Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is "Best Animated Film" good enough?

In the world of after-Oscar® box-office and Hollywood studio bragging rights, it's not just taking home the gold statuette, it's which statuette you take home. And in the race between Best Picture or Best Animated Film, one's nice while the other is historic.

Only one animated movie has ever been nominated for the Best Picture at the Academy Awards®, that was Disney's Beauty and the Beast in 1992. (Incidentally, it won for Best Score and Best Song). Just being nominated made history, but you can't come that close and not yearn for the day when you'll take home the top prize. All these years later, animation has an Academy category all it's own (since 2002), but even from the outset, animators knew that one day that might not be such a good thing. Disney was one of the first to bring up the point, and with the critical acclaim of this summer's hit Ratatouille, a harder choice than what to cook for a food critic will be which award to attempt to woo Academy voters toward.

According to Academy rules of eligibility, there shouldn't be a problem. Any film nominated for a Best Animation nod is also immediately eligible for the Best Picture prize as well. Same holds true for all of the associated roles like screenwriters, directors, even actors. There's no real distinction between the supporting actor that nailed a scene in the latest biopic and the voice of the supporting actor that nailed a scene in an animated barnyard. Both are eligible, but realities aside, let's get real.  No one's ever thought of the voice for an animated car as belonging to a Best Supporting Actor, even when the actor is Paul Newman, or in the case of Ratatouille, the priceless Peter O'Toole as the ultimate food critic Anton Ego.

So goes the quest for Best Picture. Seems for all of the money that's lavished on production, and all of the profits reaped at the box-office (not to mention those incredibly, in the case of animated kid flicks, long-lasting DVD sales), none of the Academy members seem quite ready to give up the big prize to a cartoon, albeit a really good, even masterfully artful cartoon.

So what's the deal here? Should this even be an argument or, for that matter, a carefully plotted studio strategy? Does a category really make a difference when we're talking about toting home an Oscar®? To give the point it's due, think about the newspaper ads the day after the show. Remy the "Anyone can Cook" rat holding up the Oscar® next to his spatula with a banner emblazoned "The first ever animated film to win the Academy Award® for Best Picture".  Impressive to say the least. Ahh, but then there's still the question of who wins Best Animated Film. Since the categories aren't mutually exclusive, how could it not be the same movie that won Best Picture? So maybe the dilemma isn't which Oscar® Disney goes home with; the real question may be, can they go home with both?

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