Friday, January 4, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Animated Feature 2016

The Contenders:

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia (winner)

What’s Missing

There are some surprisingly high profile animated movies from 2016 that didn’t make this cut and that I haven’t seen. Kung Fu Panda 3 is one of those, and bluntly, I didn’t even know it was a thing. Finding Dory, Sing, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sausage Party have gotten various levels of acclaim and approval, but again, I haven’t seen them. I have seen The Killing Joke, and it was underwhelming. My guess is that there are some in the group I haven’t seen probably deserve to be considered, but only at the lower level for this Oscar.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Zootopia was the winner of this Oscar, and it’s the movie I’d be most likely to want to replace. It’s not a bad movie; it’s just not a great one. It almost certainly won because of its anti-racism message, and it’s a fine message. The problem is that Zootopia’s message is really nothing more than “racism is bad.” It gets virtually everything about the reality of racism wrong from the institutionalized nature of it to the pervasiveness of things like microaggression. Sure, I’m not expecting a huge amount of nuance in a film like this, but something that approximates the situation its discussing would be good.

4. I said in my review of The Red Turtle that I appreciate when the Academy nominates a film like this one because it helps movies like this find a broader audience. This is a movie that would otherwise be ignored, and being presented to a broader audience is a positive. And it’s a fine movie, but it’s nothing more than a fine movie. It’s very slow and it works almost entirely on an allegorical level. This isn’t always a problem, but in this case, it’s meant that I haven’t really wanted to rewatch this movie or thought much about it since I took the DVD out of the drive.

My Choices

3. I genuinely try to limit cases where I think there are multiple good choices, but there were legitimately three choices that could be easily argued as right for 2016. Placing Moana third is not at all a knock on just how good this movie really is. I like just about everything about it. The message is good, the characters are great, and even the aspect of Disney films that I tend to dislike the most—the animal sidekick—works really well. Moana is third not from any failing, but because the other two movies are better in very real aspects.

2. I think if you ask me what should have won this Oscar, depending on the day, I’d give you any of these top three. Kubo and the Two Strings is in some ways the one that I’m a little disappointed in, and not because of the movie. This may well be Laika’s best film; it’s at least as good as ParaNorman, and yet it lost money hand over fist. There’s something about the way that Laika advertises the movies it makes that doesn’t connect with people. In this case, I think it’s the name. This would have done better if it were just called Kubo. Anyway, it’s a great story, and really more people should see it.

1. My Life as a Zucchini might be the most unusual in this set of nominations. I’ll freely admit that I don’t love the look of the film, and that appearance is off-putting. And yet, it is such a beautifully realized story in so many ways. The children in this story are orphans or abandoned, and the film doesn’t treat them as magical or special, but as real. The one kid who is a bully isn’t just a bully; he has depth and eventually becomes as much a kid we root for as all the others. This is a movie that handles its emotions well. This is exactly the sort of movie that Oscar nominates, and while it probably didn’t have a chance of winning, I think it should have.

Final Analysis


  1. I like Zootopia more than you do, but agree that it shouldn't have won. And I, too, would be split between Moana and Kubo. (I haven't seen My Life). Good calls here. Some years there's only one real choice for best animated film but in 2016 there are many.

    1. You probably do like Zootopia more than I do, because most people do. I think it's a fine movie. It just misses the point it really wants to make.

      Yeah, racism is bad. How about we address where it comes from? Because in Zootopia, the victims of racism are almost entirely in positions of power.