The Oscar-winning creative powerhouses penned an urgent op-ed on the Academy’s failure to treat animated features as seriously as their live-action counterparts.
In a new op-ed for Variety, Oscar-winning producing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller argue that Hollywood’s attitude toward animation is in dire need of adjustment.
Their first bone to pick is with the Academy: Lord and Miller point out that during this year’s Oscars ceremony, the Best Animated Feature award was introduced with a speech solely focused on the medium’s appeal to kids.
“Framing the five Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature as a corporate product for kids that parents must begrudgingly endure could be dismissed as simply careless,” they write. “But to those of us who have dedicated our lives to making animated films, that carelessness has become routine. The head of a major animation studio once told an assembly of animators that, if we played our cards right, we would one day ‘graduate to live-action.’ Years later, an exec at another studio said a certain animated movie we made was so enjoyable that it reminded them of ‘a real movie.’”
Lord and Miller argue that animators not only deliver consistently well-crafted works that transcend age groups and demographics, but also contribute mightily to the film economy -- making features that frequently rank among the highest-grossing and most-streamed year over year.
“When broadcasters bemoan the fact that so many of the nominated films have not been widely seen, they must be forgetting that animated nominees Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines were three of the 10 most-streamed movies of 2021,” Lord and Miller continue. “Seven of th[os]e 10 [most-streamed films] were animated[, and] 13 (25%!) of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time are animated. A huge percentage of the theatrical audience for mainstream animated films is made up of adults unaccompanied by children.”
The pair add that studios’ “unprecedented investment in animation production” is proof positive that they’re well aware of the medium’s universal resonance. But they believe that level of investment ought not go without strong support from household name artists.
“[This] leads us to a simple pitch: Next year, invite a respected filmmaker to present the award and frame animation as cinema,” Lord and Miller explain. “Guillermo del Toro, who produces, directs, and deeply appreciates animation, could remind the audience that animation predates cinema, that without the zoetrope, there is no American Zoetrope. Bong Joon Ho could present while explaining why he listed two of this year’s animated feature nominees among his top 10 favorite movies of the year. Mahershala Ali, as compelling a performer in animated films as he is in live-action, could tell the world that animation is not a genre, but a medium that at its best observes and amplifies the nuances of our humanity so that we can see ourselves and ourselves be seen.”
Although the Academy missed their chance to formally celebrate Spirited Away’s 20th anniversary this year, Lord and Miller also remind that it’s not too late to invite Hayao Miyazaki to next year’s ceremony. (To date, the anime auteur still hasn’t attended the event.)
“Surely no one set out to diminish animated films, but it’s high time we set out to elevate them,” the duo concludes. Here’s hoping the right people will heed their call.