Friday, January 6, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Animated Feature 2021

The Contenders:

Encanto (winner)
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon

What’s Missing

I don’t watch a lot of animated movies in general. My kids are essentially grown and aren’t at home for most of the year, and since the vast majority of animated movies are made for kids, they just don’t come across my radar as much. The only animated film from 2021 I watched apart from the nominations was Belle, which I didn’t love. Marcel the Shell with Shoes on is listed as a 2021 film everywhere I look, but it’s eligible for the 2022 Oscars, so as much as it would absolutely make my top list, I have to wait until next year for it.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. There’s a lot to like with Raya and the Last Dragon. In fact, there’s probably too much to like with this movie. What I mean by that is that this movie very much attempts to shoehorn all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender into a movie that runs a little shorter than two hours. Sure, the stories are different in the details, but the broad sweeps and themes are the same. Once I recognized that, I realized that I’d seen this story done as well as it was going to be done, and squeezing all of that into a single movie doesn’t do justice to any of it.

4. My original prediction long before I saw most of these movies was that Luca would win this Oscar because, well, Pixar. Its nomination was not a surprise, since the majority of Pixar shows up on these lists every year. Luca is fine, and while it has gained a lot of traction in the LGBTQIA+ community for themes of being forced to hide your true self in a hostile world, the story is one that feels like a cobble of a lot of other stories. It goes to some very obvious places, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t feel like I need to see it again.

3. For me, the LGBT-themed animated film that was truly impressive was Flee, a film that came very close to being in second place for me. Flee didn’t really have a hope of winning. The comparatively rudimentary animation lacked the visual pop of the other choices. The story is tremendous, though, and that’s always going to be the most important thing, at least to me. I appreciate that Oscar continues to nominate films like this one every year. It’s not going to win, but it needs that exposure to a larger audience—track this one down.

2. Before seeing them, my guess was Luca, but once I saw Encanto, I knew it would win. It benefits from being a Disney film, of course, but it also benefits from being really, really good. Like classic Disney, mentioned in the top tier of their entire history good. The songs are great, the story is a smart one, and there are some truly memorable characters. In a lot of years, this would be my choice without much hesitation, and while I loved this a great deal, it just happens that there was one I liked more from 2021.

My Choices

1. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is near-perfect, and I mean that in every possible way I can mean it. I knew it wouldn’t win, but it deserved to, because it does everything right. It’s funny, the jokes are constant, the animation is great, and it also has something to say and does it well, and it also references a ton of films. “Found family” is a common enough trope in films that it has a name. This is a movie where that found family is the actual family in question—they find themselves and each other, and it’s joyous. I knew it wouldn’t win, but it really should have.

Final Analysis


  1. I still haven't seen The Mitchells vs. the Machines but I've seen both Luca and Encanto.... a lot. The latter of which almost every fucking day because of my niece and nephew.

    1. They could do a lot worse than having Encanto on repeat. It was close to being my vote for this.

  2. I agree Oscar got it wrong, but I would go with Flee personally. Mitchells vs The Machines is definitely up there though.

    1. I liked Flee a lot. On Letterboxd, I gave The Mitchells vs. The Machines the full five-star rating. Both Flee and Encanto got 4 1/2 from me, so being in third in that group is hardly an insult.