The Oscars in Retrospect: 2008 Best Animated Feature

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Though this year’s set of nominees was until then one of the strongest the category had ever seen, looking at the set of eligible titles we once again see that we got pretty much the only ones worth nominating. On the studio side, there were two films that in absense of one of the nominees would have been a good filler nominee: Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! and The Tale of Desperaux. Both were visually impressive, particularly the latter, but overall they were very forgettable.

But at least they weren’t as terrible as Madascar: Escape 2 Africa.

Besides that, the rest of the list is compiled of independent and foreign films. The most likely to be nominated was Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, an Israeli film about a former soldier trying to remember things about his time in the first Lebanese war. Though it’s ending was powerful, it didn’t really resonate with me (though I haven’t seen it since 2008), and I can see how it might have been divisive amongst animators, not just because of it’s themes, but because it blended fully animated sequences with rotoscoped documentary footage, which is a no-no for these people. It did, however, get a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, which made it the first animated film to compete in the category (I bet they were trying to redeem the previous year’s Persepolis snub).

Besides that there was The Skycrawlers and The Tale of the Sword from Japan. As it tends to be the case with anime, they tend to appeal to niche audiences, and they weren’t particularly well received, so their chances to break through against the filims that ended up being nominated was very slim.

From Australia there was $9.99 which is as close as we’ll ever get to an animated film by Alejandro Gonzales Inaritu. The rough stop-motion animation might have been appealing for the animators, but it might not have pleased the non-animators that are part of the nomination committee (the heavy subject matter may not have helped either.

Finally, there were a few CG animated independent films. Dragon Hunters looks like an Asylum How to Train Your Dragon rip-off although it came out a year before. Igor and Fly Me to the Moon took a chance by going with the widest releases they could afford, and although they weren’t hits, they weren’t flops either.

But then there was Delgo. Although there was no way its poor animation could have competed with the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks, they released it in over 2000 theaters. It featured the voices of the likes of Freddy Prince, Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Michael Clark Duncan. Most notably, it featured the last work of Anne Bancroft’s career, who had passed away three years before the film was released. But this starry cast could not stop it from becoming the biggest box office bomb of all time, grossing only half a million dollars on it’s opening weekend, and only 100 thousand more throughout it’s run. So, that wasn’t going to get anywhere near a nomination.

In the end, like I said, we got a great set of nominees. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more competition.

The Contenders

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Bolt (Byron Howard, Chris Williams)

I have written about this film before in this blog, and although my sentiments regarding its quality remain the same (it’s excellent), this rewatch made me appreciate it on a deeper level. It’s not just a regular “dog and his human” tale, but rather a tale about growing up discovering who you truly are once you strip away everything that you were forced to learn when you are younger. It’s an oddly relevant topic, and it is told in the most beautiful way that Disney could have told it.

So, yeah, I appreciate it more. The rest is just as great as it was: great performances (career best for John Travolta), great animation and designs, great music, etc. It’s a shame that it’s not remembered as fondly by some as other recent Disney films, but it’ll always be there ready to be discovered by future generations.

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Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne, John Stevenson)

Kung Fu Panda is the perfect DreamWorks Animation film. It was until then their most mature post-Shrek CG film, but the story allowed them to have the kind of humor that had come to define the studio’s films (but without resorting to the worst kind of potty humor). There’s no much going on there thematically though, as it’s the usual “Average guy discovers he is destined for greatness” kind of adventure, but the great performances and great humor make it as good as a movie with this message can possibly be.

But what really makes it stand out is the animation. There was a controversy at the Annies the year this film came out as while the world was enamored with the Pixar film, the animators lavished this film with prizes. And although it was discovered that DreamWorks had purchased memberships to all of their employees, it’s easy to see why animators would go crazy for it. From a design stand point, Kung Fu Panda is an incredible achievement. The sets had to be based on historical designs, but they were given the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild with them. The same goes for the characters. Not only that, but they were also given the opportunity to do something that only Asian animators get to do: animate incredibly complex action scenes involving martial arts.

You can tell that the animators had a blast working on this, and it gives the whole enterprise a refreshing energy that lacked in most of the earlier efforts from the studio. To this day it remains one of the very best they have done.

The Winner

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WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)

While any other year Kung Fu Panda would have been a worthy winner, 2008 cinema belonged to WALL-E. Initially sold on it’s “cute robots fall in love” aspect, it turned out to be so much more than that. It was then, and continues to be the most ambitions film the studio has ever made, not just in how they sharply take on real issues that still affect our world today (pollution, corporate control, over-reliance on technology, etc.), but in how the story is told. While this is not the first animated film that features a small amount of dialogue, it was the first one in a while to be released by a major studio in years. Not only that, but the fact that it is told like it was told like it was a Charlie Chaplin film, with its accident-prone hopeless romantic, adds so much charm to it that it’s nearly impossible to to fall for the characters.

And then there’s the animation. While DreamWorks brought imagination to life in Kung Fu Panda, Pixar brought to life a bleak, realistic but stylized post-apocalyptic world to life, that is also breathtaking to behold. Once we get to the Axiom, things get a bit more ridiculous, but it’s reminiscent of Chaplin’s Modern Times (or maybe even Jacques Tati’s Play Time).Then there’s Thomas Newman’s fantastic score, Peter Grabriel’s perfect “Down to Earth,” the intricate sound design. WALL-E is just the best. It’s still the best film of 2008, and today’s it’s rightly seen as a cornerstone in animation, a standard which every modern animated film should try to match or improve. It’s masterpiece.

Did the right one win? Without a doubt

Should anything else have been nominated? If so, what should have been left out? Some people would tell you that the more “important” Waltz With Bashir should have gotten nominated, but not me. So, no.

Up Next: The Henry Selick/Neil Gaiman collaboration you never knew you wanted, the Wes Anderson/Roald Dahl collaboration you never knew you needed, the Disney return to hand-drawn animation that we all deserved; the indie animation player that the movie industry sorely lacked, and the Pixar film we didn’t expect.

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One thought on “The Oscars in Retrospect: 2008 Best Animated Feature

  1. agree about Bolt. it’s a commentary on how sheltering your kids can result in not preparing them for the outside world. I think it’s neat.

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