And in the morning, I'm making waffles!

And in the morning, I’m making waffles!

The 74th annual Academy Awards for the film year 2001.  The nominations were announced on February 12, 2002 and the awards were held on March 24, 2002.

Best Animated Film:  Shrek

  • Monsters Inc.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

Most Surprising Omission: Waking Life

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  n/a

Rank (out of 15) Among Best Best Animated Film Years:  #11

Oscar Score:  100

Alternate Oscar Score:  100

Oscar Semi-Finalists (alphabetical):

  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
  • Osmosis Jones
  • The Prince of Light
  • The Trumpet of the Swan
  • Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
  • Waking Life

note:  The Prince of Light is listed as a semi-finalist but did not actually appear on the official Reminder List of Oscar Eligible Films from the Academy that year.
note:  This is the only year that the Academy released a list of “semi-finalists”.

Other Oscar-Eligible Films (alphabetical):

  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  • Cats & Dogs
  • Monkeybone
  • Pokemon 3: The Movie
  • Recess: School’s Out

The Complete List of Animated Films I Have Seen from 2001 (ranked, with stars, director, studio):

  1. Monsters Inc  (****, Docter / Unkrich, Disney (Pixar))
  2. Shrek  (***.5, Adamson, Dreamworks SKG)
  3. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius  (***, Davis, Paramount)
  4. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within  (***, Sakaguchi / Sakakibara, Sony)
  5. My Life as McDull  (***, Yuen, Bliss Picture Ltd)
  6. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust  (***, Kawajiri, Urban Vision Entertainment)
  7. Waking Life  (***, Linklater, Fox Searchlight)
  8. Atlantis: The Lost Empire  (**.5, Trousdale / Wise, Disney)
  9. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade  (**.5, Okiura, Bandai)
  10. Spriggan  (**.5, Kawasaki, A.D. Vision)
  11. Avalon  (**.5, Oshii, Miramax)
  12. The Prince of Light: The Legend of Ramayana  (**.5, Sako / Mohan, Showcase Entertainment)
  13. Trumpet of the Swan  (**, Rich / Noss, Sony)
  14. Recess: School’s Out  (**, Sheetz, Disney)
  15. Pokemon 3: The Movie  (**, Yuyama, Warner Bros)
  16. Cats & Dogs  (**, Guterman, Warner Bros)
  17. Marco Polo – Return to Xanadu  (**, Merk, Tooniversal Company)
  18. Monkeybone  (.5, Selick, 20th Century-Fox)

Consensus Awards:

  1. Shrek  (184 pts – Oscar, Annie, BFCA, NBR, LAFC)
  2. Waking Life  (56 pts  –  NYFC, BFCA)
  3. Monsters Inc.  (56 pts  –  Oscar, Annie, BFCA)
  4. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius  (20 pts  –  Oscar)
  5. Blood: The Last Vampire  (20 pts  –  Annie)
  6. Osmosis Jones  (20 pts  –  Annie)

The Race:  It was easy to know who was going to be battling for the win in the first presentation of Best Animated Film at the Oscars.  The #3 and #4 box office films of the year were the big Dreamworks animated hit (Shrek) and the big Pixar animated hit (Monsters Inc.) and both of them had been big hits with the critics as well.  They were clearly both going to be nominated and almost certainly one of them was going to take home the trophy.  But, with 14 eligible films, it meant three nominees and that another film needed to earn a spot at the table.  But what would it be?  The Annies, the guild awards for animated films were no help.  They had been running on an off-calendar year calendar since their inception and their nominations in November included Blood: The Last Vampire (a short film) and Emperor’s New Groove (a 2000 film) while the November release of Monsters Inc. had pushed it into the next year (they would correct themselves, waiting until February of 2003 for their next awards and get in sync with other groups).  The only Oscar eligible films nominated at the Annies were Shrek and Osmosis Jones.

While three of the major critics groups had started giving an award for Best Animated Film, two of them (LAFC, NBR) went to Shrek.  The third (NYFC) went to Waking Life, the very adult rotoscoped animated film from director Richard Linklater, and it was uncertain if this would be considered Oscar fare.  But Waking Life also joined Shrek and Monsters Inc. as the third nominee at the Broadcast Film Critics Association in the first year that they had a full slate for the category and not just a winner.  No other awards group had an award yet, with the PGA still four years away and the Globes and BAFTAs six years away.

The Oscars at least did give some help by announcing a semi-finals list, something they would never again do.  But it was all over the place, with a CGI animated video game adaptation (Final Fantasy), a Farrelly Brothers gross-out production (Osmosis Jones), a Nickelodeon film (Jimmy Neutron) and even a Japanese anime horror film (Vampire Hunter D).  Which way would the Academy turn?

The Results:  With the first two nominees pretty much locked, they went with the very kids friendly Nickelodeon film for their third nomination, which, as it turns out, was the right choice from my perspective.  While Pixar had been wowing people for several years, DreamWorks was in a groove.  They were in a streak of three straight Best Picture winners and Shrek had also earned a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.  In the end, Shrek would take home the award, with 5 Consensus awards in all (Oscar, Annie, BFCA, NBR, LAFC), a new record that would last only one year.

DreamWorks breathes a sigh of relief as they manage to kickstart a franchise.

DreamWorks breathes a sigh of relief as they manage to kickstart a franchise.

Shrek

  • Director:  Andrew Adamson  /  Vicky Jensen
  • Writer:  Ted Elliott  /  Terry Rossio  /  Joe Stillman  /  Roger S. H. Schulman  (from the book by William Steig)
  • Producer:  Jeffrey Katzenberg  /  Aron Warner  /  John H. Williams
  • Animation Studio:  DreamWorks
  • Distribution Studio:  DreamWorks
  • Stars:  Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film, Adapted Screenplay
  • Oscar Points:  80
  • Length:  90 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $267.66 mil  (#3  –  2001)
  • Release Date:  16 May 2001
  • Metacritic Score:  84
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #24  (year)  /  #32  (nominees)  /  #13  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  20
  • First Watched:  Opening day with Veronica at the Century Eastport

The Film:  It’s actually easier to explain what’s brilliant about Shrek than to explain why it’s a high-ranking ***.5 film and not a **** film.  The film, based on the popular children’s book by William Steig, was clearly designed to be the anti-Disney film.  They would make use of characters that had appeared in Disney films that they couldn’t own the copyright on (like Pinocchio or Snow White).  They would have an unlikeable ogre as the main hero.  They would have, as the main talking animal sidekick, an annoying ass (literally).  The princess who is rescued turns out to be a pretty mean fighter in her own right and a bit of an ogre herself.  The ruler, who needs to marry the princess to become a king, is a tiny little man who overcompensates in a lot of ways.  The big kiss that unites the hero and the princess is a massive swipe at Disney, mocking the scene in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast finally regains his physical humanity.  All of it is done with wit and humor, with some great animation and with a lot of tongues in cheeks.  It was successful enough, not only to be the #3 film of the year (when the #1 and 2 films were the first film installments of massively loved book series – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings) but to start its own franchise, with the first sequel crushing all animation box office records (its record wouldn’t be broken until this past year).

So, given what this film does to satirize Disney (“No dead girls on the table!” Shrek yells when the seven dwarfs throw Snow White up on his table after all the fairy tale creatures have been expelled from the land and have come to live in his swamp), given some of the humor that mocks tropes (when Princess Fiona sings with a bluebird, she hits notes so high that they cause the bluebird to explode), given how they manage to take a voice actor, Eddie Murphy, whose annoying sidekick had been one of the things that was terrible about Mulan and make his annoying sidekick the best thing about this film, why can’t it make it up to four stars in my estimation?

The quick and easy answer would be that it just doesn’t feel like a four star film.  Is it because it’s just too cynical in the way it attacks Disney?  Well, I laughed my ass off in the theater when Fiona flies into the air and transforms from a beauty into an ogre in the complete opposite of what happened in Beauty and the Beast but with pretty much the same animated effects.  But perhaps it is just a bit too mean-spirited?  Or maybe because Shrek, who is designed to somehow be both lovable and odious, feels like too much of a stretch.  There’s nothing in the story that actually makes it believable that Fiona would actually fall in love with him.  There are a few montages, but there isn’t any actual character development along those lines and it just feels like it’s what’s supposed to happen and so they have it happen.

The hard, complicated answer, is that I can’t really explain it.  I have seen it numerous times and parts of it still make me laugh a lot (“He talks?” Fiona yells when she meets Donkey and Shrek explains “It’s getting him to shut up that’s the trick.”).  Most of what Eddie Murphy says is pretty funny and it was the first time in years that I had liked him in something (though, people who say Donkey is the best animated character of all-time are so very wrong, because the sequel will bring us Puss, and he’s much more awesome).  But, ever since that opening weekend, it has sat at a high ***.5 with me and it still does.

Pixar loses the Oscar. Don't get used to that.

Pixar loses the Oscar. Don’t get used to that.

Monsters Inc.

  • Director:  Pete Docter
  • Writer:  Pete Docter  /  Jill Culton  /  Jeff Pidgeon  /  Ralph Eggleston  /  Andrew Stanton  /  Daniel Gerson
  • Producer:  Darla K. Anderson
  • Animation Studio:  Pixar
  • Distribution Studio:  Buena Vista
  • Stars:  John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly, Bob Peterson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Score, Sound Editing, Original Song
  • Oscar Points:  85
  • Length:  92 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • Box Office Gross:  $255.87 mil  (#4  –  2001)
  • Release Date:  2 November 2001
  • Metacritic Score:  78
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #19  (year)  /  #20  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Song
  • Nighthawk Points:  50
  • First Watched:  Opening day with Veronica at the Century Eastport

The Film:  Monsters Inc. was the film that proved that Pixar really wasn’t a one-trick pony.  Toy Story had been magnificent, as had the sequel.  But A Bug’s Life hadn’t been nearly as good and it was the old trope of the lives of animals, which had been a done a lot with animation.  But this film?  This was new and original and something different.  It paved the way for the new and different directions that Pixar would constantly take in their movies going forward.

This is a **** film while I have Shrek at ***.5.  So why is that?  Is it because this is so fantastically original, the whole concept of a world of monsters that must also interact with the human world, where they get the screams that power their city?  It is because it takes a tired old plot, the idea of a bachelor who ends up in charge of a child and ends up caring for the child more than he ever could have imagined and makes it new and original?  Is it because the animation is so amazing?  I remember noticing that in the theater.  Shrek had considerable wit and biting humor, but the animation wasn’t the best thing about it.  Here, the animation is simply amazing.  I remember watching Sully standing in the snow and the wind and watching the individual hairs on him moving in the wind and was just astonished.  Or look at the scene where he believes that Boo has been crushed in a trash compacter.  Look at the amazing expressions in his face.  These characters come alive.

Or maybe it’s because of that.  These are characters.  In the end, a lot of the Shrek characters speak to archetypes, but the Monsters characters really come alive.  They develop.

But perhaps it comes back to that moment at the trash compacter.  Because this is a film that somehow manages to be moving and funny at the same time, and it follows through with both, throughout the film.  My final argument with Shrek is that it wanted to be biting, but in the end, we were supposed to then root for Shrek to be the romantic hero.  It lacked the courage of its convictions.  But this film is always heart-warming and funny.  Sully has won us over in the way that he has learned to care for Boo and the film has won us over in the way it shows him reacting.

This film, like so many other Pixar films, is filled with moments that continue to resonate in our household.  Mike Wazowski’s name continues to make me smile and to make Thomas laugh (he used to write it as his own name at school when he was younger – actually, turns out he still does it as he brought home a picture from school a month ago where he wrote that as his name).  It’s great to watch Mike’s unbridled optimism, even when his face is covered up in commercials and magazines.  I continue to say to Veronica “did you remember to file your paperwork”, a phrase that was so important in her life when this film came out (and she worked in billing at DePaul) that I bought her a little Roz statue that she still keeps in her office.  The way that Sully tries to get Boo to go to sleep (“And go to sleep, now.”) was something I tried with Thomas constantly when he was little.  It never worked.

But in some ways it perhaps comes down to something that maybe Pixar couldn’t even have foreseen.  Not the wonderful, beautiful relationships in the film.  Not the humor or the imagination that makes it work so well.  Not the reference to The Right Stuff or to the wonder of Ray Harryhausen.  It’s the music of Randy Newman and that wonderful score that makes the end of the film so beautiful, a perfect melody that helps Sully’s face light up when he hears that magic word that means he has found what he has been looking for.

Nickelodeon earns an Oscar nom. Don't get used to that either.

Nickelodeon earns an Oscar nom. Don’t get used to that either.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

  • Director:  John A. Davis
  • Writer:  John A. Davis  /  Steve Oedekerk  /  J. David Stern  /  David N. Weiss  (from the shorts on Nickelodeon)
  • Producer:  Steve Oedekerk  /  John A. Davis  /  Obie Hecht
  • Animation Studio:  Nickelodeon
  • Distribution Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Debi Derryberry, Patrick Stewart, Martin Short
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  82 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • Box Office Gross:  $80.93 mil  (#27  –  2001)
  • Release Date:  21 December 2001
  • Metacritic Score:  65
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #69  (year)  /  #52  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  n/a
  • First Watched:  On DVD

The Film:  It had been clear for a few years that the Academy needed a Best Animated Film category.  In the space of a couple of years before the Academy finally opened the category, we had films like Princess Mononoke, Toy Story 2, South Park, The Iron Giant, Chicken Run and Fantasia 2000.  But just because there was a need for a category, didn’t mean that there would always be films to fill it.  That was the problem the first couple of years, in 2001, when there were really only two films that deserved nominations and in 2002 when the category expanded to five because of the number of eligible films but again there were only a couple of films that really deserved nominations.  So, in this opening year, what to do with that third, sacrificial spot that clearly had no chance against Pixar and DreamWorks?  Well, the Academy went with the most harmless choice, and as it turns out, the best of the available options, a silly little Nickelodeon film about a boy genius who must rescue all the parents in town after they are kidnapped by space aliens.

This is exactly what we should count on for a movie from Nickelodeon, the station that always wanted to be a more fun counterpart to PBS for kids shows but, for the most part, just seemed like Disney without the budget.  Their animated shows were aimed squarely at young kids and that’s fine.  In Jimmy Neutron, we have the kind of kids who run rampant after all their parents disappear but are still young enough to realize, the next morning, that they really do need their parents.  They are the kind of kids who make fun of Jimmy, the nerd, but then look to him to lead them when they need to create rocket ships out of whatever is lying around so they can launch into space and go stage their rescue.  It’s not exactly a wonder of storytelling, nor is it exactly a wonder of animation wizardry.

So, the question becomes, how did this harmless little film, a film that really is just for kids without any of the kind of wit or humor that makes Shrek and Monsters Inc films that work for adults just as much for kids (if not more for adults than kids) end up as an Oscar nominee, and indeed, as my third best animated film of the year, even if it doesn’t rank high enough to actually earn a Nighthawk nomination?  It’s precisely because it is what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more.  A film like Final Fantasy spent so much on making the film look great that they forgot to give it much of a coherent story.  Waking Life suffers from the Linklater writing that makes me want to hit everyone in the film with a shovel.  This is just a harmless little film that is good fun for a little kid.  It does everything just well enough and didn’t split any people on its quality the way some of the other contenders did.

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