Because I grew up in what is considered to be the Disney Renaissance, I was exposed to a host of fantastic animated films at a young age. My childhood was characterized by fluid visuals, sweeping musical numbers, and a fervent love for all things hand-drawn. Having the childhood that I did, I was surprised to discover that not everyone valued animated films as much as I did. There were people who devalued this entire genre of films by broadly classifying them as “kiddie films.” I, however, would argue that well-done animated films can achieve soaring emotional heights and approach cinematic greatness with the best of live-action films.
Over the last few decades, animated movies have begun to gain some attention from the world of film criticism. A major development in the world of animated features occurred when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for Best Picture in 1991. This was a major event, as Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to ever receive a nomination for this most prestigious of Academy Awards. Unsurprisingly, the film did not win the award, but it was a step in the right direction. Animated films (particularly Disney films) during this period were growing in popularity and quality, and the cinematic world was taking note.
In 2001, a new category was added to the Academy Awards: the award for Best Animated Feature. The winner of the brand-new award was Dreamworks’ Shrek, a snarky-but-sweet take on the fractured fairy tale genre. The creation of the category was an important step for animators and fans of animation everywhere: it lent legitimacy to the craft and served as a nod in the genre’s direction.
In 2009, Up was nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Animated Feature. The expansion of the Best Picture category from five films to ten films spurred this event (Up was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast). It is encouraging to see such portraits of human emotion recognized (or at least, obliquely acknowledged) for what they are.
While the creation of the Best Animated Feature category provided many films the possibility for recognition that they wouldn’t have received otherwise, I fear that this category may ultimately result in the marginalization of some genuinely deserving works of art. There have been instances over the last few years where an animated film rivals the beauty and emotional depth of the nominees for Best Picture.
I also worry that the creation of the award for Best Animated Feature was merely a means to placate people like me who demand that animated films receive more respect. The Best Animated Feature award neatly categorizes these films and furthers the idea that an animated film is good in its own right, but incomparable to a live-action film. There’s also the argument that awarding a film “Best Animated Feature” effectively nullifies the film’s chance of winning Best Picture. However, the fact that Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature gives me hope that I may see an animated film win Best Picture one day.
Regrettably, the long-standing bias against animated films seems to exist not only among film critics, but also among casual filmgoers. Those who don’t take the time to explore animated films or have only seen a few write them off as mere kid’s films, which irritates me to no end. Disregarding a film simply because it is animated effectively shuts you off from a world of imaginative and innovative storytelling.
Animated films are as vast and varied as live-action films, and they address the same themes to varying degrees of success, just as live-action films do. In other words, there are crappy animated films just like there are crappy live-action films. Moviegoers who deny themselves the chance to embrace the wonders of animation don’t know what they’re missing.
It’s time to give animated films their due.