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When the Academy Award nominations were announced Jan. 24, most of Hollywood was waiting to see which films would emerge as best picture contenders. But within the smaller, intensely competitive animation community, the focus was on its own feature nominees, and in that category the results were shocking.
Sure, both of DreamWorks Animation’s 2011 entries, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, made the cut, as did Gore Verbinski’s Rango. But where were Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and Pixar’s Cars 2, not to mention Sony/Aardman Animations’ Arthur Christmas or Fox’s Rio? Instead, two obscure, foreign-language, hand-drawn animated movies, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris, rounded out the list of nominees.
Insiders at the various companies snubbed were stunned, though none wanted to go on record with their displeasure. By way of explanation, one Academy member says of the voters: “They were sending a message. They are against motion capture and kids’ movies, and they want to save hand-drawn animation.”
Well, yes and no. Many traditional animators are suspicious of motion capture or, as it’s also known, performance capture, in which actors’ performances are fed into a computer. In 2010, they succeeded in adding a line to the Oscar rule book that says, “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.” That doesn’t rule out mo-cap movies; it just means that they must prove they include frame-by-frame animation as well.
In addition to Tintin, two other motion-capture movies, Happy Feet 2 and Mars Needs Moms, were entered; all three were judged sufficiently animated to proceed. (The only movie that ran afoul of Academy rules was The Smurfs, a live-action/animation hybrid that was found not to contain enough actual animation.)
But the fact that Tintin didn’t receive a nom in the animation or visual effects categories and that Andy Serkis wasn’t nominated as a supporting actor for his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes suggest, as Visual Effects Society chair Jeffrey Okun puts it: “The industry is confused. It comes down to, ‘What is animation?’ That is something everyone has been struggling with.”
The Academy’s ani noms aren’t just about kinds of animation, though. They are made by a committee of slightly fewer than 100 members — half of them animators from the Academy’s short films and feature animation branch and half from throughout the Academy. Each member rates each movie on a scale of six to 10. Says Jon Bloom, chair of the branch’s executive committee, “Part of the instructions the committee is given is to consider the entire achievement as a whole, not just its animation.” That means story, characters, music and vocal performances all come into play. He says no larger lesson can be drawn from this year’s choices beyond the fact that it was a highly competitive year. “My own ballot had many highly rated films, far more than five,” he says.
But the final list does appear to favor films with elements that appeal to adults — such as Antonio Banderas’ comic take on a Latin lover in Puss or the Clint Eastwood allusions of Rango. That put Cars 2, which some critics had complained was driven by merchandising, at a disadvantage — even though it was a pet project of Pixar’s John Lasseter, who sits on the Academy’s board of governors. So, too, Tintin: The character may be beloved in Europe, but here the movie may have seemed too much of a boys’ adventure tale.
Chico & Rita, on the other hand, is a genuinely adult movie — it even features female nudity — charting a tempestuous love affair between a Cuban songwriter and a sexy singer, set against a musical backdrop that includes everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Tito Puente. “It’s a great, beautiful, adult animated film,” says Eric Beckman, who heads the New York-based micro-distributor GKids Films, which will release Chico through its adult Luma Films label. He also is handling A Cat in Paris, which follows a cat burglar across the rooftops of Paris. Of the upset, he says, “In all honesty, I expected we’d get one nomination, but I never thought we’d get two.”
10 YEARS OF ANIMATION OSCAR WINNERS
- Toy Story 3 — Disney/Pixar (2011)
- Up — Disney/Pixar (2010)
- WALL-E — Disney/Pixar (2009)
- Ratatouille — Disney/Pixar (2008)
- Happy Feet — Warners (2007)
- Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit — DreamWorks/Aardman (2006)
- The Incredibles — Disney/Pixar (2005)
- Finding Nemo — Disney/Pixar (2004)
- Spirited Away — Disney/Studio Ghibli (2003)
- Shrek — DreamWorks (2002)
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