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Jeffrey Wells Argues Against an Oscar for ‘Wall-E’: ‘Animation, Stay On Your Side of the Fence’

Courtesy of Disney/Pixar and AMPAS

Over on Hollywood Elsewhere, blogger Jeffrey Wells argues that our call for a Best Picture nomination for future Best Picture nominee Wall-E is a bad idea. While acknowledging the high-quality work being done in the world of animated film, he argues that animation is so fundamentally different from the world of "simply aiming a camera at real people and real locations" that animated movies should be kept on their side of the "electric segregation fence." But several of his assertions about why Wall-E should be happy with its Best Animated Feature Oscar don't hold water.

Wells's first argument is that Best Animated Feature is a perfectly prestigious award, and that animators should feel perfectly honored by it. But if Animated Feature isn't measurably less prestigious than Best Picture, then why, as one commenter on Wells's post points out, is it given out in the middle of the ceremony, stuck between Best Animated Short and Best Sound Effects Editing? Like Best Documentary or Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature is a lesser award than Best Picture, and to argue that it isn't is obviously disingenuous.

"The animated realm means an emphasis on digital as opposed to organic raw-grain realism, and the Best Picture realm still means more or less the opposite," Wells says. But seriously, says who? The Academy has no rule that the Best Picture nominees must be "organic raw-grain realism," no rule that animated features are ineligible for Best Picture. In fact, two of the most high-profile Best Picture winners of the past ten years — Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — employed digital imagery extensively in creating their fantastic worlds. Peter Jackson's thrice-nominated trilogy, in fact, is about as far from "organic raw-grain realism" as you can get; there wasn't a single shot in that movie that wasn't digitally manipulated.

Wells seems to be arguing that Pixar's movies, because they're for a specialized audience — "families, kids, X-factor moviegoers and film critics" — are made by rarefied artistes rather than real blue-collar moviemakers. Is he kidding? Pixar's audience — as proven this weekend — is broader and more inclusive than any of, say, last year's Best Picture nominees. And what's a more bourgeois exercise: Pixar's teams of animators creating a populist masterpiece, or Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew in the desert, making a hermetic, arid, historical epic meant to appeal only to hard-core aesthetes?

Animation isn't a genre — it's a medium, just another way of telling stories. Of course Wall-E is "an exception to the animation realm"; in animation, as in live-action, most movies are crappy and don't deserve Best Picture nominations. But when a movie comes out that is great, one of the best of the year, it ought to be considered for Best Picture regardless of the medium it's created in. And if the Oscars want to become relevant to the average moviegoer again, they could do worse than to nominate a movie like Wall-E — a movie the average moviegoer loves.

Two Sides of the Fence [Hollywood Elsewhere]

Earlier: Start the Campaign: ‘Wall-E’ for Best Picture!