Say what you will about AMPAS, the Academy Award nomination
process, or the lack of minority representation in the acting categories, but
when it comes to the branch that selects the Best Animated Feature and Best
Animated Short Film nominees, one has to agree they are by far the group that
is most willing to look outside what studios are producing and truly champion the quality of the craft ignoring lavish campaigns for true artistry.
This year, while most experts and pundits had their
predictions fixated on films such as “The Peanuts Movie, “a well-liked homage
to Schultz’ characters, or Pixar’s less prodigious candidate “The Good
Dinosaur,” members of the animation committee seemed to ignore the speculation
and in a highly unexpected move bestowed the coveted recognition on two five
films that reflect the eclectic and broad spectrum of the medium. Curiously
enough, the popular choice, “Inside Out,” is in the outlier here, because it’s
the only CG film nominated in the category. The other four finalists are
handcrafted projects created outside the box-office smashing and toy-selling
strategies of large corporations.
One is a stop-motion romance aimed at mature audiences; there
is also a critically acclaimed Aardman Studios production inspired by one of its
most beloved characters, and two are hand-drawn international features prompted
to this level of exposure solely by their undeniable craftsmanship and
compelling visual storytelling. These last two candidates couldn’t be more
different in stylistic approach and cultural intricacies; however, the fact
that they both belong to New York-based independent distributor GKIDS’
catalog, places them within an elite collection of animated gems known for their unconventional excellence.
On January 14th as the as the nominees in the
Best Animated Feature category at the 88th Academy Award were
revealed, the most shocking appearance, at least for those not familiar with
the title, was that of a completely independent and visionary work from Brazil. Alê Abreu‘s mesmerizing musical extravaganza “Boy and the World” has been
profoundly adored by those who have given a chance from the very beginning, but
that doesn’t always translate into the mass appreciation – much less into
Oscar love. Its nomination represents a triumph for uncompromising artists and
in particular for Latin American animation. “Boy and the World” is the region’s
first nominee and undoubtedly the most achieved animated project ever produced
Abreu’s film is utterly unforgettable and can’t fully be
compared to anything previously done in the medium. Such colorful singularity
and its endearingly transcendent messages certainly stroke a chord with voters.
Nostalgic childhood memories, social justice concerns, artistic rebellion
against oppression, and a myriad of other poignant ideas expressed nonverbally
with multiple dynamic techniques and a vivid score resonated far beyond the
reach of cocktail parties. “Boy and the World” is animation in its purest, most
inspired and most heartfelt form. Is art directly from the artist hand, and
READ MORE: How “Boy and the World” Director Alê Abreu Handcrafted His Heartfelt & Dazzling Animated Masterpiece
Moved by the unexpected nomination director Alê Abreu said, “I am so honored and happy to have our film recognized by the Academy, I have no words. Thank you! It was a great year for animation around the globe, and the Academy’s continued recognition of our work will continue to inspire.”
That morning, as Guillermo Del Toro read the names of the
chosen films, another GKIDS nominee was announced to most people’s disbelief. Ghibli
is no stranger the Oscar race, but their latest and, for the time being, final
film from the legendary Japanese studio, “When Marnie Was There,” opened back
in May and seemed to have lost traction as larger productions appeared to
dominate not only the box-office but also the collective consciousness of what
films would be recognized by the Academy. But one should never ignore Ghibli’s
magical way to connect emotionally with audiences and the painstaking effort
that takes to create such beautifully drawn treasures. The inclusion of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s
touching coming-of-age story based on a British novel by the same name, rounds
up one of the strongest and most distinct group of nominees to have competed for
the Best Animated Feature Academy Award.
EAD MORE: Review: Wondrous ‘When Marnie Was There’ is One of Ghibli’s Most Profoundly Moving Works
Humbled and grateful for the mention Yonebayashi noted, “I am delighted and honored that ‘When Marnie Was There’ has been selected by the Academy as a nominee for ‘Best Animated Film’ of 2015. The selection of the film truly is a tribute to the entire production staff of the film, to whom I express my sincere appreciation. I will continue to endeavor to make films that will be seen and enjoyed by many people. Thank you very much for this honor.”
Since 2010 when it earned its first nomination for Tomm Moore’s “The Secret of Kells,” GKIDS has collected a total of eight nominations
making it a powerhouse in the category – one that pundits should stop underestimating.
GKIDS’ first double nomination came in 2012 with two very different offers, the
moody, Hitchcockian “A Cat in Paris” and the Cuba-set Spanish production “Chico & Rita,“ which is one of the few adult-oriented animated features to have
ever been nominated. With the
adorable and delicately executed “Ernest & Celestine” GKIDS earned its 4th
nomination in 2014.
Last year’s frontrunner “The Lego Movie” was shut out, and
while one can argue that the movie deserved to be included among that year’s
achievements in the medium, when compared to what Moore and Isao Takahata did in
their respective hand-drawn masterpieces “Song of the Sea” and the “The Tale of
the Princess Kaguya,” it’s simply evident that the best films did in fact make
the nominees list.
the Princess Kaguya,” it’s simply evident that the best
films did in fact make the nominees list. What’s unacceptable, however, is that
a company with such a marvelous track record as GKIDS is often only considered
to be a contender at the nominations stage and has not won the award with any of
their superb offers. Once winners reflect the diversity of the nominees in the
category then there will finally be a level playing field.
Unfortunately, it’s true that when compared based on their
domestic financial success GKIDS films are miles away from reaching the large
audiences that Pixar and DreamWorks do. Such fact is certainly not based on the
achievements of their filmmakers, but on the system with few spaces for
alternative options. What the Oscar nominations can do for films like “Boy and the World” and “When Marnie Was There” is to encourage those unaware of their existence to seek them out and allow themselves an experience that could not be provided under the pressures of a studio. At the same time, it proves that, occasionally and as it should be, making a fantastic film is enough to break through.
For 2016, the independent company already has at least two
films lined up to amuse their devout following and hopefully expose new
audiences to the joys of animation from a global perspective. With French features “April and
the Extraordinary World” and “Phantom Boy,” and the first-ever U.S. theatrical
release of Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” GKIDS will remain at the forefront of
what global animation can be outside the multiplex.