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On Kubo's Effects Nomination and Animation's Awards History

When the Oscar nominations were announced this week animation fans had all eyes on the Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short categories. But that wasn't the end of the story. Two animated movies will compete in the Best Original Song category- but there's nothing particularly unusual in that. What was most impressive, however is that Kubo And The Two Strings received a nomination for Best Visual Effects- the first animated film to do so since The Nightmare Before Christmas. There was even speculation that the film was in the running for costumes, but this proved a step too far.

This nomination only goes to emphasise the fact that animation is largely overlooked in the majority of awards categories. The Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars and most other major awards ceremonies are a double-edged sword. Although it's wonderful to see animation given recognition, it also has the effect of separating is an "other", something different and inferior to from "real" cinema. This is an attitude that goes right back to the start of the animated feature as an art-form, when Walt Disney himself was reportedly furious for being given a consolation prize of the "special achievement award" for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. He felt (quite rightly) that the film should be able to compete for Best Picture like any other movie.

Eventually, long after he passed away, Disney's studio would produce the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture- Beauty And The Beast. In more recent years, the expansion of the number of films nominated for Best Picture saw Up and Toy Story 3 in the running for the Academy's top prize. Everybody knew they didn't really stand a chance of actually winning, and the number of slots were subsequently reduced again and no animated film has been nominated for the category since.

Stop-motion probably has an advantage in some senses, in the fact that the sets, costumes etc all actually exist in a physical tangible sense. However, it's the combination of the stop-motion and digital techniques that earned Kubo this nomination. The technical categories are always dominated by mainstream blockbusters- a fact that seems to be lost on people astonished to see that Suicide Squad is now an Oscar-nominated film. It's therefore a little perplexing that high-end animation doesn't feature in these categories more often. The technical prowess of Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks at their peak are easily on a par with (and often better than) those found in Hollywood's primarily live-action out-put. As the line between animation and live-action become blurred (a typical Marvel movie is arguably at least 40% animated) perhaps things may start to change.

There are some categories that maybe animated films don't really qualify for. Editing and directing are essentially completely different arts in animation to their live-action counterparts. Others, such as writing, music and even acting should be free to compete on a level playing field. You could say "you don't see the Star Wars or Marvel movies (outside the technical categories) represented either, so why should animated movies be any different?" And in truth, much of the animated output is mainstream, wide appeal stuff that you wouldn't expect to see outside the animation categories.. but the fact that films are not even considered simply because they are animated is just wrong.

Outside of the Oscars and The Golden Globes things are a little better. Inside Out and Anomalisa are two recent examples of animated films that received nominations for their screenplays at various ceremonies (in Inside Out's case it was BAFTA). Japan's Academy gave best film overall to Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke (before they introduced a dedicated animated category) and the Irish Academy gave best film to Song Of The Sea.This year, My Life As A Zucchinni/My Life As A Courgette received nominations for its screenplay and score as well as Best Animated Film at France's Cesars.

Are things slowly changing? Is animation getting more recognition in the wider awards community at last? Possibly, but we still seem to be a long way from an animated film actually being able to compete at the very top level. It's time for the film industry to wake up and realise that animation is worthy of taking seriously.

But if Kubo and Zucchini can win their respective categories this year, then it would definitely be a step in the right direction.