not only with this film but
other worthy contenders were “snubbed” (such as Jorge Gutierrez The Book of
Life, Signe Baumane’s Rocks In My Pockets and Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ in the
feature category – Glen Keane’s Duet and Moonbot’s The Numberlys in shorts, to
name but a few).
The good news is that the Academy tossed The Lego Movie a small
bone: it’s theme “Everything Is Awesome” is nominated for Best Song (it’s a
great song, you gotta admit).
Why did Lego get “snubbed”?
As someone who saw every qualified 2014 animated feature myself, there
is no question Lego was one of the year’s best. Perhaps our cup runneth over.
We had more truly great animated features released this year than any previous time
I can recall. And I wrote a book on this (The Animated Movie Guide – still on
The committee that votes for animated Oscar nominees must
see all the films qualified and in their collective wisdom they chose the five
they chose. To be sure, the ones actually nominated are all worthy contenders –
high quality motion pictures that blend masterful techniques with well crafted
storytelling. Two CG films, two drawn by hand and one using stop motion
puppets. A pretty well rounded group if you ask me – but its more than that.
The animated feature nominees announced today portend
changes in the category that are easy to see coming – if one knows their Oscar
and animation history.
In the beginning, The Academy had no category for animation.
But when Walt Disney and his sensational Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony
cartoons proved too popular – and too good – to ignore, the Academy created a
category in 1932 to honor the man and his films: Best Animated Short. For the
next eight years, Disney won all the Oscars. By 1940, with Disney concentrating
on feature length animation, the Academy began spread the wealth among its other
member studios (mainly Warner Bros. MGM and UPA).
By the late 1950s, the old school Hollywood cartoon shorts
ran out of steam – not to mention, budgets – and with the emergence of
independent and international animation, Oscar started to seriously recognize animation
as an artform. Artists like John Hubley and Richard Williams were awarded for
their achievements, and foreign studios like Zagreb, Pannonia Film and the
National Film Board of Canada were honored.
Cut to 2001. The major studios want back in. The Academy’s Hollywood
membership lobby for a category to honor the current stream of new animated
features, no longer the sole domain of Disney – and raking in piles of cash.
For the past 13 years the nominees and winners for Best Animated Feature were
dominated by Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Warner Bros. and Paramount.
Things may be changing. This year we have two major studios
(Disney and Dreamworks), one affiliated independent (Portland’s Laika), and two
true independent studios (meaning no major studio distribution, no campaign
money) based off shore.
In an era when animated studio features are all beginning to
look alike – the Academy is beginning to look elsewhere for innovation, new
ideas, new techniques, and strong storytelling. They are doing what they did back
in 1958 – they are starting to recognize the foreign and independent artist,
and weighing them against current Hollywood product.
This may be why many in the community can’t understand The
Lego Movie snub. This film is different. The film breaks the mold. It’s smart
and funny – and everyone loves it.
As for its Oscar omission, I stand here shaking my head –
but at the same time I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues in the field. The
animated feature has come of age. No longer a niche news item, but a national
outrage when one of our best doesn’t make the cut.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is awesome.