Since 2001, the Oscars have done their best to honor outstanding achievements in the field of animation. Sometimes, they get it right, having honored such animated classics as Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Pixar's Up. Other times, however, the rightful winners are left on the sidelines in favor of more mainstream favorites such as Frozen. Or in some cases, like The Lego Movie, the films that likely deserved the win are left unacknowledged entirely, without even so much as a nomination.
Even in 2016, a year rife with amazing animated achievements like Kubo and Moana, the record-breaking anime Your Name was left off of the nominations list, as was Pixar's own Finding Dory. Be it through ignorance, or just making a simple wrong choice, the Academy's history of forgetting the proper animated films to acknowledge is well documented, stretching all the way back to the first year the award was introduced. So without further ado, here is a list of some of the best animated films that didn't get their due.
15 Finding Dory
After Pixar's success in returning to the Toy Story and Monster's Inc. franchises, fans were rightfully excited about Finding Dory. A sequel to the 14-year-old classic, Finding Nemo, Dory was met with universal acclaim from fans and critics alike upon its release, and it seemed like an immediate shoe-in for a best animated feature nomination. The Academy must have forgotten this when the time to nominate came around. While contemporaries like Moana and Kubo and the Two Strings got their rightful places on the list, poor Dory was left out in the cold.
The overall list is completely solid, as it included the beloved Zootopia as well as Studio Ghibli's Red Turtle, so it's kind of hard to make the argument that the list is lacking. But that doesn't stop Finding Dory's exclusion from feeling like anything less than a snub, as it failed to acknowledge Pixar's unmitigated success in the near-impossible feat of making a long-belated sequel that is just as good as the classic that came before it.
14 The Cat Returns
Admittedly, this is a hard one to make a case for winning the Oscar in the face of its stiff competition, especially when you consider the sheer brilliance of the film that took the Academy Awards' top animated prize in 2002, the legendary Spirited Away. But in the face of other nominees that year, including the middling Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and the forgettable Ice Age, Studio Ghibli's other animated creation that year deserved way more love than it got.
While not directed by Miyazaki himself, The Cat Returns stands as one of Studio Ghibli's very best films, encapsulating the same sense of wonder and whimsey that has made so many of the studio's works into instant classics. The lack of a nomination could be due to the US's general unfamiliarity with anime that was changed that very year with Ghibli's Spirited Away, and the film's very limited release in the States probably didn't help much. Still, if the Academy knew then how well this film would hold up compared to something like Ice Age, we're sure they would have nominated it there on the spot.
13 Wreck-It Ralph
2012 wasn't a great year when it came to animated films, leaving the Academy with very little to work with in the way of nominations and awards to give out. Looking back, however, there is one film that seems to tower above the others, and it strangely didn't win.
Wreck-it Ralph is considered to be, by many, one of the best recent Disney releases, and it's a film that many still talk about. The problem with it not winning is that in 2012, Pixar's Brave took home the top honors for animated film. Don't get us wrong, Brave is a good film that tells a worthwhile tale. But it pales in comparison to some of the other classics that Pixar has produced, and it often falls by the wayside anytime someone brings up their favorite films by the studio. It even has a significantly lower Rotten Tomatoes score, sitting at a 78% compared to Wreck-it Ralph's 86%, so how anyone can say critics liked it better is beyond our understanding.
Cars is a contentious franchise in the pantheon of Pixar. Yet, while almost anyone can tell you the series lost its way with the second entry, even the most staunch critics cannot deny that the first film can be counted among Pixar's best.
Why then, did Happy Feet win the animated Oscar in 2005? Sure, Warner Bros.' penguin extravaganza sported fantastic animation, as well as a talented cast that included Robin Williams and Elijah Wood. But it still lacked the superior storytelling and humor that Pixar hit upon so well in Cars. Cars might not have the most original story, but its characters are up there with Buzz Lightyear and Woody when it comes to staying power.
Since 2005, the Happy Feet series has languished into obscurity, while Cars is looking forward to a resurgence in the anticipated Cars 3. If Pixar is able to work their usual magic following the myriad of missteps that Cars 2 endured, then perhaps the franchise will finally get its Oscar.
11 Polar Express
The Polar Express is by no means the best animated film that came out in 2004. Contrasted with Pixar's The Incredibles and Dreamwork's Shrek 2, it is an above average film at best. With that in mind, it was still an incredibly innovative adventure that took advantage of some of the best motion-capture technology of the time, and it sported a memorable performance by the always charming Tom Hanks. In spite of these achievements, the film wasn't even given an Oscar nod.
There are of course a few select years where the animated category is simply too loaded to account for all the award-worthy films released in the last 12 months (ie: the upcoming 2017 ceremony). That isn't the case for The Polar Express. While Shrek 2 and The Incredibles are understandable nominations and great films in their own right, the final nod went to the underwhelming Shark Tale, which many felt was an inferior answer to Pixar's Finding Nemo. Even the critical reception was notably lower, falling to a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to Polar Express's 55%. With a nominee like Shark Tale on the list, it's hard to see why a flawed yet groundbreaking film like Polar Express went unnoticed.
10 Madagascar 2
A recurring theme on our list, here we have another case of a film not receiving its due glory while an inferior animated effort is inexplicably allowed to steal the spotlight. While it was the phenomenal Wall-E that notched a well-deserved Oscar win in 2008, Madagascar 2 was snubbed of a nomination. We aren't necessarily upset about it being edged out by the well-received franchise starter, Kung Fu Panda, but the completely unremarkable Bolt? That's where we start scratching our heads.
The first Madagascar wasn't the hottest thing with critics and audiences, so it was a genuine surprise when the second entry came around and improved on almost every aspect of the first film. Bolt may have faired pretty well with critics, but it's a forgettable film that serves as a minor footnote in Disney's animation stable. It was a good slice of family fun for the time, but nothing about it was particularly noteworthy. Improving on a middling film in the animation industry is not an easy thing to do, and for that, Madagascar 2 deserves a little more credit.
9 The Wind Rises
Frozen was a worldwide phenomenon when it released in November of 2013. Based solely on its immediate impact on pop culture and box office performance, it was all but guaranteed the Oscar for best animated film. That doesn't mean it was necessarily well deserved, though -- not by a longshot.
In our eyes, the true winner should have been The Wind Rises. One of the best films in Studio Ghibli's long history, and a beautiful swan song for master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's career, it's a stunning journey into the power of imagination, set against the backdrop of WWII. With Ghibli at the top of their animation game, and bolstered by a strong English voice cast, it's a film that will hold up for years to come. Were it not for the bizarre phenomenon that Frozen became, The Wind Rises most likely would (and very much should) have taken home 2014's Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
8 Monsters Inc.
The very first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature went to Shrek in 2001. Make no mistake, Shrek is a great film, and rightfully solidified Dreamworks Animation as a premier animation studio that could hold their own against Pixar, a feat that was previously unheard of. On the other hand, we don't think that Shrek was the best the animated world had to offer in 2001. In our oh so humble opinion, the film that actually deserved the honor is Pixar's own Monster's Inc.
Coming hot off of Toy Story 2, moviegoers were eager to see what Pixar could accomplish outside of their premier series, and neither critics nor fans went home disappointed. Monster's Inc. proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pixar was a studio talented in creating rich, colorful universes full of life and imagination, and it also helped set the stage for other classic Pixar originals like Wall-E and Ratatouille. For what it's worth, the majority of critics seemed to prefer Monster's Inc, with its Rotten Tomatoes score sitting at a whopping 96%, compared to Shrek's respectable (yet, you know, lower) 88%.
7 Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis is a film with a long-standing legacy of being underrated. It may actually be its biggest claim to fame. While the Michael J. Fox-starring adventure opened to polarizing reviews at the time, it has since become known as one of Disney's better modern films. It's tough to really make the argument that it should have one over Shrek (or the previous entry on our list, for that matter), but it's unforgivable that it wasn't even nominated, especially in the face of its competition.
While Pixar's Monster's Inc. deservedly garnered a nomination, the other film nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2001 was Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. A big screen adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon, it may have had fairly positive reviews from critics at the time, but in hindsight, it suffers from below average animation and shallow humor. It's easy to see that Atlantis deserved at least a nomination all these years later, but it's a shame that it wasn't even nominated at the time for its striking hand drawn art and accomplished story.
6 Princess Kaguya
The next two entries on this list have precisely two things in common: both are more innovative films than Big Hero 6, and both of them lost the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Big Hero 6.
The first film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, was almost universally hailed as one of the best animated efforts of 2014, and it currently sports a perfect 100% positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This Studio Ghibli film (are you sensing a pattern here? They make amazing movies, guys) seemed to have everything going for it. It was directed by the studio's cofounder, Isao Takahata -- who also directed the anime classic Grave of the Fireflies -- and it benefitted from a talented voice cast that included James Caan and Chloe Grace Moretz. It even sported a new, watercolor art style that broke away from the studio's signature look. Still, for all the accolades it deservedly received, it was snubbed in favor of the mainstream popularity of Big Hero 6.
5 The Boxtrolls
The second big animated film of 2014 to lose to Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls may not have had the Studio Ghibli pedigree that Princess Kaguya had, but it is still an impeccably crafted film that deserved the Best Animated Feature Oscar far more than Big Hero 6.
An adaptation of the children's novel Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls was the third film from Laika Studios. The talented minds behind films like ParaNorman and Coraline, Laika Studios' stop-motion work has been lauded as some of the best in animation, and that polish was on full display in The Boxtrolls. Sadly, while the film was generally well received, the Marvel/Disney duo of Big Hero 6 proved far more popular, and it ended up overshadowing the decidedly superior film. Hopefully, their latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, will get it's due at the 2017 Oscars, and take home an honor that is far overdue for this highly underrated studio.
4 Howl's Moving Castle
When film fanatics talk about Studio Ghibli's most memorable films, Howl's Moving Castle is always near the top of the list. The imaginative tale of a girl who takes refuge in the mobile castle of a flamboyant wizard, it proved to be a worthy successor to Miyazaki's own Spirited Away. Despite its critical acclaim, it ended up losing to an inferior film.
Look, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a great stop-motion comedy; we're not saying otherwise. It even sports a higher Rotten Tomatoes rating than Howl's Moving Castle, with a 95% opposed to the latter film's score of 87%. But the test of time reveals all truths, and in comparison to one of Studio Ghibli's absolute classics, Wallace and Gromit simply falls a bit short. It's somewhat understandable that in 2005, the Academy might have still been grasping with how best to honor outstanding achievement in animation. Here's hoping they've learned their lesson.
When Persepolis came out in 2007, it was unlike anything that had been nominated for an Oscar up to that point. A dramatic retelling of the autobiographic account of an Iranian girl during the Islamic Revolution, it was a groundbreaking foreign film that tackled serious subject matter in animation in a way Pixar and Dreamworks never could.
Which makes it all the more unfortunate that it lost to Ratatouille. A great film by any estimation, it might have had sharper visuals and a better cast than Persepolis, but few could argue that it has a more important message lying underneath it all. Ratatouille was yet another shining example of Pixar's talent for endearing characters and deep storytelling, but it wasn't fresh in the ways Persepolis was.
The competition was really only between Ratatouille and Persepolis that year, as the only other nomination went to the trite surfing penguin film, Surf's Up. Sadly, outside of a well-deserved nomination, Persepolis went mostly unacknowledged by Western audiences, and to this day, it remains an unseen gem in most circles.
2 Your Name
An egregious example of the Academy not understanding the cultural significance of a film created outside of the West, Your Name was inexplicably snubbed across the board, not even managing to rack up a nomination in the 2016 category of Best Animated Feature.
The romantic anime made huge waves during its theatrical run in Japan, becoming the first non-Miyazaki-directed anime to earn more than $100 million at the box office. After remaining at the top of the box office charts for a record twelve weeks, the film has now managed to earn over $330 million worldwide. Overseas, it has been nothing less than a phenomenon, and it's every bit as deserving of a nomination as any Western animated film from this past year.
Appropriately, the critical response has been overwhelmingly positive, with a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 37 reviews. Even without a proper Western theatrical release (though one is planned for April of this year), it feels like a snub for such a record breaking film to not even be nominated in the Best Animated Feature category for 2016.
1 The Lego Movie
Facts are facts: this film will go down in history as the one that should have taken the Oscar's top animated prize in a landslide. And yet, somehow, the Academy found a way to pass it over entirely, without so much as a nomination. When The Lego Movie hit in 2014, it took the box office by storm, receiving overwhelmingly positive critical reviews and praise for its engaging story, top notch humor, and striking animation. So when the nominees for Best Animated Feature were announced later in the year, people were understandably shocked that The Lego Movie wasn't even mentioned among the year's best. Some of the nominees included the inferior Song of the Sea, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and eventual winner Big Hero 6. While all of these flicks are fine films in their own right, none of them reach the heights of The Lego Movie, a movie that took a good long look at all the expectations anyone had for it and promptly blew them out of the water.
If the makers of The Lego Movie can work the same magic for the announced sequel, we have to imagine that the Academy will be willing to give them the recognition they deserve. There's no way they can drop such an easily catchable ball twice, right?
What other animated films were snubbed by the Oscars? Let your voice be heard in the comments.