Was Ratatouille robbed?
CNN has posted a very interesting article pertaining to Brad Bird and Pixar’s latest feature, Ratatouille, and its lack of a nomination in the Best Picture category at this year’s Academy Awards.
As you probably know by now, a new category, Best Animated Feature, made its début during the 2002 Academy Awards, essentially relegating animated fare as somehow separate from live action. In a sense, it’s not all that different from the fate that has befallen non-English language films with the Best Foreign Language Film category (introduced in 1947) or short subjects with the Best Short Film category. In a sense, there’s nothing to stop a film that corresponds to one of these categories (i.e. animated, foreign, short) from also being entered into the prestigious Best Picture category, but something of a glass ceiling is created. In effect, the impression given seems to be that, because these films have their “own” categories, they have their own sandboxes to play in and don’t need to intrude on the live action, English-language feature-length films.
I’m of two minds about this, personally. Unlike some, I personally don’t really think that the Oscars count for all that much at the end of the day; I do, however, take an interest in the way animation is treated by the Oscars, mainly because I suspect that it is, in some way, broadly representative of how the mainstream movie world (both the industry itself and filmgoers) views the art form. Animation is often regarded, whether consciously or not, as somehow inferior to live action, perhaps partly because it is so commonly associated with children’s entertainment. Therefore, part of me thinks that the Best Animated Feature is probably a good idea, because it allows films that would otherwise probably have been completely ignored the chance to share in some of the glory by having the chance to bag a golden man. (That said, it does have the unfortunate side effect of meaning that a set number of animated features have to be nominated every year, which leads to the likes of the 2005 awards, where the winning The Incredibles was ludicrously put up against Shark Tale and Shrek 2.) And hey, when all said and done, let’s not forget that Ratatouille is in the running for four other awards besides Best Animated Feature, among them Screenwriting (a bit bizarre for a film whose plot and dialogue evolved primarily on storyboards). It’s not as if it’s being completely left out in the cold.
But (and it’s a big “but”) my main problem with the Best Animated Feature category is that it essentially means that, in the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely that an animated film is going to be considered for the Best Picture category (Beauty and the Beast in 1991 being the only time this ever happened). Just as The Lives of Others and Pan’s Labyrinth were denied a Best Picture nod last year, the notion seems to be that animated (and foreign, and short) features are already covered elsewhere, so don’t have to detract from the attention being given to the “big boys”. In effect, “Best Picture” should really read “Best Live Action Feature-Length Picture Shot in English”,* which is a bit of a mouthful but probably a more accurate representation of the state of affairs.
* That’s not to say that animated or foreign-language films have never been or never will be nominated for Best Picture, but broadly speaking this tends to be the case. To date, only eight non-English language films and one animated film have been nominated in this category.