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Does Independent Animation Have a Chance with the Motion Picture Academy?

Great animated shorts and feature films produced in Europe may garner nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, but nary a win.

Director Nora Twomey’s ‘The Breadwinner’ is the third animated feature from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon to receive an Oscar nomination.

For the folks at Zippy Frames, a site dedicated to promoting European and independent animation, last night’s 90th Academy Awards was “The Night Oscars Got Divorced from Independent Animation.” In other words, Motion Picture Academy voters once again showed their lack of imagination and appreciation of great animation with their continued inability to award anything but U.S. studio animation -- great animated shorts and feature films produced in Europe may garner nominations, but nary a win.

In the piece, Vassillis Kroustallis -- bemoaning last year’s Piper win over Blind Vaysha -- argues that, notwithstanding wins by The Lost Thing (2010) and Bear Story (2014), in recent years Academy voters seem only to reward Disney/Pixar films, or films that resemble them:

“But this case speaks volumes about how the majority of Academy Award voters think about short animation in recent years: if a Pixar or Disney short cannot be deemed of sufficient quality to win, then the second best should be something that really resembles Pixar/Disney. Since 2010, the most daring choice has been The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, and the most politically interesting was Bear Story by Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart. The most lamentable was last year’s edition, where Pixar’s Piper (Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer) won over Theo Ushev’s Blind Vaysha.”

But the writer’s biggest complaint was leveled at last night’s Oscar-winning animated short, Dear Basketball. Noting with a hint of sarcasm the film’s “rags to riches theme” that Academy voters historically have embraced, and reflecting on a highlight of director Glen Keane’s acceptance speech, “Whatever form your dream may take, it’s through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible,” Kroustallis writes:

“Professional complaints aside, all films should be judged by their content. However, Academy Awards really made the impossible possible in this case: they awarded a great US animation artist for one of his weakest efforts. Even Keane’s gentle pencil design can’t save this film from a narrative catastrophe, which creates the overwhelming feeling of a big basketball advertisement -and should not have been nominated in the first place.”

Kroustallis does a thorough job highlighting some of the best and brightest of animated films and filmmakers, sharing his disappointment, for example, that films like Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner -- the third feature from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon to be nominated for an Academy Award -- as well as Loving Vincent by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, lost out to Pixar’s Coco, and that the only two non-U.S. animated features ever to win were Aardman-DreamWorks’ Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit (2005) and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2002).

He also contends that the recent influx of new, younger Academy members is primarily made up of U.S. studio talent, which only increases the inherent bias that skews awards voting towards domestic films.

Well referenced, the piece touches on issues that have fueled debate in the animation industry, and entertainment in general, for years: For every award winner, there are a set of equally and, to some, more worthy nominees that lost out. People like what they like, for reasons others can’t even begin to fathom, approve of, or consider worthy. Awards season headlines around the world scream with phrases like “Biggest Snubs,” “Hits and Misses,” and “Biggest Surprises.” This year is no different -- safe to say, we’ll see more of the same in the future.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.