The Oscars in Retrospect: 2003 Best Animated Feature

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2003 was an odd year for the category, particularly at the preliminary state. This is the year that followed the surprising-but-not-shocking victory of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (which I will cover after that film’s upcoming Blu-ray release, and I’ve said). As such, a greater number of anime titles were entered for contention: Pokemon Heroes and Satoshi Kon’s Millenium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers. Pokemon of course had no chance at getting a nomination.

Meanwhile, many thought that Kon had a very good chance at getting a nomination for Actress due to it’s critical acclaim. However, it wasn’t meant to be as Kon was only known at that point for Perfect Blue while someone like Miyazaki not only had just made his grandest achievement, but he had been at it for years and influenced many of the animators in the Academy. Today Kon may be regarded as one of the best Anime directors that there ever was despite his short filmography, but back then maybe he even split his own vote. Also, the studios behind the films didn’t really do much in the way of campaigning.

We also had two European films. One was Jester Till, a German fairy tale directed by one of the executive producers of The Tin Drum. As it is the case with this category, it is now mostly forgotten. The other film became a nominee.

Then there’s the studio stuff. WB had Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which was known as a critical and financial failure back then (it is fairly respected today in some circles). Plus, being a live-action/animation hybrid may not have helped with the animators as to them it may have felt that the animated bits were just special effects.

Disney, in addition to it’s one nominee, had two straight-to-video quality films: The Jungle Book 2 and Piglet’s Big Movie. Paramount, meanwhile, had Rugrats Go Wild! the Rugrats/The Wild Thornberrys crossover that no one every really wanted.

As you may have noticed, all those films are traditionally animated, which is what made the first stage of the nominations odd. But in the end, there was no way any of those would beat the phenomenon from Pixar.

The Contenders

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Brother Bear (Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker)

I’ve written about this film before, so just go ahead and read that, as I pretty much stand by what I said. I’ll just say that I like the use of the shifting aspect ratio, and that I actually love the animation. Also, perhaps it was because I was in a certain mood this time around but it got me emotional. Still, not one of Disney’s greatest, and time has treated it as such, only being mentioned when talking about the Oscars or the Disney canon.

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The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet)

I watched this for the first time years ago, and felt indifferent about it. It just didn’t grab me and I found it kind of boring. But it seems that in the meantime my taste in cinema matured a little bit, as this time I saw it as the true masterpiece that it is. It grabbed me from the second the movie started with the thumping rendition of “Belleville Rendez-vous.” Then, surprisignly, I found myself emotionally attached to Madame Souza’s plight. The bizarre turns the story took (gangsters who kidnap bike racers to make them race as if they were horses, a little old woman traveling across the Atlantic ocean on a pedal boat) and the beautifully grotesque animation style only made greater my love for the whole thing.

So, yeah, it’s no wonder the animators and the Academy felt this was worthy of a win. It’s all about how animation is just a medium to tell stories for little children, about how wordless animated images can have more power than those with dialogue. Now I truly understand why this film often comes up in discussions about the greatest animated films.

The Winner

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Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)

As I stated in the introduction, Finding Nemo was a phenomenon. Not only was it the second highest-grossing film of the year (it made only $20 million less than Lord of the Rings the Return of the King), but it was also the highest-rated film of the year by the critics. To this day, the film is very much worthy of all that.

As we all know, it’s an epic adventure that never forgets the motivations of the characters. Each set piece grows more intense as the film progresses, not because they become more complicated, but because the filmmakers allow us to see the emotional toll that each minute takes on Marlin, Dory, and Nemo. There’s also the dialogue, which as silly as it can get, just draws you in even more. And of course, the one liners that have become embeded in society. We will be hearing “just keep swimming” and “no eating here tonight, you’re on a diet” for the rest of our lives. Add to that the nearly-flawless, intricately-detailed animation (which in 2003 was unlike anything we had seen before), and it’s just an incredible experience.

Finding Nemo was such a big deal that Disney made the rare decision to give the film a strong push for Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actress nominations. None of those came to pass because how could they when there was an inspirational horse movie and a Clint Eastwood crime thriller in the race?

Did the right one win? It’s hard to argue against Nemo as it is a great film and has earned it’s status as a classic, but no.

What Should Have Won? The Triplets of Belleville

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? Brother Bear is lovely and I don’t have any problem with it being nominated. But since Tokyo Godfathers was in contention, I would nominated that instead in a heartbeat.

Up Next: Everyone’s favorite ogre meets his in-laws, a fish cheats his way to the top, and a retired superhero has to save his relationship with his superhero family before he can save the world.

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One thought on “The Oscars in Retrospect: 2003 Best Animated Feature

  1. I really like this series. I love Nemo but Triplets of Bellevue is brilliant. They are so different it is tough for me to say which is better. Brother Bear I think is awful. I think all the choices from the unlikable characters to the bad jokes, strange singing choices, lame songs, off putting character design. I could go on.

    I havent seen some of those films you mentioned but will have to give them a watch. For some reason I find people are extremely tough on the Looney Tunes films. I liked this one and Space Jam.

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