Oscar season 2022 is upon us, and a couple of weeks ago, the nominations were announced. It’s the Oscars in 2022 to recognize the 2021 films, so I don’t know whether to call them the 2022 Oscars or 2021 Oscars, so I guess I’ll just call them the 95th annual Academy Awards. Since 2001, the Academy has been awarding an Oscar for best animated feature, and since then one company, with two studios, has pretty much dominated. That’s right, Disney has pretty much won the award every year it has been given out. Right? Right?! Well…
I saw someone post pretty much that this year’s category was dominated by Disney, and someone basically replied that water is wet and the sky is blue. That got me thinking, is that really true? So I did some digging, and here’s what I found out.
For the purpose of this post, I want to make a distinction between Disney the company and Disney the animation movie studio. Why? Because it tells an interesting story. Pixar was not started by Disney, and for a number of years, it wasn’t owned by Disney. Disney distributed the Pixar films, but they were their own studio/company with their own style of story telling and their own culture. And that remains the case today, although they are now owned by the Walt Disney Company. And when you look at the history of this award. Pixar Studios, not Disney, is the real powerhouse here.
Let’s take a look at all the winners of the award, and what that could mean for the nominees this year. I have broken them into three categories: Pixar, Disney, and everyone else. Let’s start with everyone else:
Shrek was the first winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Believe it or not, it was a disappointment for Dreamworks, who was hoping for a nomination for Best Picture, and didn’t get it. I remember how huge Shrek was when it came out, so maybe it’s not surprising that it won. However, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that it beat out Pixar’s Monsters Inc. I feel like looking at those two films today, Monsters Inc. holds up way better. Still, Shrek is one of the few films that went head to head with Pixar and won. The other film nominated that year was Jimmy Neutron.
2002: Spirited Away
Spirited Away is a masterpiece. You can hear our discussion of the film in a recent podcast episode. For 2001, it was a tough field, or at least there were more than three nominees. The other films included two Disney films in Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet (painfully under appreciated, but a different post for a different day). The field also included Ice Age and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Notice there were no Pixar films nominated, so while Spirited Away did beat out two Disney animated films, Pixar was a non-factor.
2005: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Wallace and Gromit is an amazing film, and beautifully animated and deserved to win the year it did, even if it did beat out one of my favorite animated films, The Corpse Bride. The other nominee was Howl’s Moving Castle, another incredible film. However, it was just the three films. No Disney, no Pixar
2006: Happy Feet
Like Shrek, Happy Feet has the distinction of taking down the big boy, Pixar. Of course the film it beat out was Cars, which is a cute, fun film, but not in the same realm as Up or Inside Out or Wall-E. The other Nominee was Monster House.
I’ll be honest, maybe it was just where I was in my life, but I totally missed Rango. But, this field was big this year, with 5 films nominated, including Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots. It didn’t include, though, any film from Pixar or Disney.
2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Into the Spider-Verse may be the rarest of all non-Disney/non-Pixar winners. It beat out films from both studios. It’s the only movie that has done it. The Pixar film that was nominated and lost was Incredibles 2 and the Disney film was Ralph Breaks the Internet. Admittedly, these two aren’t the strongest contenders from either studio, but I don’t think it would have mattered. Into the Spider-Verse is almost perfect in every way, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
That’s it for everyone else. Six years out of twenty that the award has been given out. The other 14 years were either Disney Studios or Pixar. And, I found something interesting about those 14 years as I was looking into it. Let’s look at Disney Animation next. What would you guess the number of wins is for them? Maybe five or six? Maybe they have split it down the middle with Pixar? The answer is three. Disney Animation has won the award three times:
Disney Animation Studios
Of course Frozen won. But who else was nominated? The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, and The Wind Rises. Notice there aren’t any Pixar films nominated.
2014: Big Hero Six
One of my favorite animated films of the last decade, Big Hero Six deserved the award. The other nominees were The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Who’s missing? Oh yeah, Pixar.
Zootopia did beat out another Disney Animation film in Moana, but again, there was no Pixar film nominated that year. In all three years that Disney Animation won the award, Pixar was not nominated.
That means the other eleven years, Pixar has won the award, and unlike Disney’s winners, there were plenty of years that Pixar went head to head with the studio that brought us Mickey Mouse, and won. Here are the Pixar winners, and if there was a Disney film nominated, I’ll include it in parentheses.
2003: Finding Nemo (Brother Bear)
2004: The Incredibles
2008: WALL-E (Bolt)
2009: Up (The Princess and the Frog)
2010: Toy Story 3
2012: Brave (Wreck-It Ralph)
2015: Inside Out
2019: Toy Story 4
So Pixar is 4-0 vs Disney Animation Studios. Pixar has had films nominated 14 years, and only lost in three of those years, to non-Disney Films. Pixar is the powerhouse studio, so what does that mean for this year? Here are my thoughts.
Dark Horse to win
I think there is a dark horse film in the group of nominees. If you don’t know, the nominees this year are Encanto, Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Raya and the Last Dragon. I loved The Mitchells vs. the Machines. I think this had everything you need in a film nominated for this award, and I would not be sad if it won. They would be my dark horse pick. Only one other film has beaten out both Disney and Pixar in this category: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Guess what? These two films have something in common- they were both produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. So it’s possible they could do it again. But, it’s not likely. The Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet aren’t quite on the same level as Encanto or Luca, so I don’t think it’s likely The Mitchells vs. the Machines will pull off the victory.
Disney finally gets the big win
I think Encanto could be Disney’s best chance to beat Pixar for this award. I think this could be the year that the two studios go head to head, and Disney comes out on top. To me, this just makes sense. Encanto has resonated with so many people, and the music is amazing. I think this is my pick. Luca was great, but Encanto was better.
Business as usual
Of course, Luca could win. It is a good film, and deserving of the prize. Disney could go head to head with Pixar for the fifth time and lose for the fifth time. I really think Encanto will pull it off, but this is definitely a big possibility.
What do you think? Which film will come out on top for the Best Animated Feature Oscar? Let us know, we would love to hear from you.