Into The Spider-Verse, Into A New Oscar

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For some reason the Academy see’s certain categories, or films, as “beneath them” and these categories are somehow not important. For example they tried to introduce the “Popular Film” category simply so movies people actually enjoy can be nominated in some regard. It’s pretty obvious, however, it’s a category simply created to not interfere with the coveted “Best Picture.” In previous years these major movies were blown off, no matter how great they are, because they were big budget showcases and somehow not as “artistic” as some of the more boring films the Academy wanted to celebrate. Perhaps low ratings and backlash made them side step a little, who knows.

The animation category, however, has so many stipulations behind it that limit the films involved and nothing seems to be changing any time soon. First, it’s a category which requires eight big budget productions per year, otherwise they’ll cancel the category all together. Note that “big budget” productions in other categories aren’t a requirement and often times unrewarded. Second, it’s the only major category with nominees that (normally) don’t show up on the “best picture” list. Lastly, Animation is the only category where the Academy Voters don’t need a background in the profession.

I mean, last year some of the board members were caught on record totally disgracing some of the nominees by calling them “childish” or “film’s nobody even watched.” How exactly does that second statement add up when some “best picture” features had a limited release? Okay, I’ll stop the heat as I’m getting a bit off subject. Let’s dive into the history of the Animation category and see why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has the potential to change it all.

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Several animators tried for years to get the category made because animation was advancing into 3D and people felt these artists deserved recognition. The Academy tossed a bone by nominating some movies for “Best Picture,” like Beauty and the Beast (1991), UP (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010). Of course they wouldn’t win, but in 2002 we came close with Shrek.

These inclusions weren’t liked by many on the board and took an expansion to 10 films in the category (from 5) to fit them in. Shrek was also the movie that launched the Best Animated Feature category into steam with 2 mercy nominations to go with it (Jimmy Neutron, Monsters Inc).

There has been a dominance by Disney within the category ever since it started though, and we will cover it more in depth down below. Jeffrey Katzenberg (Shrek) is credited for really getting the category made. At the time he was with Dreamworks Animation, but was originally a Disney executive and had just left the studio to help Dreamworks get going. Many of the other people on the board for animation are affiliated with Disney animation, or were previously tied to them in some way.

Ever since being introduced in 2002, the “best animated feature” has almost always gone to a Disney studio. In fact Disney/Pixar has a total of 12 (nine Pixar, three Disney Animation) wins, Dreamworks has three, while Studio Ghibli and WB Animation each have one. The major problem I have with these numbers is how several of the non-Disney winners were for outside reasons. Shrek won because Dreamworks pushed hard to make it “best picture,” and again it was Disney executives along with ex-Disney executives that formed the category to begin with. So the Academy instead created the animation category, tossed in 2 random movies, and gave Shrek the award instead of a Best Picture nomination. At the time the Academy really did not want an animated feature to interfere with their Best Picture selections, but Dreamworks had been pushing extremely hard for Shrek to be there. 

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For those not familiar with the awards, when nomination season comes there is a campaign. During this campaign, studios put together packages and send them to all the voters to “entice” them to nominate them. This campaign increases intensity once nominated so the board will vote for them to win. Of course “best picture” has the biggest push of them all, and again Dreamworks really wanted Shrek there.

The following year, Spirited Away won which gave hope that perhaps true animation was going to be a big push for the award. It was a beautifully crafted movie, foreign, with a smaller budget and no ties to Disney. Then Disney went on to dominate the category ever since, winning every year with the exception of 2 times. The last non-Disney film to win the award was in 2012 when Rango took the win. Surprisingly the same year the Academy failed to do their homework and left out movies like Hotel Transylvania and The Lorax. Also ironically Disney has been somewhat competing with themselves as both Pixar and Disney Animation has been competing for the award. Some technical feats such as Tangled’s massive crowds and lighting techniques were totally ignored in 2010 when Toy Story 3 won.

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This is why Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse can shake things up. For starters Sony Animation has only been nominated twice (with a win in the “best animated short” category once). However with films like Hotel Transylvania, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates! you can see they are trending in the right direction. Spider-Man might not push all the Academy hypocrisy aside since it took the film to break records and be a box office hit for a month to even get noticed, but it IS getting noticed. It would prove that a superhero movie can be acknowledged, and the great thing about it is the very same year we have Black Panther in the mix elsewhere too.

So how can Spider-Verse potentially open the door for other animation to be nominated? WB Animation has been making absolutely stellar DC Comics based movies for years and the more adult oriented films could change the dynamic in the category. We could see WB put some more money behind their animated films and push for recognition as well. More foreign movies could see the light of day, and their beautiful creations would have a platform to share their stories with people that would otherwise ignore them. Animation already has an adult tone via TV shows, but animated movies have always been seen as kids movies.

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Lastly, one could argue Into The Spider-verse was one of the best films all year. Putting comics aside, the film was absolutely stunning with a  very creative art style behind it. The voice acting, and everything production wise was done extremely well. The Oscars are also very friendly to cultural awareness and Into The Spider-Verse did a ridiculous amount of things right.

The film is carried by Miles Morales, an African hero who grew up in a rough neighborhood. It also references tough decisions in this environment, like looking up to your Uncle only to find out the bad things he is doing. We also can’t forget the strong character they gave Gwen, and it didn’t turn into a guy saves girl story, she remained strong throughout the film and was a great supporting character. If anything this could be an animated film to make the Academy take animation seriously for once because of how the story was told.  

I was extremely mad when Tangled was not even nominated and the Academy instead chose to only nominate 3 films that year, totally ignoring other potential nominations as well. I was even more mad when the absolutely stunning How to Train Your Dragon was defeated by a “sequel,” something the Academy always frowns upon. I mean How To Train Your Dragon 2 literally had people leaving in tears and it still wasn’t enough. While I absolutely adore Disney and what they do, I’ve been beyond frustrated with them automatically getting the award for almost a decade. It’s time for change, and it’s time for the Oscars to either play by their rules and stop being hypocrites, or simply not be relevant in terms of being “artists.”

It won’t take just Spider-Man winning. It will have to be a first step to them recognizing the talent all around the world, and at least paying attention in the future too.