The Oscars in Retrospect: 2004 Best Animated Feature

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As it’s the case in these early years, given the low number of eligible films, and what those titles actually are, it’s easy to see why the final nominees made it there.

Despite the long history in children books and television of “Clifford the Big Red Dog”, was there really a chance for Clifford’s Really Big Movie to make it? The same goes for Disney’s Teacher’s Pet. Did anyone at the time even watch the show it was based on? Seeing how it was a huge flop, apparently no one did. It did get a warm critical reception, so maybe it was in the running.

Speaking of Disney and flops, that was also the year that Home on the Range killed hand-drawn at the studio, so there was no way the animators were going to give it a nomination. Well that and the fact that it was a horrid film. (Well, that last thing didn’t really hold back one of the nominees).

As far as foreign films, there were three. Two of them, South Korea’s Sky Blue, based on the description, is not a very pleasant film, so it’s chances for a nomination were slim, even in this relatively weak film. India’s The Legend of Buddha was just submitted so it could get a bit of press. And finally, there was Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The first one may be considered a classic, but this film was overwhelmingly complex, and we all know that the Academy rarely goes for that.

Then there’s The Polar Express. I really really love it, and it has become a holiday tradition in my household. Even so, it’s motion capture, so it really had no business being in the running. (This opinion will come back to haunt me in my 2006 write-up when I defend the inclusion of the motion capture nominee).

Finally, there was the one ocean-set adventure that didn’t make it in: The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie. I get that it probably it didn’t get nominated because of its TV roots, but it’s a genuinely great movie. It has wall-to-wall comedy that hits more than it misses, a very cinematic plot and look, and it’s surprisingly emotional.

Alas it was not-to-be, as the nominees ended up being a good and a bad Dreamworks production, and another Pixar juggernaut.

The Contenders

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Shark Tale (Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman)

Shark Tale is not a terrible movie because of how it feels like a third-rate attempt at cashing in on Finding Nemo as there’s always room for lesser, cartoonish shenanigans like this. It’s also not because of the creepy way the characters were designed to look like their voice performers. The reason why this film is one of the worst animated films to have ever been made is because it feels like you are spending 90 minutes with a kid who has ADHD after he drank three Four Lokos.

For the entire running time we get to sit through a lazy mafia film parody filled with so many non-sequitur that it feel that the main plot was the last thing on the writers’s mind. We are also supposed to cheer for the most despicable character that could possibly anchor a film for kids. Oh, and the “comedy.” It relied so much on pop-cultured references that are so dated by now that it’s all just embarrassing rather than funny. Not even the slapstick can save it since it’s all so horribly edited. Also, how about those negative stereotypes and all that misogyny?

What else? The performances, as loud as they were, had zero energy. And the animation is so bad. It obviously wasn’t made to ripoff Nemo as these things take time to put together, but I wouldn’t put it past Jeffrey Katzenberg to rush the animators to finish the film to strike why the iron was hot. It looks so poorly-rendered, and it seems the characters and the background are not in the same world. Also, from time to time, the expressions in the characters don’t match what is happening with the voices.

I’m not even a quarter of the way through what is wrong with the film, but I’ll leave it at that.

Thankfully, today this film is mostly forgotten. But this nomination is quite one of the most embarrassing the Oscars has ever given, and it will forever be in their history.

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Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon)

I remember going to see this movie on opening weekend. The anticipation was through the roof, and it was at the time the widest opening  for any movie ever (it went on to be the highest-grossing opening weekend for an animated movie until Shrek the Third surpassed it). And watching it then it was obvious why it was going to be so huge. Every joke was received with loud laughter. You could feel the happiness in the audience. For that experience, it will always have a special place in my heart. But time has not been kind to it.

Much like Shark Tale, it relies too much on now-dated pop culture references and on humor for things we recognize (all those brands). And while the previous film was perhaps too reliant on dialogue and dialogue-based humor, this one has too much action and necessary physical humor.

With that said, there’s thankfully nothing outright bad about it, the good outweighs it. It’s still a lot of fun as the chemistry between Shrek and Donkey still holds the film together. Fiona doesn’t get to do a lot this time, but the addition of Puss in Boots is the best thing that happened to the franchise and works perfectly with the rest of the team. The Fairy Godmother makes for a better villain, even if she is more shallow than Lord Farquad, mainly because of Jennifer Saunder’s performance. Plush, she gets the best scene of the film with the inspired use “I Need a Hero.”

It may be quite the film it was in 2004, but Shrek 2 is a good film and deserving of a nomination, especially given the other films in play. But as successful as it was, there was no way it would have a chance at winning once the Pixar film opened and blew everyone away.

The Winner

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The Incredibles (Brad Bird)

I have seen this film many many times since it’s release, but during the rewatch for this project I saw something that I had never seen before: that it’s a very serious drama. It’s still funny from time to time due to how natural the interactions between the characters are and how well-developed their personalities are (e.g, nothing Edna Mode says is inherently funny, but we laugh because of how eccentric and real she is). Yet, this makes the drama stand out even more. In fact, this time around it reminded me a lot of Mad Men. This is not just because of how the design of the film (particularly Lou Romano’s production design) calls back to the comic books of the era, but how it’s a sobering deconstruction of it’s subject matter (superheroes in this case), as well as complex lead characters who are more than meets the eye. One thing that Mad Men doesn’t have is amazing, thrilling action sequences and a super villain. An there’s also the political stuff about how the government suppresses special people, among other things, but that’s a completely different conversation.

All this is to say that The Incredibles is the unlikeliest winner in the history of the category. Perhaps the superhero aspect made the film accessible, but not one of the previous or future winners (so far) have reached the level of dramatic complexity that this film offers (though some of the other Pixar winners have come close). Also, by winning the award for Best Sound Editing, this film also has the distinction of being the only animated film to win outside of this award and music categories (which it very much deserved). I wish I had as much to say about this as the other two nominees, but you don’t need me to tell you why it’s great- you just need to watch it.

Did the right one win? Yes

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? Horrible movies have been nominated for Academy Awards, but I doubt many are worse than Shark Tale. SpongeBob should have been nominated instead.

Up Next: A shy young man accidentally marries a corpse, a young girl with low self-esteem is cursed by a witch, and Wallace & Gromit do their thing.

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2 thoughts on “The Oscars in Retrospect: 2004 Best Animated Feature

  1. The Incredibles is a great movie about work. That if you aren’t doing what you are called to do you will be miserable

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