"And the Oscar goes to..."

Hey folks.

The Butcher here, taking another swing of the cleaver at our friends over at the A.M.P.A.S. According to a story published in the Calendar section of the September 28th, 2000
Los Angeles Times
, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced it's first new Oscar Award category since 1981. The new award category is Best Animated Feature.

Well, lah-de-frickin'-dah!

Sixty-five years after the birth of feature animation, the Academy is finally getting around to making a small effort to legitimitize animation as a filmmaking art. Granted, when
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
was released in 1935, the Academy did indeed give Walt Disney a special Oscar for having completed the first feature-length cartoon. It was one big Oscar with seven little Oscars. It was presented to him by Shirley Temple. How precious. With that, the Academy turned it's back on feture animation for the next sixty-five years, until finally enough of the right people lobbied sucessfully for recognition. Well, I congratulate those who fought long and hard for this "honor", but let's look a little more closely at what we've won here.

First of all, for a film to qualify for this award, it must be at least 70 minutes in length. Okay, no problem there. However, a film must also be "primarily animated". This throws films the likes of "
Space Jam
" and "
Stuart Little
" into a kind of gray area. Academy spokeman John Pavlik even admits that it will be tricky to decide what actually constitutes a "primarily animated" film. Also, it must be noted that animation has played large in special effects in the last several years: although movies like "
Jurassic Park
" and "
The Phantom Menace
" are not thought of as being animated films, animation played a major role in both - the latter even featured a main character that was completely animated....maybe overly so. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what they define as a "primarily animated" film.

The big catch is this: for any film to qualify, there must be
eight or more animated features released in that calendar year
for the award to even be given out. Eight! When was the last time there were
animated films released in a single year, let alone
? What sort of research did the Academy do when they conjured up this rule? A lot of animation-type folk greeted this news with anticipation that the current slump in animation production would turn around as studios would doubtlessly want to compete for that coveted golden knick-knack, and the only way to ensure a chance was to make sure that eight films got released that year. Well, I hate to burst your bubbles, but when was the last time any studio made a film (animated, live-action, or otherwise) with anything but profits on their minds? Hey folks, wake up! The whole reason for the "animation renaisance" of the 1990s was that "
Lion King
" came out and made a buttload of money and everyone jumped on the bandwagon expecting the same. Sorry, cousin - an Oscar ain't gonna do it.

The Butcher thinks the Academy has overlooked something. The sheer labor intensity of animation dictates that there's never going to be as many animated features in release as live-action. I don't think there's ever been eight animated features in release at once. Of course, there has to be more than one film to choose from, and the current rule is that of eight animated films in release, the nominees will be narrowed down to three. So under the current rules, an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film will be presented the next year that there are eight animated features to choose from. Don't hold your breath, people. Especially with the recent scaling back at Disney, the continuing dissolving of Warner Bros., and the cycle of hiatus-and-rewrite at DreamWorks. At the current rate, we'll be lucky to see the release of eight animated features over the next

Or, given the fact that the Academy, the industry, and the public don't seem to take animation terribly seriously, perhaps this rule is no accident.Here's another problem. Let's say that every single out-of-work animation artist gets employed and for the next year and a half, everyone is fat, dumb, and happily cranking out eight animated features spread amongst four studios. Let's call the four studios A, B, C, and D. All eight films are slated for release between September and November of the year, thus making them all qualified for Academy consideration. Let us further suppose that the animation industry grapevine still works the way it always has, and everyone knows that one of the films that studio B is working on is totally kick-ass and is sure to win that Oscar for Best Animated Feature. C'mon folks, we all know that the Oscars are fairly predictible. When Cameron's "
" came out, we all knew that the race for visual effects was over.

So let's say that studio B has the lock on Best Animated Feature.Given that situation, let's say that one of the other three studios, studio D we'll say, has been around a long time and doesn't want studio B to get that Oscar before they do. All they need to do is to delay release of their film so that there's only 7 films in release for that year. Wouldn't be just like studio D to do something like that?

Well, The Butcher applauds the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for finally giving long-overdue recognition of the animated feature film as an art form. However, the rules of qualification for Best Animated Feature are skewed at best and full of holes. They've also closed the barn after the horse has gotten out...where was this award in the mid 1990s when it might have given a thriving animation business the shot in the arm that it needed to boost production? With only one stable feature studio in town, it doesn't seem likely that the award will be given out anytime soon unless the conditions are changed.

I smell a rat.

The Butcher