This has been a good year in terms of Academy Awards in the world of Animation. From Finding Dory, that helped express the importance of mental health and disability, to hilarious and touching musical Sing!, to Ice Age: Collision Course, which continued the forever funny franchise of nearly-extinct prehistoric animals. And these are the ones that didn’t even make the cut for an Animation Oscar. But, as great as animation was in 2016 and the first two months of 2017, there were also some disappointments, such as The Secret Life of Pets, whose trailer was funnier and better written than the actual film, The Angry Birds Movie and Sausage Party, which I don’t believe I can muster words for.
What rendered this year’s batch of speaking animals, stop-motion animation and impromptu song and dance routines great were the messages. To say animation has always had a tendency to make everyone sing “kumbaya” at the end of the movie is a gross generalization, just like those soulless oafs who don’t enjoy animation state that it “has little substance.”
Picking among nominees Zootopia (or –tropolis), Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, and My Life as a Courgette (or Zucchini) is going to be tough for the Academy. The weakest of the American films (the first four in the list) is possibly Moana — but before you begin a search party for my beheading, hear me out.
Kubo and the Two Strings wins in animation design; the 3D stop-motion is one of the most beautiful films to watch, regardless if you enjoy “kids movies” or not. The Japanese placing beautifully entwines culture with peril, evoking a series of real emotions and not just Oscar-bait renditions, possibly the strongest and most deserving candidate for the award — not to mention the cast includes Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey and the great Ralph Fiennes (as the villain, don’t ask silly questions).
Zootopia (or Zootropolis, as you Europeans call it) has the best plot, Officer Hobbs should win an Academy Award for simply being. Not only does the film have a fantastic score (provided in part by Shakira, also known as Gazelle in the city of Zootopia), it’s the best written out of the five flicks. Sloths at the DMV (the US version of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)? A mouse-godfather? Animals with Iphones? You really couldn’t get better anthropomorphism if you tried — and yet the idea was so simple — rendering Zootopia the second runner-up.
The Red Turtle gets third place because it’s a silent film and we don’t even know what the character’s name is and it has all of these deep, important meanings and so it beats Moana.
The last film is My Life as a Courgette, which stood a great chance at the Awards yesterday. Director Claude Barras moves us through the daily lives of kids inside an orphanage, all of them having ended up there for a number of depressing reasons Americans would have never inserted in a children’s movie (such as “my mother drank too much beer”). The realism in the film is captivating, but the beautifully crafted stop-motion, full of colors and wonder, is the real strength of the movie.
This brings us to Moana, a great film and an interesting contestant. I wonder what makes Moana better than Finding Dory, which was potentially a better film. Disney tried too hard with this movie, jumping on the diversity band-wagon they made a valiant effort but it just doesn’t seem genuine enough.
I suppose they’re still trying to make up for Pocahontas by representing some form of indigenous people, but Lilo & Stitch was a good enough bounce-back, why drag it on? The soundtrack is good, not Disney’s best but good enough. But who knows, by the time you read this article, Moana has won — in that case the Academy Awards are rigged and there is a conspiracy against me.