Oscar-winning animators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller slammed the Academy for diminishing the animation categories during the 94th Academy Awards.
The directing duo behind “The LEGO Movie” and co-producers of “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” penned an opinion piece for Variety calling out the Oscars’ handling of the animated categories, especially when “Encanto” won Best Animated Feature. Presenters Lily James, Halle Bailey, and Naomi Scott (who’ve all played Disney princesses) took to the stage, saying, “So many kids watch these movies over and over… and over and over and over and over… I think some parents out there know exactly what we’re talking about.”
That glib presentation of one of the night’s biggest honors didn’t sit well with two leaders of the animation community.
“Framing the five Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature as a corporate product for kids that parents must begrudgingly endure could be dismissed as simply careless,” Lord and Miller wrote.
Alas, that “carelessness has become routine,” especially during the Oscars, according to the animation duo. Lord and Miller pointed to an assumption in Hollywood that animators want to “graduate to live-action,” even though 25 percent of the highest-grossing films of all time are animated.
“We are currently negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to get studios to pay animation workers fairly, especially when animation is such a large and important part of their bottom lines,” the “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” filmmakers added, citing the #NewDeal4Animation campaign.
They suggest that one way to properly “elevate” animated films would be to remind Oscar audiences that animation is cinema, much like Best Animated Short winner Alberto Mielgo said in his acceptance speech.
“[This] leads us to a simple pitch,” Lord and Miller wrote. “Next year, invite a respected filmmaker to present the award and frame animation as cinema. Guillermo del Toro, who produces, directs and deeply appreciates animation, could remind the audience that animation predates cinema, that without the zoetrope, there is no American Zoetrope.”
They continued, “Bong Joon Ho could present while explaining why he listed two of this year’s animated feature nominees (‘Flee’ and ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’) among his top 10 favorite movies of the year. Mahershala Ali, as compelling a performer in animated films as he is in live-action, could tell the world that animation is not a genre, but a medium that at its best observes and amplifies the nuances of our humanity so that we can see ourselves and ourselves be seen.”
In addition to the 2022 Oscars honoring the respective anniversaries of “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Pulp Fiction,” Lord and Miller suggested Hayao Miyazaki’s 2002 Academy Award winner “Spirited Away” should have received the same honor.
And for 2023, the historic Best Picture nomination for “Beauty and the Beast” could be honored with the 31st anniversary of its Oscar nod.
Lest we forget that during that 1992 Academy Awards ceremony, much like during the 2022 broadcast, “Beauty and the Beast” was introduced with another slight. Sally Field said at the time that the Disney epic had “no actors onscreen” and SAG members “hope this doesn’t become a trend,” despite the great Angela Lansbury lending her voice to the film.
Ironically, one year later, Field played a cat in the live-action “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” sequel, helmed by “Beauty and the Beast” director Kirk Wise.
“I never brought it up,” Wise told The Hollywood Reporter in 2022. “There were a couple of snide remarks that Ms. Field made and Shirley MacLaine made. Something to the effect of ‘real actors’ versus ‘animated actors.’ I thought it was kind of a cheap shot.”
And 30 years later, shots are still being taken.