Back in 2009, I wrote a series of posts about each of the categories that have awards at the Oscars. I organized it by category because almost all things written about the Oscars group them by years and never discussed the categories as a whole. In 2010, I went back to that series and added the 2009 nominees to the original posts (you can find that original post here, but this post supersedes everything in it). Once I concluded that series (it ran every day from the day of the nominations to the day of the Oscars) I would go on to write a series about all the films ever nominated for Best Picture, writing a review of every nominee because it didn’t seem like anyone had ever done that. When that ended (in early 2013), I went on to other things, including beginning my Nighthawk Awards, my list of my own personal awards from each year. I have been doing that series for four years now and am rapidly approaching the end (if I did as many years in 2017 as I did in 2016, I would finish it this year). So, partially in an effort to put off the end of that series, I am starting this series. This is essentially the same as the Best Picture series, except with the category of Best Animated Film. So now, just before I post each Nighthawk Awards, starting with 2001, I will do a separate piece on the nominees for Best Animated Film. This post is going up after the 2000 post because that was when the Academy finally decided to create this category, probably inspired, in part by the run of great animated films from previous years like Toy Story 2, Princess Mononoke, South Park, The Iron Giant and Chicken Run. Also, with the rise of Pixar, the greater American visibility of Ghibli and new films from Aardman and DreamWorks, there were a lot more animated films out there and they wouldn’t just be giving the award to Disney every year (well, they would be mostly giving the award to Pixar, who was first distributed, then later, owned by Disney, so they actually were pretty much giving it to Disney almost every year), so it was time for the award.
The category was kind of long overdue. Beauty and the Beast had broken through to the Best Picture race in 1991, followed by Toy Story joining the Original Screenplay nominees in 1995. Prior to those two films, animated films had almost always been relegated to the Score or Song categories. In fact, other than the four films from 1942 to 1950 that earned Best Sound nominations, no animated film prior to 1991 had ever been nominated for anything other than Score or Song. Beauty and the Beast (Picture, Score, Sound, Song, Song, Song) and Aladdin (Score, Sound, Sound Editing, Song, Song) earned as many Oscar nominations as all the animated films released in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s combined and won as many Oscars as every animated film from 1941 to 1989 combined.
The Annies had begun with their awards in 1992. The BFCA had added it in 1998. Several critics groups had been giving Best Animated Film, some as early as 1989. Yet, the Academy seemed to add some weight to the idea, because within seven years after the Academy finally began with their award, the Golden Globes, the PGA, the BAFTA, the BSFC and the CFC all added the award. The Academy had added the award too late for many classic Disney films, as well as Watership Down, Chicken Run and several Miyazaki films. But it was finally around, just in time for the big animation boom. This is evidenced in the rise of the nominees – there are now regularly enough animated releases to trigger a full slate of 5 Oscar nominees, while prior to 2011 it had only happened twice. Before 2001, not many animated films were in the Top 10 for box office in the year and they were always Disney. Since the smash hit of Shrek, it’s been more rare to not have a year with at least one non-Disney animated film in the Top 10.
So, that’s the category. Now for what you’ll be finding in these posts. Like in the Best Picture posts, I will review all of the nominees in each year, complete with the major information about each film. Also like the Best Picture posts, each year will be ranked based on how it compares to other years in the category. That ranking is determined thus: I ranked all 64 films that have earned a nomination for Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards. Those ranks are then averaged in each year. Also, the score of the film on a 100 point scale (**** is 88-100, ***.5 is 76-87, etc, with those top two ranks being the cut-off for determination for the Nighthawk Awards) is averaged for the year. The second average is then divided by the second. The years are then ranked based on that number, with the lowest being the best.
These posts will also have two things that weren’t in the Best Picture posts because I hadn’t determined them yet. The first is called the Oscar Score, and I discuss it in my Nighthawk Awards. It takes a value for the nominees and is divided by the value for the films I think should have been nominated. If the Academy and I agree completely, the score is a perfect 100. But that number is determined on a small point scale because of the other Oscar categories and for this I also have determined an Alternate Oscar Score, which simply involves dividing the score of the films by the score of the top films. (Example: If the three nominees earned a 93, 90 and 67, but the three best nominees in my opinion earn a 93, 90 and 89, the Oscar Score would be 73.3 but the alternate Oscar Score would be 91.9 – I can only do an Alternate Oscar Score in the categories where the nominees are based on the film as a whole, so Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Foreign Film).
I will also be adding in information to these posts that up through 2000 was appearing in the Nighthawk Awards. This includes the list of all the Oscar eligible animated films from the year, a separate ranked list of every animated film I have seen from the year (which in most years includes all the eligible films, as well as some other ineligible films) with basic information included (stars, director, studio). I will also be including, along with the small little bits on the race and results (not as in-depth as in the Best Picture posts), the Consensus Awards for the category, which is based on all the awards given out by various groups and which is objective, except for how I determined to score each category (in other words, I don’t let my opinions of the films alter the results).
The last little bit in this Introduction are a few summaries of the category as it stands in March of 2017, just after the 89th Academy Awards.
Only one director has more than 80 points and that is Pete Docter, who earned a nomination in 2001 for co-directing Monsters Inc then won Oscars in both 2009 (Up) and 2015 (Inside Out). He is also one of the few directors to have earned three nominations so far. Hayao Miyazaki won in 2002 (Spirited Away) and earned nominations in 2005 (Howl’s Moving Castle) and 2013 (The Wind Rises). The other directors with three nominations have never won. The team of Ron Clements and John Musker were nominated in 2002 (Treasure Planet), 2009 (The Princess and the Frog) and 2016 (Moana). Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were nominated as a team in 2002 (Lilo and Stitch) and 2009 (How to Train Your Dragon), but then went their separate ways and Sanders earned a third nomination for The Croods while DeBlois earned his for How to Train Your Dragon 2.
There are two directors other than Docter who have two wins, both of them, like Docter, Pixar directors: Brad Bird in 2004 (The Incredibles) and 2007 (Ratatouille) and Andrew Stanton in 2003 (Finding Nemo) and 2008 (Wall-E). There are another six directors who have won the Oscar and earned another nomination while there are three directors who have earned two nominations without winning either time.
In the first year, DreamWorks (while it was still a distributor) won the Oscar. By the next year, Disney won the Oscar and earned two other nominations and took the lead and has never looked back. The only year in which Disney didn’t earn a nomination was 2011, which is also the only year any studio other than Disney has earned more than 40 points in one year, something which Disney has done seven times in the sixteen years the category has existed. Until 2006, not only was DreamWorks SKG the second place distributor, but it was the only one with more than 20 points. But by then, DreamWorks had shut down as a distribution studio and so, it peaked with 140 points (when Disney had 220). Paramount would take over distribution for DreamWorks Animation films and, lead by the 80 points it earned in 2011 (a win from a Nickelodeon film, two nominations from DreamWorks films), it would rise to 2nd place. However, since 2011, Paramount has only had one nomination (namely because DreamWorks started distributing through 20th Century-Fox in 2013). The new kid on the block is GKIDS, who took over the Ghibli distribution deal from Disney and started distributing many foreign animated films. GKIDS earned its first nomination in 2009, but has grown quickly, three times earning multiple nominations (2011, 2014, 2015) and in 2016, passed Paramount into 2nd place with 180 points even though it has yet to win an Oscar. However, Disney, with 720 points, still has well more than those next three combined.
But Disney owes literally half that success to Pixar. Pixar has 360 points and easily leads the way. Even though it has only earned two nominations since 2010, it has won 8 of its 10 nominations and hasn’t lost when nominated since 2006. Disney Animation itself has slowly grown. It was briefly tied for 1st place with 60 points in 2003 because it made more films than Pixar or DreamWorks (each had one win and one nomination while Disney had three nominations) but then fell behind DreamWorks. Disney wouldn’t win an Oscar with one of its own films until 2013 but it has won three of the last four Oscars and in 2016 finally passed DreamWorks, moving up to 260 points. With the initial Oscar win for Shrek, DreamWorks started in first place and either lead or was tied for the lead through 2005. That began a drought, though, with three years before its next nomination and while DreamWorks continues to rack up nominations, it hasn’t won since 2001, it gains points slowly and is now at 220 and in third place. Only three other animation studios have more than 60 points: the magnificent Studio Ghibli, which won the Oscar in 2002 and has earned five other nominations (including the last four years), Aardman, who won the Oscar in 2005 and has earned two other nominations (and, to be fair, makes very few films) and the new wonderful kid on the block, Laika, who has earned four nominations but has yet to win. By the way, if you’re trying to account for the Disney numbers, those 720 points for Disney as a distributor break down to 360 for Pixar films, 260 for Walt Disney Animation films, 60 from when they distributed Studio Ghibli films and 40 for the two Tim Burton films made by Tim Burton Productions. Two of the biggest production companies, by the way, Blue Sky (eleven eligible films that have grossed over $1.5 billion domestically and close to $6 billion worldwide) and Illumination (seven eligible films that have grossed nearly $2 billion domestically and over $4.5 billion worldwide) each only have one nomination to date. In other words, those two companies combined have been less successful than Nickelodeon, which has two nominations, including a win (for Rango).
The Best Animated category has been very strange when it comes to sequels. They have given the Oscar to one sequel (Toy Story 3) and nominated four others (Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Despicable Me 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as well as one spin-off (Puss in Boots). The first two Toy Story films, of course, pre-dated the awards but Despicable Me wasn’t nominated while the sequel was. More strangely, in 2013, Monsters University was passed over for The Croods in spite of better reviews and better box office while this past year, in spite of being the second biggest box office hit of the year (and the biggest animated film of all-time) and a critical hit, Finding Dory was passed over.
In the first eight years of the category, three Foreign language films were nominated, two of which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. But, since GKIDS started earning nominations in 2009, that number has gone way up. There have been 10 Foreign films in the last eight years that have earned nomination and seven of them have been distributed by GKIDS. Personally, that’s been a mixed bag, because the surprise nomination for When Marnie Was There was wonderful but two of the weakest films ever nominated, A Cat in Paris and Boy in the World are both Foreign films that were distributed by GKIDS and they were nominated over The Adventures of Tintin and The Peanuts Movie.