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Warning: This entire article is obviously subjective, and my solutions are not the end-all-be-all solution to the problem.
Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures put down a new rule for the Best Animated Feature voting, where instead of just the individuals of that branch of the Academy voting, everyone else from the other branches can throw their vote into the ring as well. Obviously, for many animation viewers and lovers, concerns were raised, since now anything is possible in terms of what animated films can get into those five precious spots that are meant for the best of the best from each year. So, should we worry? Why should we be worried? Is there anything truly worth being concerned about? Well, personally, I would say no. Why would I say that? If you will give me some of your time, I shall explain myself.
So, let’s start with the concerns. People are afraid that this new ruling will allow films that are much weaker, in terms of critical receptions from both film reviewers and movie-goers, to slip on through due to less educated members of the Academy picking and voting through one of those films. I can also understand this fear, due to the film line-up this year. For those that are not paying attention, 2017 is not looking like a strong year for animation. DreamWorks has the recent financial hit, The Boss Baby, and the upcoming Captain Underpants film, Illumination has Despicable ME 3, Pixar has Cars 3 and Coco, Sony Pictures Animation has the underwhelming Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie, and The Star, and Blue Sky Studios has Ferdinand, to name a few. It’s not the greatest line-up from other years, like 2016 or 2015. The other concern is that it will be much harder for indie animated films from companies like GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Shout! Factory Kids to break through. “They will get thrown under the bus, because the bigger studios will throw around their budgets for marketing their films for award season, over companies that don’t have those massive budgets”. The possible results for the Oscars in 2018 could be set up like Coco, The Boss Baby, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Spark, and The Nut Job 2.
Listen, I get it. This may open the floodgates for less knowledgeable people and even more marketing and big studio manipulation into an already flawed system. It could very well turn into a quantity-over-quality set of nominees. I perfectly understand the fear and cynicism. However, should we actually worry? Let’s look at the last couple of years of the Best Animated Features nominees. 2010 had Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon, and The Illusionist. 2013 had Frozen, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2. 2014 had Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2015 had Inside Out, Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. And recently, 2016 had Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle. While some of the films are odd nominees, what do a lot of those nominees have in common? For the most part, they are critically acclaimed films. I highly doubt, as flawed as the Academy system is, they are going to waste their time with movies that are not getting great reviews. It only takes a Google search to see what films have those nice little Rotten Tomato and IMDB scores. While the scoring systems on those sites are definitely another can of worms to deal with that other people on the net have already done, one can look at those scores, or do a little research as to which indie-animated films on the submission list are getting the most buzz around different critic guilds and word of mouth, and watch those. I doubt there is going to be an individual in the Academy that will say “oh yeah, Spark and The Boss Baby truly deserve it over the upcoming The Girl Without Hands and The Breadwinner.” Even with this new rule, I am not convinced that the organization is going to let the weaker nominees through.
Now, am I saying we should just sit back, open up a bag of sweet maui onion potato chips, and not worry? Well, I would say yes for 80% of what I have said. If we want smaller indie-animated films to keep on getting nominated from companies like GKids, we are going to have to make an effort to support these films. Sure, you could go to five different viewings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but you know Marvel and Disney won’t need help to make that film a hit. Instead, if possible, go and find a theater playing some of the smaller releases, like My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea. Why not support something like The Breadwinner or The Girl Without Hands instead of wasting your time with a highly regarded bad movie for a bad movie night? If we want to make sure they don’t get swept under the carpet, then we need to start either supporting these smaller releases in theaters, and If you like them, spread the word on social media, or purchase the DVD or rent the film, and spread the word. You can’t complain about the smaller/more original releases when you don’t go out and support them. However, those distributors need to start expanding into more than just specific theaters that show off arthouse/indie films. I get that these things cost money, but sometimes, you have to bite that bullet, and make that investment.
Listen, I’m not saying what I suggest is going to be correct. As usual, this is a subjective opinion saying that I wouldn’t be too concerned, but still support the smaller releases. I understand the concern, but I don’t think it is as cataclysmic as many people say it is. If the Academy was selecting films like Norm of the North or Strange Magic for Best Animated Feature in previous years, or Gods of Egypt as Best Film, I would be more worried. For the most part, good taste and popular public opinion are going to win over corporate greed and cynicism. Still, if you think you need to put up the good fight and support the smaller releases, then do so. Personally, the only big animated films that are coming out in 2017 that have a chance at making the shortlist are Coco, The LEGO Batman Movie, and possibly The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and Ferdinand, but that last film mentioned is a risk since it’s from Blue Sky Studios. I’m sure GKids has a few spots pinned down for some of their films coming out like The Breadwinner and The Girl without Hands. Who knows, maybe Sony Pictures Classics and Shout! Factory Kids will have something up their sleeve this year. Keep enjoying animation big and small, but only you can make smaller films successful.