Magazine article Variety

Pure Vision Guides the Oscar Toon Selection Process

Magazine article Variety

Pure Vision Guides the Oscar Toon Selection Process

Article excerpt

TWO YEARS AGO, when "The Lego Movie" was snubbed in Oscar's animated feature category, fans of the movie cried foul. How could the year's top-grossing ($258 million domestic) and best-reviewed (rated 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) cartoon get shut out of the race?

What the outraged failed to recognize was that the Academy nominating committee was not against "The Lego Movie"; it just happened to like five other toon contenders more. You see, of all the categories competing for Oscar, the animated feature award has perhaps the purest selection process.

The committee itself is made up of members of the animation branch, as well as those from other complementary disciplines, such as editing and visual effects. "We want people who really understand the craftpicking the nominees," says Bill Kroyer, a governor of the Academy's short films and feature animation branch. "The committee this year will be the biggest ever. We have a really large cross-section of people with a targeted expertise."

Unlike, say, the best picture race, in which voters pick their favorites from memory, selecting from among several hundred qualifying films released in theaters that year, the animated feature category tops out at around 20 eligible films, all screened for the nominating committee. In order for their votes to count, members must see AND RATE at least two-thirds of the qualifying films. (The foreign-language category works much the same way, except that with a whopping 85 movies in the mix, there are simply too many foreign films for any one person to watch, so the submissions are ... split up among three groups.) In animation, Academy members see all - or most - of the contenders, and instead of simply naming their favorites, they must evaluate each film individually, scoring them on a scale of 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent). Then, the five films with the highest scores appear on the general ballots sent to all Oscar members, who aren't required to watch all five and nearly always pick the most recent popular success.

"It's a subjective art form. Everybody has a different way they evaluate things that they value," Kroyer says. "It's better for you to evaluate each film according to an absolute scale that you think reflects the quality of that film."

Just imagine how different the best picture race might look if voters were expected to watch all - or two-thirds - of the eligible movies.

That requirement means tiny, artistic toons made for just a few million dollars have a real shot against those made on massive, nine-figure budgets (a la "Big Hero 6" and "How to Train Your Dragon 2").

Of course, as one might expect from the group of animation professionals and admirers who do the nominating, the scores skew toward the toons that strike the group as most impressive - which probably explains why "The Lego Movie," for all its innovation and wit, lost out against a pair of auteur-driven, handdrawn toons.

What does that mean for this year's animated crop? Four of the year's top-grossing films have earned more than $300 million: blockbuster Pixar sequel "Finding Dory," Illumination original "The Secret Life of Pets," Walt Disney Animation's human-free "Zootopia," plus Disney's "The Jungle Book," in which nearly all the main characters (except Mowgli) are animated. But the nominating committee will also be scoring a handful of well-reviewed festival movies, including Cannes-selected "The Red Turtle" from Oscar winner Michael Dudok de Wit, and Remi Chaye's "Long Way North," which earned the audience award at 2015's Annecy Animated Film Festival.

In the past, the group has demonstrated genuine affection for stop-motion, which is a good sign for "Kubo and the Two Strings," the most intricate project to date from Laika (the detail-oriented studio responsible for "Coraline," which has been nominated for its three previous features), as well as GKids' French-language entry "My Life as a Zucchini," winner of top prize at this year's Annecy, which is also a foreign-language submission from Switzerland. …

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