There was more than one joke that didn’t land at Sunday night’s Academy Awards. While the spotlight remained on Will Smith and Chris Rock on Monday following their altercation on stage, creators and fans of animation voiced their own discontent with another tasteless joke that went unremarked upon.
The award for Best Animated Feature was presented by Halle Bailey, Lily James and Naomi Scott — each the star of a live action adaptation of Disney’s classic princess films — who introduced the nominees with a backhanded compliment. “So many kids watch these films over and over and over,” James began. Bailey continued: “and over and over and over and over.” “I see some parents out there know exactly what we’re talking about,” Scott added.
The comment offended many of the professionals who work in the animation industry, if for no other reason than their ongoing negotiations for improved union contracts with Hollywood, in a campaign dubbed #NewDeal4Animation. The response, though overshadowed by reactions to “the slap,” has been enormous.
“Super cool to position animation as something that kids watch and adults have to endure,” tweeted Oscar-winning animation director Philip Anderson Lord (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).
Andrew Guastaferro, a screenwriter who has worked on animated productions, sent a rhetorical question to the Academy: “If animation is really just mindless, annoying kids’ content, why is an entire floor of your museum devoted to the artistry & brilliance of Miyazaki’s achievements?”
The move felt especially regressive after animation took on renewed importance in 2020, amid pandemic-related recording restrictions. Animated filmmaker Elizabeth Ito pointed out the change in tone from Hollywood writ large this year, tweeting: “Weird how animation went from being a powerhouse force that could keep going when live-action couldn’t, and now were back to being for kids.”
Adam Deats, assistant director on Netflix’s Castlevania, even opened up about how this mindset impacts productions of films and shows that are geared specifically towards adults. “Castlevania struggled to be green-lit due to this industry’s overbearing view of what animation was to them, that it existed only for children,” he said on Twitter.
The jab also came after animation creators pointed out the dearth of awards for their medium at the Oscars. Animator Charles Moss pointed out some of the categories that could be included. The International Animated Film Society hosts the Annie Awards, an award show in L.A. that recognizes some of these categories, and celebrated many of the Oscars animation nominees earlier this month.
It’s clear that on all accounts, animators of all sorts are tired of being a punching bag. They’re speaking up, and what they have to say is gaining traction — both garnering respect, and possibly even securing higher wages. It’s poetically fitting, then, that what may be an inflection point for their relationship to Hollywood was almost completely overshadowed.