Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children?!
"The bible says when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. And when I became a man, I put away childish things.
When we move through adulthood we look back fondly on those simpler times. The creativity we exhibited, our fearlessness, how we approach new things with wonder.
The films nominated for best animated feature possess the ability to move us all. No need to put things away, but instead, embrace and enjoy a shared experience."
Those words were spoken by Pharrell Williams and Michelle Yeoh as they presented the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at last night’s ceremony. There’s always been somewhat of a tug-of-war within industry-related circles as to how animation should be defined or perceived on a mainstream level. Children’s Genre or Art Form? One only needs to look at the backlash from past years (like here and here), in which some of the nominations were inaccurately remembered by academy voters, disregarded entirely, or were simply chosen by whatever title was most popular with their children. The category has seen its share of complaints over the years, as the animation community at large continues to fight for its legitimacy.
This year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse finally broke the six-year long streak that Disney held over the category, and could very well pave the way for other alternative styles of animation to come to the forefront. It was a solid and well-earned victory. But it seems even this year, we were reminded once again, somewhat simplistically, that animation is regarded as just fare for children and the young at heart, and not an art form unto itself. Granted, none of the five nominees this year were particularly adult-oriented, but can an animated feature still be an “all-ages” film without being pigeon-holed into a rudimentary ‘kids’ category? And can animation itself be spoken about without instant comparisons to the innocence of youthful imagination and childlike wonder? (Not that those things are bad, but they’re certainly not the only things on the list..)
“But who cares, it’s the Oscars!” one might argue. “It’s all about the advertising and campaigning anyway…” In today’s diverse landscape of film & TV, and how there are so many alternative ways to consume and create content, how legitimate are the Academy Awards anymore? Who cares what the Hollywood elite say is the best of the best, particularly when so many of them disregard this category anyway?
While certainly a valid viewpoint, it still stands that big award shows lead by example, and can lay the foundations for how an art form or a particular craft of filmmaking is perceived. It can inspire others to believe what is possible, and has the potential to set new standards and influence perspectives. What would have happened if past adult-oriented (or less-than-kiddie) nominees like Anomalisa, The Breadwinner, Chico and Rita, The Red Turtle, or Persepolis won during their respective years? Imagine if such a trend took hold and inspired others to look beyond the dominance of children’s stories, and proved to the world that animation can be so much more than that?
It’s sort of a vicious cycle…no one usually favors the more obscure nominees to win, thereby reducing the potential to even be affected or swayed by their unique voices in the first place. While Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was still a studio title, it did ultimately succeed in pushing boundaries, which paid off. Perhaps it's a sign for more risk-taking endeavors to follow. Perhaps the Academy Awards won’t ever be the best forum for such a study, but it doesn’t hurt to wonder about future possibilities.
And now back to not caring, and just focusing on the animation I enjoy without approval from the masses!