Yesterday, when the Oscars courageously put the controversial "Beowulf" on the short list of 12 films eligible for the 3 nominee slots in the category for animated features, Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com proclaimed, "What this decision really means is that it's now down to a contest between 'Beowulf' (emblematic of the new realms and wonders of mo-cap digital animation that are now upon us) and 'Ratatouille' (a perfectly respectable and in fact beautifully rendered example of '90s style animation)."
Ay carumba! Hold your cyber-horses, Jeff! "Beowulf" needs to get into that three-way derby before it can race the rat! And even though it's likely to be a commercial and critical hit, "Beowulf" might still get tripped up. By that drunken bumpkin Homer Simpson!
One of those three slots is hogged — you're right — by that rat. "Ratatouille" earned $205 million from U.S. movie-goers and 96 score from reviewers at Metacritic (highest of all 2007 films). And it's Pixar, which has won twice ("Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles") and had two other noms ("Monsters, Inc.," "Cars") in the six years of this category's existence.
Considering how artsy and international the animation branch likes to get, you must admit, Jeff, that "Persepolis" has a good shot at nabbing one of the other two slots. Art-house foreign fare has not only been nominated in the past ("The Triplets of Belleville," "Howl's Moving Castle"), it's won ("Spirited Away").
If the battle over the third slot comes down to "Beowulf" vs. "The Simpsons Movie," don't automatically bet on the former. Many Hollywooders not only have longtime loyal emotional ties to TV's longest-running animated series and second-longest-running comedy (after "Saturday Night Live"), but professional ties, too.
Think about this secret — but possibly key — factor in the Oscar race for best animated feature. How many members of the academy's Short Films and Feature Animation Branch have worked on "The Simpsons" during its 18 years on the tube? Logical answer: Lots and lots.
Older members who didn't do so are probably thrilled by the way "The Simpsons Movie" was rendered — the ole-fashioned, hand-drawn, two-dimensional way — and was received by movie-goers ($185 million — that's almost as much as the rat). In fact, "Simpsons" turned out to be a shockeroo hit and rare triumph for animation's Old School.
Now consider how the voting process works. (CLICK HERE to see the details.) To be nominated, a film needs to win over members of that screening committee, which must view entries on big screens, not small ones. Older members, who have time on their hands, tend to volunteer for that kind of dedicated duty. Those committee members may have a grudge against "Beowulf." Or maybe not. Surprisingly, a motion-capture movie, "Monster House," was nominated last year and others have made the pre-noms list in the past, but never before has one been so realistically rendered, of course. Its own producer, Robert Zemeckis, has even given those old, traditionalist voters permission to vote against it by saying publicly that "Beowulf" is not really animated.
Next, Jeff, you publish a comment from producer Roger Avary, who adds, "The thing about 'Beowulf' is that it's a hybrid. It's both live action and animation, and we're going to be seeing much more blurring between the mediums in the future . . . . There is certainly puppeteering involved in much of 'Beowulf,' but the nuances of performance and motion of the characters entirely belong to the talent."
This latter admission means what old-time animators already know and what gets them all steamed up: screen movement is no longer imagined and created by the mind and hand of an artist. So is it really animated? "Monster House" didn't look frighteningly real like "Beowulf." Considering how controversial "Beowulf" is in the animation community, are academy voters more likely to embrace it over 2007's surprise hit among classic fare ("Simpsons")? Or "Persepolis"?
Let's pose the question to readers here: