The Oscars in Retrospect: 2001 Best Animated Feature

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Because the Best Animated Feature category will celebrate it’s fifteenth year during the next Oscars, and because I don’t want this place to be as neglected as it currently is, I decided to look back at the nominees and winners of the category on a year-by-year basis, as well as say what else should have been nominated (though I’m not going to watch every short-listed film that I’ve missed). So, I plan to do this once or twice a month. Let’s see if I don’t just abandon it. And I may not do them all I order. I’ll try but If I want to stick to my schedule I’m going to have to skip 2002 until the Blu-ray release of Spirited Away this June.

So it’s only appropriate that we kick things off with the one that started it all: 2001. This year the nominees two films that would become iconic, and the first of many eyebrow-raisers that the category would see.

The Winner

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Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson)

Time has not been kind to the Shrek franchise, mainly because it became a franchise (and because the last two films are dreadful). But we tend to forget how unique the movie was in 2001. It may have become the third-highest grossing film of the year (after the first installment in the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings franchises) mainly because it was a hilarious send-up of fairy tale tropes filled with rare instances of potty humor that worked on an emotional level, but there’s more to the story than that. It also made the “Beauty is not skin-deep” message more resonant than many of the other films. I mean, I’m sure it didn’t just get an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the scene where it seems a dragon is giving a Donkey a blowjob. Right?

For better or worse, Shrek became one of the most influential films of our generation. So, it’s easy to look back and roll our eyes at it, but it remains a sweet and funny fairy tale adventure that shouldn’t be judged on the quality of the subsequent films it spawned and inspired.

The Rest of the Nominees

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Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)

This film is a completely different beast. While Shrek was (oddly) a mostly dialogue-based road trip comedy, Monsters, Inc. is a film that brought together every type of comedy you could think of. Slapstick? Yep. Screwball? Indeed. Gross-out? uh-huh. Dark? most definitely. And what is all of this used for? To tell a story about surrogate parenting and corporate greed. You know, every day kids stuff. And it somehow works. Almost every joke lands, the set pieces are thrilling, and the emotional core of the film (Sulley and Boo’s relationship) remains one of the greatest of all time. It’s not perfect, as at times the pacing drags, which is not a good thing for a comedy, but there’s so much good in it that it’s easy to forgive the flaws. And hey, at eat the film didn’t leave the ceremony empty handed a Randy Newman won his long -overdue first  Oscar for his fun ditty “If I Didn’t Have You” (including his nomination for the film’s score, he had been nominateed 16 times). It turns out all he had to do was being nominated alongside Sting, Enya, Diane Warren, and Paul McCartney.

Now, over ten years since it’s release, Monsters, Inc. is an iconic film. The animation, groundbreaking though it was, is showing it’s age, but it’s message remains as relevant as ever. As does it’s humor and emotion.

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Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (John A. Davis)

Right off the bat, the Best Animated Feature category had controversy. It’s not like there was a lot of options this year, but how could this crudely animated film (the animation was lacking, even by 2001’s standards) inspired by a few Nickelodeon short films be an Oscar nominee? Well, like I said, there weren’t a lot of options (the one other alternative would have been controversial as well, but I’ll get to that in a bit), but it really is a charming movie. It has the feel of those Saturday morning cartoons that we all grew up watching and that inspired many in the animation community, and it’s just pure fun with a couple of hilarious lines and touching moments. I mean, it’s a story about aliens that kidnap the adults in a town to sacrifice them to their alien-chicken deity, and it’s up to the kids to rescue them. You wouldn’t expect much out of that, and it managed to surpass expectations. Plus, it has an inspired performance from Patrick Stewart as the villain.

Today, it’s nothing but a nostalgia piece. The soundtrack features three songs by Aaron Carter, “Pop” by N*Sync, and “The Answer of our Life” by The Backstreet Boys. It’s greatest legacy is the TV show it inspired and the countless of Gif sets that are posted on Tumblr every single day. Not this category’s finest hour, but far from the worst that there will ever by.

The Rest of the Contenders

This year, there were only nine films submitted*. In addition to the three nominees there was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within, Marco Polo, Osmosis Jones, Ramayana: Prince of Light, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Waking Life. Polo and Ramayana never saw the light after their qualifying run (they don’t even have IMDb pages). Swan was basically a straight-to-video film. Final Fantasy and Osmosis Jones may have appealed to some in the animation branch, but their reviews were so bad, that they didn’t really have a chance.

This leaves us with Waking Life, the film whose miss in this category is lamented by many. However, despite it’s critical acclaim, there was no way it was going to be nominated for the simple fact that it used rotoscoping. It’s just not animation. Sure, it’s been used in many classics like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but even then, the use was limited. So, yeah, there was no choice.

Did the right one win? No but, Shrek was a worthy contender, and it was such a phenomenon that there was no way it would lose.

What should have won: Monsters, Inc.

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? No, it was a good set of nominees.

Up Next: We’re skipping to 2003 for now, and we will see a two very different sets of parents set out to rescue their sons, and a human going to the extremes to connect with his ancestors.

*There would have been 10 films in contention as Disney also released Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 2001, but they made an error in submitting the paperwork. The Academy gave them the chance to resubmit the film, but they decided to not go through the process again and instead decided to focus all their energy on Monsters, Inc. Had it been resubmitted, I believe that would have been nominated instead of Jimmy Neutron.

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