Re-Ranking the Oscars: 2008 Best Animated Feature

AcademyAwardFor my second outing at ranking the Oscars, we’re sticking with Best Animated Feature still (as Best Picture is sometimes hard to track down…) but we’re jumping ahead a few years to 2008. Like 2003, there were only three films nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2008 (more on that later, as before). Unlike 2003, there isn’t a one of the three that I think doesn’t deserve to be in contention… though I’m willing to accept that other films perhaps could have been in contention instead.

But of the three that were nominated, how do they compare to each other? To find out if I agree with the Academy, hit the jump.

#3: Bolt

BoltObservation

A dog raised to believe that he’s genuinely the hero he plays in a TV show is accidentally shipped across the country, and has to find his way home without the superpowers he’s always believed he had.

Disney’s entry into the category is perhaps the most “standard” of the three. It’s probably the one with the smallest peripheral demographic — which is to say, it’s more of a “kids’ movie” and is going to have less appeal to adults than the others. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, though, or that adults won’t enjoy it — I gave it four stars — merely that it’s not as complex, and it follows a familiar formula. It’s a road trip buddy movie with one character who’s naive, one who’s cynical, and one who is just plain delusional. It’s a part of that era in Disney’s animated canon where the “Disney Classic” brand seemed a little less polished; its predecessors were Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, films which are hardly mentioned in the same breath as Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. It was an obvious transition period for Disney, and they hadn’t yet “clicked” into making great stories again, as with the later Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. Nevertheless, it’s still a good movie… it’s just not a five-star film. And I don’t think it quite measures up to the other nominees.

#2: Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda Training

When the local temple learns an escaped criminal is on his way to seek revenge, the temple master decides it is time to appoint the Dragon Warrior to defend them. They are looking for a legendary hero. They get an overweight noodle merchant.

This picture comes out of Dreamworks, they of the Madagascar and Shrek franchises. Like Bolt, it’s definitely a kids’ movie first and foremost… but it’s a little bit more than that. It adds a level of nuance to the typical “believe in yourself” and “be yourself” messages by emphasizing that different people can learn the same thing in different ways — and that sometimes attitude counts for a lot. But where it really excels is in its fast pace, with both action and comedy — comedy that adults can enjoy — coming at a mile a minute, and with an animation style that is truly great. One of the things I noticed while watching this film was that each of the martial artists moves with their own unique style; considering the “same for everyone” walk patterns that are common even in high-end animations, it’s terrific to see a film that is not only an exception, but handles it fluidly and subtly. In a different year, this could have taken the top spot.

#1: WALL-E AcademyAward

WALLE-0097

On an Earth long abandoned by humans, a lonely robot seeks out companionship.

Yeah, I’m going to have to say the Academy got this one right. I don’t think I’ll get a lot of argument on that point. Pixar’s story of the little robot that could shows that grime can be beautiful and that machines can be soulful. It is by turns hilarious and heartwarming, artful and thought provoking. While I have yet to see every Pixar feature, so far WALL-E is holding the top spot there for me — and it takes the top spot on this list easily.

Omissions

Horton PosterAs there were only three films this time, as with 2003, I decided to do a little more research when writing this post. Specifically, I wanted to see what the rule was for the number of nominations in Best Animated Feature. It works like this. Studios submit their films for consideration. These films are vetted for appropriateness (i.e., they have to make sure the film is actually animated), and the remainder become the films that are eligible for nomination. The films also have to have a theatrical run in Los Angeles County during the eligibility period — though they can meet this requirement after submission but before the voting process starts (Bolt, for example, hadn’t met the requirement at submission, but had by the time voting started). Academy members vote, the top vote getters become the nominees, and the Academy members then vote on those to determine the winner.

Madagascar 2 PosterThe key to the number of nominees is the number of submissions. If there are fewer than 8 eligible submissions, the award will not be presented (this has not yet happened, and frankly, I doubt it will, with studios producing more and more animated features.) If there are 8 eligible submissions, but not 16, there are three nominees. If there are 16, there are five nominees.

In the case of 2008, there were 14 submissions. These films were Bolt, Delgo, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, Dragon Hunters, Fly Me to the Moon, Igor, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, $9.99, The Sky Crawlers, Sword of the Stranger, The Tale of Despereaux, WALL-E, and Waltz With Bashir. I’m not sure if all them met their L.A. requirement — it doesn’t look like Waltz With Bashir did — but for the sake of argument, let’s call these the eligible films.

Bashir PosterSo, can I call any of these 11 other films omissions? I’m not sure that I can. Granted, this is mostly because the nominees are the only ones I’ve seen — I’ve seen the first Madagascar but haven’t caught the others yet. But it’s also true that most of these are considerably lower-profile than the nominees — and some, such as Delgo, bombed. There are, I think, three prominent standouts here. Horton and Madagascar 2 were both high-profile, successful films, and have reasonably good reputations. Could they have dethroned WALL-E? No. But they might have been able to bump Kung Fu Panda. The other possibility is Waltz With Bashir, which boasts a 96% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s certainly acclaimed enough to have made a try at the prize. I suspect it was probably kept out due to the eligibility requirements, or (just by reputation) I could have seen it bumping Bolt.

I also don’t see anything on IMDb’s list of 2008 animated features that stands out as a glaring omission. Perhaps it would have been nice to see some of these other films submitted simply to push it over the 16-mark to get five nominees in, but that would have been about the only thing I can say about them. And if the studios didn’t feel they were submission worthy, well, that kind of says it all, really. And at any rate, I don’t think any of it would have taken the award away from WALL-E.


So those are my thoughts. Agree? Disagree? Let me know below.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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4 Responses to Re-Ranking the Oscars: 2008 Best Animated Feature

  1. Spikor says:

    I think I finally managed to catch Wall-E just a few weeks before starting my blog in Dec ’08… so I never got around to writing how incredibly disappointed I was in it. Mel might be the only one that’s ever gotten the full brunt of how much the movie frustrates me. I’m not going to get into the reasons, because I’ve actually already written this post, and it’s now about 5 paragraphs too long already.

    I will say that I’ve never been able to really understand the huge throbbing erection movie goers had with it. I’ve always known that for a lot of people, it was their first exposure to those key Sci-Fi themes it explores… so it sort of made sense, but not really.

    All the talk of “It’s so original”, and “I’ve never seen a story like this,” drove me nuts. Read or watch anything, anything, sci-fi from the 50s to the 80s, and Wall-E‘s themes are explored constantly. I can even remember kids cartoon shows from the 80s exploring these themes, so it wasn’t like targeting these ideas at kids was original either.

    But it had been a while. 90s cartoons were, largely, awful… and high profile sci-fi movies dealt more with existential themes in the ‘aughties. So I was able to forgive that part of the praise… up to a point. It’s okay… but no where near as good as the praise it gets.

    Seeing your list of the other movies that came out that year, however, helps me finally understand why everyone had such a huge throbbing erection over Wall-E that year.

    It was clearly better than everything else that year. I wasn’t interested enough in any of its competition to even be bothered watching them. So, a general combination of having nothing very good in animation for at least a year, and a general lack of “good” sci-fi leads to me finally being able to understand the why of Wall-E‘s reception.

    • The “abandonment of Earth/people need to get back to being people” theme is definitely an old one in sci-fi, no question about that. Though like you said, it had been a while. Still, WALL-E‘s presentation of that theme was fairly novel, especially coupled with the “robot becoming human-like in emotion” factor. Not that that’s a unique theme itself, but of the film adaptations, it’s fairly sparse and the best of them is Short Circuit (which WALL-E physically resembles, as has sometimes been noted). But when I have to say the best of something is Short Circuit, I think (as much as I love that film) we can say it’s an uncommon theme.

      As for the combination of the two themes, even Isaac Asimov only came at it indirectly, at the very end of his R. Daneel series with Robots and Empire. The only direct fusion I can think of is Roger Zelazny’s short story “For a Breath I Tarry” — which is beautiful and which WALL-E does remind me of in some ways.

      With the other films… I enjoyed the other two nominees I saw, but yes, I think overall it was a bit of a weak year. I will say that if Charlotte ever insisted on watching Bolt or Kung Fu Panda, you probably wouldn’t hate them; you might even get a kick (so to speak) out of Kung Fu Panda.

  2. I’m not usually a fan of a lot of animated films, but I love Wall-E. The Academy nailed that one.

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