In recent years, there has been a call to change the way winners are selected in the animation categories. Many agree that the rules need to be stricter, ensuring that those who are voting are actually watching the movies they're voting for, and generating a system where the best movie wins, not just the most popular one. However, recent rule changes for the Academy Awards' voting process seem ambiguous and could work to either exacerbate or solve the problem.
Previously, only members of the Short Films and Animation Branch, along with a few select members invited from other branches were able to submit nominations. Now, any Academy member can vote, and there will be no requirement to attend screenings of the movies in contention — they can watch the movies online or on screeners if they choose. In addition, nominations will now be a preferential voting system instead of numerical scoring.
Whereas in the past nominees would be selected by the #animation branches before being opened up to the general Academy for voting, now both halves of the process will be carried out by the entire Academy. So, what does this mean for future hopefuls of the prestigious award?
The Good: More Independent And Foreign Features Could Be Nominated
Until now, the only award for which all members of the academy voted for was Best Picture, which has always supported smaller, well-crafted films over blockbusters. That's why superhero films rarely make the nominations, and why Moonlight won Best Picture at this year's ceremony.
This could mean the change in rules will serve to reinvigorate the category and increase the number of nominations for foreign and independent films. It could place the focus back on the quality of the animation and story and lead to a better chance for films of a different style to the #Disney/#Pixar fare.
The Bad: It Could Have The Opposite Impact For The Animation Category
However, these rule changes could easily be disastrous for the animation categories. If voting continues as it always has — with a clear preference for American films, especially those by Disney/Pixar that appeal to children and do well at the box office — then this could spell an end to the presence of foreign and independent-animated films at the Oscars. Currently, Disney/Pixar clearly dominates the feature-length animation category and has won the award nine times in the last 10 years.
Ever since The Lego Movie failed to gain a nomination, the committee has been faulted for placing too much emphasis on "old school" animation, and this rule change could be seen as an attempt to drastically reduce the number of hand-drawn and stop-motion animated films in the race. Instead, sleek and colorful 3D CGI films, such as the past two Oscar winners — Inside out and Zootopia — will fill the nominations.
If all this is true, then it could have a huge effect on the entire American animation scene. First, and perhaps most importantly, these rule changes could result in a loss of visibility for smaller, independent movies. Though #YourName has proven that even without an Oscar nomination, a film can become an international success, receiving a nomination provides huge exposure for foreign and independent films. The buzz surrounding the Academy Awards inspires viewers to watch, discuss and review the nominees and winners, giving them a boost in popularity.
In addition, films wishing to contend may have to advertise more to catch the attention of Academy members. Film studios may release films earlier in the year and attempt to gain attention at festivals and in the media. This would disfavor smaller companies who may not have enough funding to advertise extensively and would mean that studios with bigger budgets would have a greater chance at winning.
Films That May Be Affected
Laika, the studio behind Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, is said to be announcing a new movie sometime this year, and as they use stop-motion rather than CG animation, their future releases could also be impacted by the new rules. Even #StudioGhibli could be affected, as their movies are all hand-drawn and any future release may struggle to earn a nomination.
However, the CEO of GKids, an American distributor of foreign animated movies such as Oscar nominees My Life as a Zucchini and Song of the Sea, is cautiously optimistic about the changes, and in an interview with Hollywood Reporter said:
"I'm hopeful that quality will prevail. If you look at animation as a genre, maybe the results of a little film you never heard of getting nominated is surprising. But look at live action. No one is surprised when 'Jurassic World' doesn't get a best picture nomination and 'Moonlight' or 'Manchester by the Sea' does. If you take that viewpoint, films like 'The Red Turtle' or 'Princess Kaguya' make a lot more sense. My hope is that this will continue with the new rule, though inevitably some smaller films probably aren't going to get the attention that they should."
Their lineup for 2017 includes The Breadwinner, an adaptation of Deborah Ellis's bestselling novel about a 12-year-old girl growing up in Afghanistan under the Taliban who must dress up as a boy to work and bring home food to her family. They will also be releasing a new film from the producers of The Little Prince called Mune: Guardian of the Moon, about an unlikely hero who must save the Sun from the ruler of the underworld. Both of these films may not make the nominations this year.
Only time will tell what sort of impact the rule changes will have on the animation nominations, but this year's Academy Award season will certainly be an interesting one to follow.
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