Animation deserves better

Photo by Blake Israel

This year’s Oscars was an interesting one to say the least, while the talk of the town was the “the slap” incident between 2022 Best Actor winner Will Smith and comedian Chris Rock, there were plenty more captivating moments.

One of these moments was “Encanto” having its time in the spotlight with its Best Animated Feature win. As a Colombian-American and fan of animation, it was satisfying to see the film receive recognition, but my joy felt short-lived with all the continued resistance that award show circles have towards the genre. 

Animation has only just gained entry into the world of award shows, as it was only 30 years ago that an animated film became nominated in the Oscars Best Picture category. The Academy has seemed reluctant to recognize animation films and only just created the Best Animated Feature category in 2002, with “Shrek” winning. 

Since then, various animated films have won or received nominations in their respective category but also in other categories such as original score, sound and original screenplay to name a few. But these animated films generally only win within their given category and continue to be associated with being films for children.

During the Oscars ceremony, presenters have often talked about the importance of animated films to convey messages to children and how they serve as a pillar of many childhoods. While I believe that this sentiment is true, the influence of animated films and the community they create is grossly underestimated.

Of course, animation is marketed very differently in the U.S. compared to other countries. Unlike Japan where there are animations for every age demographic and in an array of genres, the U.S. generally markets shows and films for children and is often boxed in the fantasy realm. 

Despite the supposed marketing, fans of these shows are very diverse, which should be expected since oftentimes the messages and themes are timeless. Friendship, love, trauma and growth are all topics that have been explored in animation, and these can definitely also be found in more “mature” cinematography. 

Nowadays, there are more adult animated shows and there are some interesting original animations on streaming platforms like Netflix with the show “Arcane.” However, animation is still mostly used for children’s content by major studios, and therefore is only viewed in that context by many critics. Going back to the critics of animation in award circuits, while I am happy “Encanto” won, it was very much an expected win.

Big names like Disney have often swept the Best Animated Feature category, leaving other great films from smaller or independent companies with a much lesser chance of gaining recognition. Moreover, the category of Best Animated Feature or Best Animated Short Film is very limiting to the potential of animated films. 

There is so much work that goes into making these films and it does not feel right that there are not more categories that specifically showcase the skills that go into animation, such as original storyboarding, best voice acting, character design and digital set design. 

Animation is so important. It is so versatile in that it can depict things that work beyond the limits of our reality and imagination. It is a labor of passion to be able to put the proper time and effort into creating an animated film, and these films should get the recognition they deserve from the award circuits. 

At this point in time, the U.S. will probably not reach a point where animated content is as respected as other forms of filmmaking, but I do hope that more film and production companies start taking more risks and start funding more unique animated projects. I also hope that this recent win for “Encanto” will work to expose general audiences to the artistic and storytelling potential of animation.