With the announcement of this year's Oscar nominees, there was, as usual, only one award I really cared to find out about (it's the same award the Academy cares the least about), Best Animated Feature. This year I was particularly curious for two reasons: The first is Frozen, Disney's surprise animated phenom that, despite what the misguided (secretly genius?) marketing may have lead me to believe, has become my all time favorite Disney animated film (yes, I will confidently say that). The other reason was The Wind Rises, which I have yet to see for myself (it's not getting a "proper" US release until February), but if Miyazaki holds true to his word of retirement, this will be the last film directed by the greatest animator the world has ever known.
Thankfully, both films made it into the running for Best Animated Feature, and are joined by three additional nominees in the box-office smash Despicable Me 2, the "I forgot it even existed" Dreamworks film,The Croods, and Ernest & Celestine, this year's obligatory "I've never heard of it" animated feature. Oddly absent is Monsters University, which, while far from Pixar's best film, was certainly more enjoyable than their more recent efforts (Brave was hardly enjoyable at all, and managed to steal the award from far more deserving films). At the very least, we know Pixar won't just be handed the award just for showing up again.
Not to discredit the three other nominees (I rather enjoyed Despicable Me 2), but they are more or less filling up the spaces. This award is between two films, Frozen and The Wind Rises. And for the first time in forever (Ha! Frozen reference), I am conflicted as to who I want to see walk away with the award.
Frozen is a film that took me completely by surprise. I went in with very little expectations, and what I got was more than a great film, but it was something truly special. A musical in which I loved every last song, a fairy tale that couldn't be more sincere, a story that was heartfelt and (in a rarity for Disney) full of surprises, and most importantly of all, the most likable and endearing characters I can recall in Disney's history (who, for another change of the studio, have their share of emotional depths). Frozen is a rare instance where I will say it completely deserves every bit of its success and accolades.
Then there's The Wind Rises, which I may not yet be able to give a personal take on, but I can wholeheartedly understand its significance. Hayao Miyazaki's career is unparalleled in animation. That this is his final film should in itself warrant an award. Miyazaki has only won one Oscar in his illustrious career (the 2002 Best animated Feature for Spirited Away), and while the Academy couldn't have been more right on that day, they have since left the great director off their radar.
Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle earned a nomination in 2005, but failed to win the award, while in 2009, his penultimate film, Ponyo, failed to even get that much (which is a travesty, the more I think about it the more I come to realize just how much more deserving it was than Pixar's Up). And in 2012, The Secret World of Arrietty, while not directed by Miyazaki but still from his studio, was again snubbed (and once again, Pixar was handed the award). I'm happy to see Miyazaki's final film get some recognition, it's just a shame it's taken this long for the Academy to remember his existence.
But now Pixar is left on the sidelines, it's Disney and Studio Ghibli's turn to go toe-to-toe. But will Miyazaki's retirement sway the Academy to cap off his career with a long-overdue second Oscar win? Or will Disney's Frozen surprise us all once again and become the first film from Disney to win Best Animated Feature?
The Academy has wronged what should be a prestigious honor in the Best Animated Feature Oscar through the years. For every great winner (Spirited Away, The Incredibles), there have been some terrible ones (Brave and the insufferable bore that is Happy Feet). Pixar, great as they may be, has pretty much just been handed the award for years now, whether deserving or not. And while great animated films like Ponyo or Millennium Actress have been snubbed, animated train wrecks like Shark Tale and Jimmy Neutron have managed to fill their places.
But now the Academy has the opportunity to give this award the credibility it hasn't seen in years. Two opportunities, actually. It all depends on which opportunity the Academy chooses to take. Will Disney be rewarded for creating a film that truly realizes their often-touted "magical" moniker? Or will the Academy try to make amends for past mistakes and close Miyazaki's career with one more Oscar?
Either way, the opportunity's golden.