Apollo 10½’ and ‘Marcel the Shell’ Prove the Academy Needs to Embrace the Evolution of Animation

No more pencils, no more books, no more Oscar voters’ dirty looks! At least when it comes to accepting new forms of cinema.  

Too often, the industry hears, “It’s good, but not for the Oscars,” or “That’s not something the branch will go for.”

As the Academy heads into the future with new leadership in place, CEO Bill Kramer, just-elected president Janet Yang and the 54-person Board of Governors have a chance to invite the casual movie lover along for the ride. The organization has the opportunity not only to broaden the appeal of its telecast but also to expand what it deems “worthy of achievement.”

Recently, we learned the Academy’s animation branch rejected Netflix’s “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood” for consideration, stating it “does not feel that the techniques meet the definition of animation in the category rules” due to “extensive use” of live-action footage (it’s currently being appealed). And A24’s “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is feared to be headed toward a similar disqualification fate.

How would a classic animated hybrid like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) fare today? The motion-capture animated film “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011) was deemed eligible but later snubbed. How about movies like “Avatar (2009), which didn’t submit for animated but uses mo-cap, or “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), which contended before the animated category was created and features clay puppets? There’s no real categorical difference among any of them except the filmmaker’s aesthetic preference.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were behind Oscar winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018), have steadily advocated for the Academy to take their medium more seriously. “I would like to make the controversial statement that films that have been animated are animated films,” Lord tweeted following the news of the disqualification of “Apollo 10½.”

This pearl-clutching by the Academy’s old guard goes beyond the animation branch. The documentary branch, which has just over 650 active members, has long barred anyone outside its community from weighing in on its shortlist or nomination field. By contrast, for best international and animated features, Academy members can opt in to vote for the eventual nominees. International feature averages about 90 submissions per year and animated roughly 28. In the past two years, the doc branch has had to review 238 and 138 features, respectively. It’s hard to believe the branch took ample time to properly consider the pool, especially given how infrequently films are added to the Academy Screening Room. Instead, voters maintain the status quo, relying on name recognition rather than seizing the opportunity to embrace a discovery.

Read: the latest predictions, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.

We’ve seen doc features evolve in the way they tell their stories and also find acceptance from the branch — take last year’s “Flee” (which was nominated in the international, animated and doc categories). But there are countless head-scratcher examples of films omitted from their respective lineups, such as “The Rescue” (2021), “Dick Johnson Is Dead” (2020) and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018).

Let cinema — in all its many forms — reign.

2023 Academy Awards Predictions

BEST PICTURE | DIRECTOR | ACTOR | ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING | SOUND | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT

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