A few months ago, the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) leapfrogged the National Board of Review (NBR), so that they would be first in announcing their picks for the top films and performances of the year. The first few awards announcements are always important, as they can really set the tone for which films have a great chance at picking up awards and which films will be on the outside looking in. On Tuesday, the NYFCC announced their award winners and, surprisingly, the “Best Animated Film” category was nowhere to be found.
Since the NYFCC began handing out the animation award in 2000, they often bounced back and forth between giving it to a foreign studio, Pixar, or DreamWorks Animation. Pixar has only won the category twice – in 2004, The Incredibles took the prize and in 2008, WALL-E took the honors. Foreign films have found greater success in the category, with Spirited Away, The Triplets of Belleville, Howl’s Moving Castle, Persepolis, and The Illusionist being named “Best Animated Film.”
This is the first time since the NYFCC began the category in 2000 that an animated film was not named the best in the medium. It seems that they are sending a message that no animated film released this year is worthy of an NYFCC prize, which is a dangerous precedent. Pixar has not had a strong year critically, as Cars 2 was chewed out by most critics. Also, 2011 hasn’t been a particularly strong year for animated films. However, not awarding any animated films hardly seems fair to the industry. Films such as Rango and Winnie The Pooh could have easily taken the animation prize. (Comparatively, NBR did name a “Best Animated Feature” – Rango.)
The danger in abstaining from naming a top animated film this year is that it could happen again, based on some unclear and arbitrary reasons. Sure, you could argue that this year’s reason is that no animated film was “mind-blowing.” The real issue here is that animated films have long been considered fodder for children. During the last 10-15 years, animation has begun to gain more respect among critics. Leaving animated films sitting on the sidelines is akin to sending them back to the kids’ table where they sat for many years. The medium of animation deserves more respect than that because let’s face it, the company at the kids’ table is pretty damn unsophisticated.