Oh, the humanity! Cartoon Brew has highlighted the New York Film Critics Circle choosing not give a Best Animated Feature award this year. This kind of thing offends some people in our industry, and others seem to take this as a judgement of the lack of quality in this years animated features. I find myself not caring much. I like reading the thoughts of some critics, but do we really make animated films to win awards?
The history of any award, be it the NYFCC Awards or the Oscars, is guaranteed to be rife with embarrassing choices. Let’s take a look at the NYFCC Awards in particular, and see if this is something we should take seriously. They’ve given their awards since 1935, and from then though 1998 they only honored a single animated feature once (see below). One animated film in 64 years. When they instituted the ‘Best Animated Feature’ in 1999, they gave the first award to . . . Southpark: Bigger, Longer, Uncut.
That was a pretty cool film to get a little drunk and go see with friends who like to hoot at the screen, but was it the best animated film that year? Perhaps you’ll recall that 1999 also saw the release of The Iron Giant, Tarzan, Princess Mononoke, Toy Story 2, and Fantasia 2000, among others.
In 2001 they awarded Waking Life best animated feature, over Monsters, Inc., Shrek, Metropolis, Millennium Actress, and Jimmy Neutron. Perhaps they could have chosen a film that was actually animated, and one that didn’t induce comas?
Other winners were Chicken Run, Spirited Away, The Triplets of Belleville, The Incredibles, Howl’s Moving Castle, Happy Feet, Persepolis, WALL-E, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Illusionist. There are a few perfectly great choices in there, but the list also betrays a certain bias.
The NYFCC mostly seem to like any film that looks as different from the mainstream DreamWorks/Disney/Blue Sky-style as possible (as if there’s a single style in there). The list of animated films the NYFCC didn’t bother to honor includes How to Train your Dragon, Toy Story 1, 2, and 3, all the Ice Ages as well as Horton, Robots, and Rio, both Kung Fu Pandas, all the Shreks and their spin off Puss in Boots, Up, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Bolt, Coraline, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and everything else produced by Sony.
In 1940 they did give a special award to Walt Disney for Fantasia, but otherwise they’ve also ignored every other hand-drawn Disney film, from Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Dumbo though Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians, right on through The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and up to this year’s Winnie the Pooh. They previously ignored awesome films like Grave of the Fireflies, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, My Neighbor Totoro, and Nightmare Before Christmas.
Ultimately, awards are given out as much to honor the awards givers as anything else. By turning up their nose at the kinds of animated films that actually connect with wide audiences, the NYFCC complements itself as a serious, artsy, high-brow, and exclusive bunch. This is a group that takes itself a little too seriously, and they seem to think that animation isn’t really a serious medium. They’ve spent most of 77 years ignoring what we do, so the fact that they’re doing it again merits a shoulder shrug and not much else.