When the Oscar nominations came out earlier this month, it quickly became apparant that everything was, as it turned out, not awesome: far from it, in fact. Despite being the hands down favorite to win Best Animated Feature going into the January 15th announcement, The Lego Movie perplexingly wasn’t even nominated in that category: instead having to settle for a lone, and ironic, nod for Best Original Song. The expected crop of nominees (which includes How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and The Boxtrolls) yielded The Lego Movie‘s spot to Song of the Sea (not to be confused with Song of the South) – a heretofore non-entity that few people had even heard of, let alone cared about.
To be sure, every year comes with its share of snubs. Last year’s omission of Blue Is the Warmest Color from competition in the Best Foreign Language Film category threw that particular race into an outright crapshoot, where any film could feasibly win the prize. 2008’s exclusion of The Dark Knight from Best Picture contention is directly attributed to why that category was broadened from only five nominees. That being said, however, few nomination upsets are as glaringly obvious as this year’s. I mean, yes, The Dark Knight was far and away the best film of that year (in mine and most others’ estimation), but would such a stuffy group of stick-in-the-muds like the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences really give their most prestigious award to a film about a psychopath billionaire who dresses like a bat and beats up a clown?
After weighing in on the question of why the film was passed over for the last two weeks, I can attribute the cause to one of two reasons. By far the most likely is that it was perceived as too commercial. I don’t mean that it was too mainstream. I mean that it was likely interpretted as 90 minutes of product placement, regardless of the film’s actual merits: what I and many other eventual fans of the film initially took it for ourselves. The Academy – which is largely composed of rich, socially concious old men – undoubtedly didn’t see a movie about Legos as being what it was: the occassion for a lonely child to play out his fantastical rendition of his father’s standoffish and OCD nature, which unintentionally drove a wedge between their relationship. A movie about toys, after all, is just about the toys themselves: nothing deeper or more meaningful.
The second possibility, if it actually turns out to be the real reason for its exclusion, is far pettier. What if its exclusion from competition was not because the film was taken as an extended toy commercial, but because of the brief (although critical) segments in live action? What if it lost out on a technicality: that the film included non-animated segments, no matter how briefly they appeared? The category wasn’t around to weigh in on the question of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? back in the day and understandably wasn’t concerned with Enchanted, whose animated sequences were as inconsequentially brief as The Lego Movie‘s live action ones. Is this the Academy taking a stance that the category is exclusionary of any half-animated mongrels?
So does this mean that Song of the Sea, which took the front-runner’s slot among the nominees, destined to win the Oscar next month? Not likely. Despite its unprecedented appearance, it lacks any kind of wide-spread appeal and is itself a sore reminder of the film that by all rights should have been in its place. Nor does this mean that The Boxtrolls suddenly has a chance in the category, either. It’s the kind of animated film that gets the nomination because Academy members take their kids (or, what’s more likely, grandkids) to see it and some of that youthful excitement rubs off on the curmudgeony adults that took them there.
If anything, the race will end in a photo finish between the three remaining favorites: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6 and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The last of these is the least likely to benefit from The Lego Movie‘s absence. It’s Ghibli, sure, and visually distinct from anything we’ve ever seen in the West, but it lacks that trademark Miyazaki flair now that the legendary animator has retired (and remember how even his swansong couldn’t overcome Frozen‘s absurd popularity).
Of the two likeliest choices, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has the best chance of absorbing The Lego Movie‘s support. Sure, Big Hero 6 touches on that same emotional core, but the Dreamworks sequel has a broader appeal, especially among the voting body for the awards. How to Train Your Dragon 2 also managed to upstage The Lego Movie at the Golden Globes, and that’s when it was actually competing against it. Anything other than it winning would be almost as big of an upset as the category’s nominees were themselves.
Safe Bet: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Long Shot: Big Hero 6
Longer Shot: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya