Dear Academy, You Don’t Have to be the Bad Guy

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Yesterday, the Oscar nominations were finally announced. There were a lot of snubs, and maybe one or two surprises. But the snub which most surprised me, was the exclusion of The Lego Movie from the Best Animated Feature category. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s highly acclaimed work has gone unnoticed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, almost a week after it lost to How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the Golden Globes. This article is purely meant to explain why it was snubbed, why it would have made sense to be a nominee, and why it would have been a perfect winner of the coveted award. Naturally, there will be some spoilers.

Perhaps calling The Lego Movie, “The Piece of Resistance”, and the Academy, “Lord Business”, is a bit harsh. But, I feel like there is no more apt comparison than to make the Academy out to be afraid of change, but the only ones possible in implementing it. I could write an entire post on the ways in which the Oscars have maintained themselves to conventional voting, but you can just read Vince Mancini’s plea for Eddie Redmayne to not be nominated for playing Oscar bait. It goes through a lot of reasons not to, but the most notable is that it relegates the awards to a checklist that anyone who has watched the Oscars for a couple years can go through with ease.

The Lego Movie would not have even been a shocking nominee. It was commercially huge, and has become a cultural phenomenon. It isn’t some weird off-beat choice that makes the Academy look like it actually broke away from the checklist. In fact, I would have argued that it was unconventional to snub The Lego Movie.

But in that same breath, it is actually fairly easy to see why the Academy ignored The Lego Movie for movies like Big Hero 6How to Train Your Dragon 2The Boxtrolls, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and Song of the Sea. Speaking of that last film, if you’re not sure what it is, that’s because it has barely been seen outside of the festival circuit and is still awaiting a wider release. I won’t take away anything from these nominees (mainly because the only one I have seen so far is Big Hero 6 – a disappointingly average animated film) other than to say that most of them do seem like obvious choices for the Academy. Song of the Sea is the most glaringly obvious outlier from the group – and that is only because so few people have heard of it.

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But The Lego Movie seems to be the compelling choice for an animated feature. It walks the animated feature walk, and talks the talk. It is vibrant and beautiful, with so much heart to spare. Where other films will transparently tug at your heartstrings, The Lego Movie earns its emotional beats. And that is just the surface level of the film.

Underneath its glossy, meticulously block-infused world, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller created something utterly subversive. No other animated film this year has sparked the conversations which The Lego Movie has. From remix culture to the rejection of the Pixar-ification of animated films, critics have found plenty to write about. And all of this from a movie that is based on a commercial product, which would normally conform as opposed to reject the norms.

Lord and Miller are no strangers to bringing something to vibrant life that really should not have worked. They managed to make 21 Jump Street into a commercial and critical success. And then they did the same thing with the sequel, 22 Jump StreetCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a great children’s book that they managed to turn into one of the most inventive and visually stunning animated films (another film nominated for a Golden Globe, but no Oscar). The Lego Movie has been such a huge success that it has not one, not two, but three tie-ins happening. There’s a sequel which Lord and Miller will be working on, then there’s the spin-offs of Lego Batman and Lego Ninjago that the pair will help produce.

So how does it make sense that the Academy snubbed such an incredibly successful and highly praised work? Well, the answer has to be nothing but cynical. Remember my original comparison of the Academy being akin to Lord Business from the film? If you remember, Lord Business’s grand scheme was to glue everything into one perfect and organized world, with no intermingling of things that don’t belong within the schematics. He even had instructions for all the citizens of the Lego universe, just so they didn’t step out of line.

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That intermingling is already prevented within the Academy, as Animated films rarely ever get the same praise as Best Picture nominees. They get their own category, with the occasional Disney film slipping into the Best Picture selections, such as Up (2009), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Toy Story 3 (2010). Categories are neatly organized so that each part of a whole is celebrated, whether it be actor/actress, cinematography, sound editing or even the one award which The Lego Movie was nominated for – Best Original Song.

Lord Business and “The Man Upstairs” are revealed to be one and the same. “The Man Upstairs” hand-selects “The Special”, which in The Lego Movie just so happens to be Emmett, our hero. “The Special” is chosen by receiving the Piece of Resistance. I’ll try to wrap this analogy up as its starting to wear out its welcome and make The Lego Movie seem like it is this film dedicated to antagonizing the Academy.

But at the end of the day, the reason I wrote this post was because the Academy had a chance. It may be Lord Business, but it is also “The Man Upstairs”. It can be good, or evil. But it chooses to make everything fall into line, in a neatly organized and far from baffling manner. A mildly dedicated viewer of the Oscars can see any award coming a mile away. The nominations are where upsets can happen and change the narrative of the ceremony.

I will end this post with a quote from the film. One that so aptly describes what The Lego Movie did in order to appeal to the Academy, as well as to those who were so tired of the academy. “What’s the last thing Lord Business would expect Master Builders to do? […] Follow the instructions.”

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