Chris Rock wasn’t the only person who got slapped at this year’s Academy Awards. The entire animation industry got a slap in the face when the three presenters of the Best Animated Feature award dismissed the medium as kiddie fare, saying, “So many kids watch these movies over and over… and over and over and over and over… I think some parents out there know exactly what we’re talking about.” And Phil Lord and Chris Miller are sick of it.
In a very astute op-ed for Variety, the two directors of The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and this year’s Oscar nominee The Mitchells vs. the Machines asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to treat animated films with the respect they deserve for a variety of reasons: 1) they’re as carefully directed, designed, and performed as any live-action movie; 2) many of them are immensely popular with adults, whether or not they have children; 3) they often tackle tough or important issues like any other Oscar-worthy movie; and 4) they can be really, really good.
But the biggest reason is that by treating animated films as second-class citizens at the Oscars, they create a stigma that permeates the entire industry. Lord and Miller recounted two extremely telling examples of the problem: “Framing the five Academy Award nominees for best animated feature as a corporate product for kids that parents must begrudgingly endure could be dismissed as simply careless. But to those of us who have dedicated our lives to making animated films, that carelessness has become routine. The head of a major animation studio once told an assembly of animators that, if we played our cards right, we would one day ‘graduate to live-action.’ Years later, an exec at another studio said a certain animated movie we made was so enjoyable that it reminded them of ‘a real movie.’”
Dismissing animation also leads to dismissing the people that make it, which is why the Animation Guild has been forced to band together to ask for fair compensation for their work. Lord and Miller continue: “We are currently negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to get studios to pay animation workers fairly, especially when animation is such a large and important part of their bottom lines. (Look up #NewDeal4Animation to learn more!) During the pandemic, when much physical production was shut down, animators began working from home immediately. These films kept our business afloat.”
They’re not wrong! Nor are they wrong about the respect these films deserve. It’s wild that the Oscar presenters basically called animated movies virtual babysitters when this year’s nominees included Flee, in which a man recounts his harrowing escape from his native Afghanistan to his Danish husband-to-be — a film that was also nominated for Best International Film and Best Documentary. The entire article is well worth a read if you have a few — go check it out. Hopefully the members of the Academy will, too.