The winners of the Annie Awards, rewards for accomplishments in animation offered by the Hollywood branch of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) have just been announced. Let’s talk about them, shall we?
The Annie Awards could be comfortably renamed Captain Obvious Awards. The list of winners contains few if any surprises. Disney’s “Frozen” won Best Animated Feature in addition to awards for directing, music, voice acting and production design. The House of Mouse was also rewarded for their short “Get a Horse” as well as for their television series for pre-schoolers “Sofia the First”, which may tell you a lot about the state of animation targeted at that age segment, especially if you compare it with the television winners from other demographic categories, “Adventure Time” and “Futurama”. Pixar gathered a few technical awards for “Monsters University” and their tv special “Toy Story of TERROR”. The full list of winners can be found here.
“Frozen” is very, very overrated.
Disney’s “Frozen” is not a bad film, but it’s not exactly excellent either: the story mostly succeeds just by making you breathe a sigh of relief because they’re not doing the very worst thing you’d expect them to do. Disney princess musicals have been widely criticized for their sexism and conventional storytelling, so “Frozen” becomes remarkable simply by somewhat subverting its own tropes. Let’s be honest, though: If Disney’s Ice Queen film had come out in, let’s say (randomly) 2009, and would have had to compete with Coraline, Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox, I find it hard to believe that anybody would have found more than 30 seconds time to talk about Frozen. Instead, it came out in one of the worst years for mainstream American animation in a long time, and like a runner who isn’t all that fast but ends up winning the race anyway because everyone else on the starting sheet came down with the flu, it is being graded on a curve. Which brings us to our second conclusion:
Hollywood needs to become more comfortable with recognizing achievement coming from outside its borders, especially in animation
It makes sense that a Hollywood-based award ceremony like the Annies would reward American films by default, and there is usually at least one stand-out film on the market every year (very often courtesy of Pixar). This is even more true for awards that are mostly for live-action, like the Oscars, because the live action film industry in America is enormous, diverse and very productive. US animation, however, tends to be centered around 2-3 big players who produce fairly similar films, so what do you do when none of them makes something outstanding one year? Well, there are 3 possible routes: 1. Withhold the award for the year in question; 2. Look for worthy winners outside the circle of regular players; or 3. Reward mediocre efforts from the same regular players. The Annies (like the Oscars) chose the third route, therefore chipping away at their own credibility.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that everyone praising “Frozen” genuinely thinks “Frozen” is an excellent, outstanding film, which means, well, that we’ll just have to agree to disagree.