Wednesday, February 2, 2011

OSCARS: Best Animated Feature

Walt Disney and the Seven Dwarfs
Animation was first acknowledged at the fifth annual Academy Awards presentation, covering the years 1931-32. That year marked the first full color cartoon, produced by Walt Disney, entitled Flowers and Trees (1932). That same year, Disney was awarded an Honorary Oscar for the creation of Mickey Mouse, even though that occurred in 1928. From there on out animation as a short subject (under 40 minutes) became an annually awarded competitive category. Disney would dominate the category, winning eleven additional short subject awards over the next thirty-seven years. In 1939 he was awarded another Honorary Award for pioneering the first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and another one in 1941 for the Production of Fantasia (1940), It would be another sixty years before animated features would receive their own competitive category for achievement and recognition. 

Disney's famed Seven Dwarfs Oscar
Throughout the decades Disney continued to produce a series of quality animated features, but although their stories were unique, they failed to break new ground in the way that Snow White and Fantasia had in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. Around the globe other animation studios began producing their own feature length films. Unfortunately due to distribution limitations many of them wouldn’t receive the same exposure as U.S. animated productions. Warner Brothers (Looney Tunes), Paramount (Peanuts), Hanna Barbara (The Flintstones) and Rankin Bass (Rudolf/The Hobbit) all held their own against Disney, each bringing their own style of animation to audiences. It wasn’t until the 1980s that more adult themed animation began breaking through with such features as Heavy Metal (1981) and Akira (1988). Still, it took Disney to get recognition for animation from the Academy.

Winner - 2001 Best Animated Feature
In 1991, Beauty and the Beast (1991) became the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. This was the second Disney feature to incorporate computer-generated images with traditional hand drawn animation. Although it didn’t win, the success of Beauty and the Beast opened new doors of awareness for animation. Four years later John Lasseter received a Special Achievement Award for the first computer animated feature film – Toy Story (1995), co-produced by Disney and Pixar. The allure and eye-candy of computer animated movies flooded the market and revolutionized that aspect of the industry, damn near killing traditional hand drawn animation. By the turn of the century, and millennium, the Academy finally accepted animated features as a competitive category, debuting in 2001.

Over the past ten years that the category has existed there have been nominations and wins for traditional hand drawn animation (Spirited Away – 2002), stop motion animation (Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – 2005), and a series of computer animated films, five of which are Disney/Pixar productions. Considering that this year Toy Story 3 (2010) is also nominated for Best Picture it is a pretty safe bet that it will win the Best Animated Feature this year, bringing Pixar’s total to six winning pictures in the category they helped pioneer.

The classification of live action and animated films can only be achieved in extremes of separation. Through developments in animation there have been countless advances made in live action filmmaking, and vice versa. Visual effects, storyboards, rotoscoping, animatics, motion capture, voice-over, etc. have blended both forms of production to a point where they are dependent on one another. Oddly an effects-heavy film like Avatar (2009) can possess certain visual elements of animation and still not be classified as an animated film, even though the majority of it is intangible. An animated film must not contain anything tangible, limiting it completely to the imagination of the filmmakers. Making an audience connect and care, and fear, and feel for inorganic, illustrated, rendered images is a daunting chore, and quite an accomplishment. In that regard, if it is executed properly, an animated film should be something to be honored.

The nominations and wins for non-computer animated films such as:

-       Spirited Away (2002), The Triplets of Belleville (2003), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Persepolis (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), to name a few.
-       Acknowledging and awarding captivating stories that defy convention and exceed tangible limitations.

-       Awarding Happy Feet (2006), which is essentially a rip-off of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), capitalizing on the popularity and marketability raised by March of the Penguins (2005).
-       Snubbing The Simpsons Movie (2007), which proves that the Academy is favoring family films over real achievements in the craft of animation.

Bart shows off his own golden statue.

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