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Furry Movie Award Watch: August 2013

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Hey, it’s the two year anniversary edition of Furry Movie Award Watch!

However, I don’t feel much like celebrating; this wasn’t exactly a banner year for the column. Let’s see; I was late November, February, April and May. [This time, it was the editor's fault.] Oh, and there was the part where I only got one out of three awards I was supposed to guess right. And the movie that beat me was terrible; not even a fun terrible, like Avatar or Prometheus, but a boring terrible. I can’t even find myself really mad at the choice; I mean, it was a nice, safe pick, after all. Nothing interesting at all going on here.

So, anyway, no funny pictures of animals with party hats this year.

crossie’s Current Best Guesses

Things are unclear right now, so I’m basically rotating Monsters University into the winner’s circle in place of Ernest & Celestine and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls from last month. I’d say it’s about 50/50 between MU and MLP:EG in the Ursa Majors race; and in the other two, a three-way race between MU, Ernest & Celestine The Wind Rises (there are rumors it may be Japan’s entrant for Best Foreign Language Film, boosting its chances as an Animated Feature).

Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Annie Award for Best Animated Feature Ursa Major Award for Best Anthropomorphic Motion Picture
Winner Monsters University Monsters University Monsters University
Nominees The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Monsters University
The Wind is Rising
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
The Croods
Epic
Ernest & Celestine
Free Birds
Frozen
The Wind is Rising
Epic
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls
Turbo

So, what’s the point?

In case I didn’t make it ridiculously clear, I wasn’t happy with Brave’s pair of wins earlier this year. It rode completely on studio pedigree; it was honestly the single worst nominee at the Oscars. There were much more interesting possibilities that got shunted to the side by its nomination; The Rabbi’s Cat was the obvious choice, but even Hotel Transylvania would have been a more inspired nominee.

The thing is, last year’s crop of nominees was weak; Brave was a piece of junk, but I can’t say I had much love for Frankenweenie or ParaNorman, either, while The Pirates! A Band of Misfits was decent in a year where “decent” felt mind-blowing. If it weren’t for Wreck-it Ralph, the Oscar nominees last year would have been a wash.

This came after a year which many critics called weak for animation (though I was perfectly happy with the output). Admittedly, that was mostly due to a preponderance of sequels – most actually very good – and the fact that, though John Lasseter rightly banned everyone else at Disney from making crappy sequels to their movies, it turned out he exempted himself from that rule.

Let’s not even get started on this year; man, what a waste-land. Its telling that this year saw not one, but two movies originally intended as direct-to-DVD merchandising cash-ins make it to theaters. It’s even more telling that those are two of the movies I have the warmest feelings for.

So, we’ve got a year many critics felt were weak (though I liked), followed by a year I felt was weak (though other critics were more okay with), followed by this year, where everyone is pretty much not okay with the animated output. You’ve really got to be asking what’s the point of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, anymore.

It could still be worse

The thing is, these years are weak compared to… what, exactly?

The nineties? Okay, so Disney was at its peak during the early half of that decade, but seriously, what else was there? Don Bluth, who stormed off from Disney to do his own thing and was a legitimate rival for a while, began a nosedive at the beginning of the nineties that wouldn’t end. Until DreamWorks and Pixar came along, it was basically Disney taking its beginning-of-the-decade success, turning that into a formula, and ramming that into the ground so hard, it still hasn’t recovered.

The eighties? Oh, hell no. Yeah, you had Bluth before his nosedive, but Disney was in its own low point, while everything else was just a toy commercial. The seventies? Disney, and that’s about it. Before that? Same as above, except even more so.

Of course, there will probably be comments along the lines of, “But what about Fill in the Blank? Fill in the Blank was a classic!” Yes, there were stand-outs in every decade since the beginning of the animated feature film, but that’s just it; they were stand-outs. If you read Jerry Beck’s animated movie guide, you’ll notice quite a few completely forgotten movies; the difference being that today, it’s a weird week at the movie theater where something animated isn’t playing. Back then, an animated dud would play a week and that was it for months, if not years.

For what it’s worth, this decade has seen something we’ve never seen before; a large number of animated feature films hitting the theaters year after year, a surprisingly large percentage of which do not suck! Now, we can still complain about the ones that do (darn right, we can complain! Our God-given right, that is!), but the truth is we’re living in a golden age of animated feature films.

Right now, every major production company has, or is making plans to acquire, an animation studio. Which actually means more animated features will fail; more competition for essentially the same audience. Yes, this added competition can drive creativity; in theory, the best animated feature will be the one least likely to fail. On the other hand, it can also put the brakes on creativity; Cars 2 was terrible, but people liked Cars, so it was still the domestic animated box office champ — meaning, yes, there will almost certainly be a Cars 3, even beyond Planes.

But why are all these studios popping up to begin with? Well, the start of the decade saw something brand new; a competitive award at the Oscars for animated features. Finally, animation studios had something to compete for beyond audiences: their own award. Pixar dominated the early years because they were the first to realize that quality and creativity will win. They’ve got such a reputation that even when they don’t live up to the standard (not just their own, but that of everyone else at this point), they still get a pass; they’re Pixar, and Pixar means quality, right?

However, now the bar has been raised; Brave’s win at the Oscars is actually, ironically, a bizarrely hopeful sign. It was the first true bad call from the Academy in that category. You can’t have calls of “snub!” if there’s nothing worth snubbing. There’s so much quality out there that the safe choice was wrong; the standards are not what they were when Shrek won.

Yes, awards like the Oscars are shallow, petty and self-indulgent; they get it wrong more often than they get it right; and though you can’t straight-out buy one, the size of your pocket book helps. But if the state of the Animated Feature race is any indication, an award to celebrate and promote quality, however nominally, does help to create quality.

Comments

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Just tagged all of your FMAW posts since August 2011.

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Is any studio doing hand-drawn 2D work anymore?

I can recognize the quality of Pixar and Disney's good modern work's work--the problem is that's all I see...lovely 3D modeling and rendering. Compared to Don Bluth or even old Roadrunner cartoons the current style of 3D animation looks overworked and lifeless. Even low-budget hand-drawn work (by good animators) has a playfulness and personality that seems to get lost in the 3D modeling and rendering process.

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It's not that they can't, I'd say it's more of a pipeline thing.

Animated movies take years and years to prep... much more than a live action movie. So they gear up an army of animators, each doing something specialized that doesn't easily apply outside of the one project... Now they have all that overhead to sustain, and they're betting on an uncertain outcome years down the line, and afterwards can they keep the momentum? Any movie is a risky bet... but Hollywood now goes with the biggest and safest. That's CG. They can farm it out easier, replace the artists easier... It makes 2D more about art, CG more about industry. When 2D declined and CG got to be everything... any studio deciding to focus on one has to look at what their work can apply to, what contracts they can bid for.

Henry Selick had interesting stuff to say about it at SIGGRAPH a few weeks ago. I didn't go but my intern staffs one of their chapters and brought some gossip back.
http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/will-streaming-save-animations-soul-1200566...

It was crappy when they shut down Selick's movie in production... the studio was basically across the street and I had friends who moved to the country to work on it.

There is good application for the skills- storyboarding, development, design- 2D animation will still happen for small, specialized stuff, commercials, etc. Look at Japan, Europe, and smaller more independent films. I don't think there's a lot of hope for hollywood to do different than it is:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/steven-spielberg-predicts-implosion-film-5...

Be careful about hoping for jobs doing any of this... especially be careful about paying a lot for a degree to do it.

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Yes, Europe and Japan. Look at "Ernest et Celestine" from Belgium and "The Wind Rises" from Japan for current work.

Fred Patten

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About the author

crossaffliction (Brendan Kachel)read storiescontact (login required)

a reporter and red fox from Hooker, Oklahoma, interested in movies, horror, stand up comedy

Formerly Wichita's only furry comic.

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