Poor Spider-Man got snubbed. Where is the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture nod for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Sometimes a Best Animated Feature Film nomination by the Academy Awards isn’t enough. Spider-Man: Into the Verse broke technological ground, unraveled many multidimensional themes, set a precedence for the quality of superhero films, successfully borrowed the old, injected adrenaline into every combat scene, exploded with kinetic eclecticism, and celebrated the universality of heroism. It’s the film that will linger in my mind long after most of the Best Picture nominees.
While the Academy Awards’ Best Animated Feature slot gave a platform for animated films to be recognized to the public, some argued it had a side-effect of trapping animated feature solely into one category when said pictures contain multitudes that should transcend a singular category. An animated film can receive acclaim for qualities of artistry, design, story, and character, yet has trouble fighting the “it’s just an animated film” mentality.
Before the Best Animated Feature category debuted in 2002, Beauty and the Beast waltzed its way to the Best Picture nomination in 1991. Pixar hits like Up and Toy Story 3 scaled their way up the ladder for Best Picture nods when the category was expanded. However, plenty of animated films were left boxed in Best Animated Feature. Into the Spider-Verse wouldn’t be the only animated feature booted out of deserved higher recognition.
Directed by Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner is Cartoon Saloon’s first foray into historical fiction. Set during the oppressive Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan when women were barred from leaving their homes without a male escort, 11-year-old Parvana dons the clothing of her late brother to circumvent the law and provide for her family. To cope with the trials and tribulations, she retreats to a folktale about perseverance.
Having consulted survivors of the Taliban, The Breadwinner illuminates heavy themes about war but maintains a pinch of whimsy through Parvana’s storytelling sequences. The film made only one-tenth of its budget and was recognized for a Best Animation nod in 2018, but it remained in obscurity to mainstream viewers. (Pssss, it’s on Netflix.)
The Secret of Kells
A young Irish monk named Brendan sets out to design pages of the magical Book of Kells, a text that will bring hope to humanity. While Brendan’s overprotective uncle focuses on the impending Viking raids, the boy decides the book is too important to neglect. With the aid of a pagan fairy, Brendan confronts the mythical Celtic horror beyond his monastery to attain what he needs to make his scripture.
Not unlike its Cartoon Saloon successor The Breadwinner, The Secret of Kells illuminates the power of art. While art cannot build towers, the book that Brendan cherishes represents the preservation of art and culture. Like the pages of original Book of Kells itself, director Tomm Moore of Cartoon Saloon ensures that every frame unfurl multitudes of jeweled details carved in. During a viewing experience, pause the screen to catch every glimmer.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)
Before Spirited Away in 2001, Studio Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki forged his intended 1997 swan song about an epic struggle between the environment and the a town of iron revolution. A prince goes wayward to undo a curse and becomes entangled in a murky conflict between humanity and the forest deities.
It shares tropes with environmental epics like James Cameron’s Avatar, except the story contains the doses of layers. Miyazaki shows that the industrial growth can have progressive opportunities for humanity while also condemning those who abuse it. Princess Mononoke offers an ending I’m a sucker for: The world is left with scars, some wounds are irreparable, but there are chances to survive.
Directed with sensitivity by Andrew Stanton, Pixar’s Finding Nemo was dense with the drama through a simple tale of a father clownfish learning to let go of his son. His encounters with obstacles help him process the kind of parent he should be to his son. Colorful characters serve as allies or obstacles to Marlin’s journey.
This is a classic Pixar piece for parents when learning to negotiate how to let your child survive in a big scary world. Marlin learns how to let go while Nemo learns how to hold on. Finding Nemo drops many lessons for adults and kids about the obstacles of life. The big blue is the big scary world, but it can also be beautiful.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari)
The final Studio Ghibli film of Isao Takahata might as well have been his swan song in 2013. Based on an ancient Japanese poem, The Tale of Princess Kaguya begins with a woodcutter finding a tiny girl in a bamboo shoot and raising her love. He calls her “Princess,” because what father doesn’t see his daughter as one? However, his best intentions prove toxic when he accosts his daughter into a regal life. The Princess Kaguya has to navigate the harsh strata of palace life, with suitors seeking to make a prize out of her.
Pity that its box office did not match its budget. Takahata pulled no punches on the tragedy of patriarchal societies. Throughout the tale, Kaguya juggles her feminine empowerment with filial piety toward her flawed father as overreaching poison of patriarchy finally claim her. There is a light at the end: Kaguya does grasp the ephemeral beauty of the earthly life.
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