The Oscars in Retrospect: 2007 Best Animated Feature

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Ask any cinephile what they think of 2007, and they’ll tell you that it was one of the best years for cinema. In the U.S. it got off to a great start with the February release of Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia, which surprised anyone who watched it. And the next month David Fincher released Zodiac, which remains one of the best films he has ever done. And this is just the start. Every month was filled with gems from all over the world, and it seemed that every week there was something great playing in theaters.

With such a great number of great films released in the year, it was obvious that a few would be animated. But then when you look at the films that qualified for the award, you realize that despite the fact that there a couple of classics in there (both nominated), it really wasn’t a great year for the medium.This year there were only 12 eligible contenders. Of these 12 Bee Movie, Shrek the Third, TMNT, and Alvin and the Chipmunks were certifiable stinkers. Then you had Adult Swim adaptation Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters and anime Tekkonkinkreet, two very divisive films made to cater to a niche audience that would have very little crossover with Academy voters.

So, this left us with six viable contenders for three nomiations, and two were already locked up, so in reality there were four contenders fighting for one spot. One of them was Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, which despite being highly entertaining, was a box office disappointment, and also motion capture, so it’s chances to get the nomination were low. Then there was Meet the Robinsons, which despite its trouble history (most of the film was scrapped after John Lasseter took control of Disney Animation), managed to be an excellent start to the second Disney renaissance that we’re on today. However, it was still too slight and oddly complicated to stand out. Finally there was a movie that many thought was a lock for the nomination before they were actually announced: The Simpsons Movie (you can actually hear the shock among the reporters in the announcement when it didn’t get called out).

The Contenders

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Surf’s Up (Ash Brannon, Chris Buck)

Surf’s Up unfortunately came at a time when penguin fatigue was starting to set in and back then it showed, not only in a lack of pre-release hype from audiences, but also in the fact that it wasn’t the big hit Sony thought it would be (it only grossed $58 million in the U.S.). It did get good reviews however, with critics back then hailing it for it’s inventive, great animation, and refreshing take on a very familiar story. Although audiences may have been too over-loaded on penguins to give it a chance, given what has happened to CG animated films that weren’t made by Pixar, it remains one of the better examples of the medium.

The story here is a lot like Cars with a young rookie being taught that winning isn’t everything by a veteran who is thought to be dead (though Cody Maverick is never an asshole like Lightning McQueen). But unlike that movie, there is something from the very beginning that soothes you.It might be the laid-back, natural voice work that is present throughout and makes it feel like a great hang-out film. In a move that’s very rare in animation, the actors were allowed to record their dialogue together and were given the chance to improvise. So, when you have pre-breakdown Shia LeBoeuf, Jeff “The Dude” Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, and John Heder playing surfer dudes, they were bound to have a good time, and that feeling came through the film.

Or it could be that it was animated like a documentary, something that is also rarely seen in animation (I can only recall the “Behind the Laughter” episode of The Simpsons and the opening scenes of Penguins of Madagascar). This for me is the most impressive aspect of the film. This isn’t just some cheap conceit to set up the film, but they use it throughout the film, and they don’t just use “shaky cam” to make it feel like a documentary. They give it artificial grain to make it look like it was shot on celluloid. There moments where we cut away to segments of a TV show, and it looks like standard definition. And parts of the film are supposed to come from damaged 8 and 16mm film stock, and it doesn’t look artificial at all.

It seems that dues to the lack of interest in it’s time, Surf’s Up is not remembered as well as other animated films. But it’s a great film and a great time capsule of pop culture in the mid-2000s. I hope that future audiences will discover this gem and give it the status it deserves.

 photo CropperCapture8_zpseicltlx6.png Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud)

If I knew there would be a hidden gem amongs this set of nominees back in 2007, I would never have guessed that it wouldn’t be the French, black-and-white film about a little girl who grows up in Iran during a revolution and a war. Alas, it’s actually become one of the most influential animated films of the century. From the get-go it was a huge deal as it was the first animated film to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (though it tied with Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Night). And then, when it failed to make the final round for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (along with the Palm D’or winner and Romania’s official selection 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days), presumably because the nomination committee thought it didn’t deserve it because it was animated, it led to the first of many rule changes in recent years for the category. Perhaps more importantly, it gave a bigger spotlight to the conflicts that were depicted on screen, particularly in the U.S. where Satrapi’s original graphic novel is now being taught in schools (well, if it’s being taught in Kansas it is surely being taught widely across the country).

Watching the film it’s easy to see why it became such an influential piece of art. Most war movies focus on the soldiers fighting the war or on the people suffering it’s results. Persepolis, although it focuses on Marjane’s coming of age, it manages to portray how harrowing it was for the people fighting the wars and how it all connects to the people back at home. The few, brief harrowing images Satrapi and Paronnaud conjure of silhouetted protesters and soldiers, and the aftermath of bombings have a much bigger emotional effects than other war movies, mainly because of how beautifully the horrors are portrayed. Best of all is how although this subject is very grim, the film is also very funny. With animation, Satrapi was best able to express her state of mind during these times. As anyone who has been through some tough times,  even if they weren’t wars, know even when things get as grim as they can, moments of levity can filter through, and these moments manage to be bigger deals than they would be during other times.

However, despite being about a conflict that most people won’t be able to identify with, it’s still very much a film that most people who have lived can connect to. As I’ve said, the focus is on Marjane’s coming of age, and she goes trough the same things that most people around the world have gone through, from puberty, to developing a discerning taste in music. And the portrayal of her life outside of Iran, and her inner identity conflict highlights yet another thing that very few similar movies portrays: how the huge conflicts she went through seem so small in other places that she begins to question whether they mattered at all.

Persepolis is just a great movie. I’m sure that the fact that the film got an Oscar nomination made its existence know to wider audiences, and that’s partly why it’s such an iconic film today.

The Winner

 photo CropperCapture5_zpsiwkq9xqw.png Ratatouille (Brad Bird)

Alas, Persepolis had no chance against one of the very finest films had to offer. This is a film that was predicted to be a financial failure by Wall Street due to it’s plot and the fact that not many kids would want to own Remy toys or lunchboxes. But did that matter? Not at all. By the end of it’s run, it had made over $600 million worldwide.

So why were Wallstreet proven wrong? Being a Pixar film it was never going to be a straight-up flop, but there was so much more to it than that. It’s has a message about how special people must be allowed to show how special they are no matter where they come from. Sure, it’s not the most original message in history, but it’s presented in such a dazzling, but delicate manner, and is filled with great hilarious characters of every size. It’s as entertaining as any film the studio has made, but it’s put together like the meals that are prepared on the film: with every little detailed carefully planned and prepared and presented in the most beautiful way possible (this film is still the most beautiful CG animated film of all time).

Eight years later, you still don’t see products from this movie as often as The Incredibles, Toy Story, WALL-E, or even Up. However, the best thing that could have happened: it’s pretty much universally beloved. Bring it up in casual conversation, and you will immediately feel the respect people have for it. Talk about the best animated films of all time and it’s bound to pop up. Make a list of the animated films that transcend the medium, and you won’t be able to help but put it there. It’s a masterpiece.

Did the right one win? Here you had two very different instant classic competing, and they both deserved it equally. I probably would have voted for Persepolis, but I’m glad that Pixar’s unlikeliest hit won. So I’m going to go ahead and say yes.

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? This is a tough one because I remember how in 2007 I was so adamant about the fact that The Simpsons Movie simply had to be nominated as it was one of the hightlights of an amazing year. But Surf’s Up is such a refreshing and unique film, so I’m gotta say no.

Next Up: A panda finds his destiny, a dog finds out he’s been living a lie, and a robot finds love.


One thought on “The Oscars in Retrospect: 2007 Best Animated Feature

  1. Yeah Persepolis and Ratatouille both made my best animated films ever list . They are so different but the best of animation. As a die-hard Simpsons fan even I have to admit the movie has its problems. It feels overwrought and a bit muddled. I still like it but I think they got the nominations right. Interesting you consider Meet the Robinsons the beginning of 2nd Renaissance. I agree. I like Robinsons. It’s a little convoluted and cluttered but I liked it.

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