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Best Animated Feature Oscar category doesn’t show enough creativity

Disney and Pixar films won the award for seven consecutive years.
Photo: Madison Daley · The Sentry

Disney-dominated field isn’t diverse

Animation’s history with the Oscars is fairly short and, despite the artform’s vibrant nature, somewhat colorless. In the 18 years since the Best Animated Feature’s conception, Disney has heavily commanded the category, setting the precedent for the awarded films to be bright, feel-good, children’s movies. This has heavily shaped how animation, as a means of artistic expression, is viewed by the public and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Before the category’s debut in 2001, there wasn’t as much of a commercial market for animated film, mostly due to the time consuming nature of hand-drawn art before computer animation was advanced enough to create high numbers of feature-length films every year.

That isn’t to say that great animated films didn’t exist before the creation of completely CGI films with Pixar’s Toy Story (1995). The Walt Disney Company released its first feature-length animated film in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and continued producing films through the latter half of the 20th century.

Despite lacking a specific animation category, a few animated films gained recognition through The Academy with the Special Achievement Academy Award. This short list includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and Toy Story. Other recognition afforded to animated films prior to 2001 was 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which was the first animated film nominated for Best Picture but lost to Silence of the Lambs. Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) have since joined Beauty and the Beast as nominated animated films in this category.

By 2001, enough competing animation studios were on the rise to warrant the creation of an animation category by The Academy, with Shrek (2001) as the debut winner. However, the widening pool of animated films hasn’t stopped Disney (and Pixar) from reigning triumphant at the Oscars with a total of 12 Best Animated Feature awards in the 18 years since the award’s establishment. While this could certainly be regarded as impressive, it has lead to a redundancy in films in this category.

All Disney winners share very similar artistic design and style, story type, and genre. In fact, most other winners don’t appear to be very dissimilar from this style either, save some exceptions like Spirited Away (2005) or Rango (2011) both of which have unique artistic approaches that standout against the blur of Disney’s design.

This kind of monotonous pattern is rarely seen in any other feature film category at the Oscars and doesn’t do justice to animation as a deep and complex form of storytelling. Nearly all animated feature films at the Oscars have been confined to children or family films, both in genre and the public’s perception, with only six nominated films holding a rating above PG (including one rated R). This isn’t to suggest that movies acceptable for slightly younger audiences can’t be complex; however, this mindset has turned animation into a children’s genre at the Oscars rather than a form of expression for all ages. This, in turn, limits the type of stories that can be told through the medium. Animation is no longer being utilized to its full potential in the mainstream.

This year, animation lovers’ cries were finally heard by the Academy when Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse (2018) dethroned Disney from its seven-year streak. This recognition hopefully will influence years to come and remind the Academy, and much of the public, that animation isn’t a genre and shouldn’t be treated as such.

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