At the 89th annual Academy Awards, Disney once again emerged triumphant in the Best Animated Feature category, winning for Zootopia; the tale of anthropomorphic animals learning to live and interact together despite their many differences. Disney also had another movie in the running; Moana, while the rest of the competition in the category came from My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and the highly acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings.
It’s the fifth straight win in the Animated Feature category for Disney or Pixar; indeed, the House of Mouse has dominated the category since its invention in 2001, winning 9 out of the last 10 years. The only year it didn’t win, was the year it did not field an entry; 2011. In that year, the Oscar went to Gore Verbinski’s Rango.
Thus far, the list of Disney/ Pixar movies to win Best Animated Feature category are; The Incredibles (2004); Ratatouille (2007); WALL-E (2008); Up (2009); Toy Story 3 (2010); Brave (2012); Frozen (2013); Big Hero 6 (2014); Inside Out (2015), and Zootopia (2016). All very worthy winners, but the Animated Feature category is definitely growing stronger. The big question is; will any other studios ever really be a true rival to Disney’s success, or are they a dead cert?
Disney is something of an Academy darling; they’re the only animation studios to have had movies nominated in the Best Picture category, something they’ve achieved three times (Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3). They’re regularly featured in or triumphant in the Best Original Song or Best Original Score categories, and who can forget when Walt Disney himself was awarded an honorary statuette for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, along with seven miniature statues, too?
So is it a question of bias, or is Disney really deserving of its success? If you take a look back at the movies they’ve been up against over the years, it does seem as though, for the most part, they’ve been the best movie every time. In 2013, for example, no one could escape the power of Frozen. The movie grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide and is easily the biggest animated movie in recent history. It told a new tale of sisterhood from a new perspective, and, coupled with strong animation, plus an incredible musical score, it was thoroughly deserving of the Oscar that year, even though it faced tough competition from Despicable Me 2 and The Croods.
Other years have seen a Disney upset; in 2001, the first year of the category, Shrek won, beating out Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (understandably), and Monsters, Inc. By comparison, though Shrek is a quality animated movie, Monsters Inc would seem to be the much stronger of the two. In 2006, Cars lost out to Happy Feet. In that example, it’s hard to fathom why or how Cars lost, but it did, so maybe the Academy isn’t showing bias after all?
Is it showing prejudice, though? The Oscars has long been accused of whitewashing, and though steps toward more equality and diversity are being taken, it still seems woefully behind the times in that regard. Out of all the nominations in the years of the Animated Feature being a category, only 4 movies have been Japanese animations, and yet we know the Japanese animated film industry is strong, and capable of producing quality pieces of film. Only one Japanese movie has won the category; Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, in 2002. The reasoning could be that Western audiences don’t connect so well with Asian animation, so therefore those movies miss out on the hype enjoyed by a Disney release, or maybe it comes down to money; Disney has far more of it.
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to see a time when Disney will not reign supreme in the Animated Feature category; this year sees the release of Cars 3 and original movie, Coco; next year has The Incredibles 2, Wreck-It Ralph 2, and Gigantic (loosely based on Jack and the Beanstalk) and that’s just for starters. With an ever growing slate of live-action adaptations, the question also arises over whether we might see Disney making itself comfortable in the Best Picture category, too.
Disney has time, resources, funding and, perhaps most importantly, fans. The public’s love for all things Disney is vast, as evidenced in the continued popularity of their parks, merchandise and movies. The Academy is renowned for rewarding such endeavours, and let’s be real; can you imagine the backlash if a Disney blockbuster lost out to a little known Asian film that didn’t make much of an impression at the U.S. box office? Anime awards exist to specifically reward animated movies across many categories. The Oscars exist to award filmmaking in a much broader sense. It is, in essence, an American (or at least Western) awards show, with Animated Feature just being one category of many.
Disney will continue to delight, entertain and enthral billions of people across the globe. They are a hard studio to compete against, especially since, for the most part, they use their resources to put out the best material they are capable of. In that regard, Disney’s dominance will only continue to grow.