In the past I have praised the Annie Awards for providing a lens into the most important animated features from each year of the past couple decades. The largest mark against the awards came in 2008, when Kung-Fu Panda won Film of the Year against Wall-E, which was by far the most recognized and important animated movie of the year — and one of the most heralded of all time, for that matter.
My previous article alleges no clear culprit behind what was pretty objectively a poor selection. This year, it happened again: How to Train Your Dragon topped Toy Story 3. Now, I love HTTYD more than most, but Toy Story 3 is — by every important metric — the superior, more important film.
So what’s the story? It’s no coincidence the same studio released Kung-Fu Panda and HTTYD, and that studio didn’t have a film nominated in 2009 — the only year of the past three a non-Dreamworks film didn’t win. That’s right — Dreamworks used some sneaky tactics to win the awards.
Essentially, Jeffrey Katzenberg — chief overlord of Dreamworks and perhaps the most fascinating man in the history of animated film, though that’s a post for another day — saw a way to exploit the award selection system the Annie use. Basically, anyone who is a professional animator can buy a membership in ASIFA-Hollywood, the organization that votes for the Annie winners. (Fun trivia: ASIFA stands for Association Internationale du Film d’Animation, which is why everyone just calls them ASIFA.) Katzenberg pays for a membership for every one of his animators. Other studios do not; it’s up to the people who work there to decide whether or not to enroll.
So, surprise, the DreamWorks employees tend to vote for the films produced by the studio who employs them and pays for their membership. I don’t blame them. The limited oversight by the ASIFA has no real checks to prevent these types of shenanigans. Again, it’s not overt cheating — you can defend Katzenberg, in that he didn’t break any rules and didn’t (publicly) encourage DrewamWorks employees to vote as homers — but it also kind of is.
Pixar noticed this and decided to publicly boycott the Annie Awards. A cynic might argue that they chose this strategy simply because they have smaller numbers and can’t counter Katzenberg’s tactics. A Pixarphile would praise their devotion to integrity. I fall in the latter camp.
The result is that Annies have become something of a joke. It’s a shame; animation deserves a good awards platform. Buzz around the web sites I read is that the ASIFA is going to do something about it. Until then: we Pixar fanboys one more reason to mock DreamWorks (related)!