Awards Daily has taken note of trade ads pushing Robert Zemeckis‘ Beowulf (Paramount, 11.16) for Best Picture as a safety measure should the Academy decide to rule that Beowulf doesn’t qualify for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. I won’t see the completed film until Friday, but I’ve seen a reel and as far as I’m concerned Beowulf not only qualifies as an animated film, but it deserves an industry-wide salute for expanding the definition of “animated” in a truly brilliant and innovative fashion.
The short list of eligible animated films will be announced on Monday, 11.5, so we’ll know soon enough if the Academy reactionaries and fuddy-duds have succeeded in keep in Beowulf out of this category.
Image technologies have been blurring the line between live-action and animation more and more in recent years. Technically, Beowulf is digitally enhanced live-action film, but it’s so richly and imaginatively composed that it seems absurd not to call it animated. Animation tools are obviously computerized today — the industry has come a long, long way from the days of Disney animators painting cells for Bambi — and it seems that the liberal view would have to be that Beowulf is not live action — it’s been “painted” on a bit-by-bit, frame-by-frame basis.
The foundation of the objection to Beowulf‘s being considered for the Best Animated Feature Oscar has been the Academy’s “Rule Seven” which states that (a) “movement and characters’ performances [in an animated film] must be created using a frame-by-frame technique,” and (b) that “a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the pictures running time.”
Don’t kid yourself: Rule Seven is a blocking move by old-line Academy types in order to protect the entrenched old-fogey animators from encroachment by the digital crowd.
A senior Paramount marketer told me three days ago that Pixar chief John Lasseter “is firmly against motion-capture being eligible for the animation”, and yet John Bloom, the head of the Academy’s animation committee, which numbers about 100 people, “fully supports Beowulf and live action.
“Remember when old-line animators complained that Toy Story wasn’t real animation?,” the Paramount guy reminded. “Remember that kerfuffle? People at AMPAS who are not animation specialists are confused that the characters look like the actors playing them, but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything. The Beowulf character doesn’t look like Ray Winstone, although he’s got Ray’s voice and acting style.”
In any enterprise of any kind, be it business or creative, the old-schoolers will always try to protect their turf by blocking the innovators. Everyone knows that trying to hold back the tide is futile, except for those who try to do it anyway.