Calls for “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” to be campaigned for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars has created a taxonomic quagmire: “What does it mean for something to be ‘animated,’ anyway?” Oscar pundits are asking themselves. Stirring a small but passionate discourse online, the conversation echoes the one we had in 2019 about Jon Favreau’s remake of “The Lion King.” Some of the film’s fans argue that its life-affirming themes (as well as the shell’s affability) ought to wrangle A24 an awards campaign for Best Animated Feature. Still, that line of reasoning doesn’t address the broader question at hand and implies the category’s purpose is to evaluate an animated project’s friendliness rather than how successfully it uses the medium. Worse, it suggests that a good animated film is intrinsically family oriented. Disney and Dreamworks will always have the edge over innovative, genre-bending alternatives like “Anomalisa,” “Waltz With Bashir,” “Flee,” and “Persepolis” if such a standard is embraced.
There’s an argument to be made for “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” that doesn’t solely emphasize how cute its protagonist is. Whether you think Marcel is utterly adorable or insufferably precious, it’s hard to deny the movie’s technical merits. It blends stop-motion and reality with the seamless precision of a project made on a much bigger budget, and the compliment would be no less deserved if Marcel were a misanthropic nihilist. Moreover, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS) has a pretty clear and general principle by which to distinguish an animated film from something like, for example, Matt Reeves’ “Planet Of The Apes” Trilogy or James Cameron’s “Avatar”:
“A film with a running time of more than 40 minutes in which characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique, a significant number of the major characters are animated, and animation figures in no less than 75 percent of the running time.”
We’ll let the experts comb through the film frame by frame, but it’s safe to say that the anthropomorphic-shell-to-human ratio leans shell more than human. Since the movie’s eponym is in nearly every scene, AMPAS should also find that the running-time requirements are being met. The film’s director, Dean Fleischer Camp, has already weighed in with his opinion claiming that the film will be eligible if they submit the proper documentation to the Academy. Besides, disqualifying a critically acclaimed film from a field 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” was deemed eligible to compete in (despite that film’s preponderance of non-animated characters) will likely draw collective jeers from the film’s passionate fanbase.
If the Academy rules in the movie’s favor, this year’s crop of contenders poses an exciting possibility. Should “Mad God,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio,” Henry Selick’s “Wendell And Wild,” and “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” all score nominations, stop-motion will outnumber computer-generated films at the Oscars for only the second time since the category’s inception in 2001. Of course, there’s still the question of A24’s resources, and this year–between “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Whale” (and don’t count out “Aftersun” just yet!)–the boutique label certainly has a lot on its plate. A24’s hesitancy to spread itself financially thin is understandable. The studio failed to secure nominations for films like “Eighth Grade,” “The Farewell,” and “Uncut Gems” and hasn’t repeated its successful 2016/2017 campaigns for “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird,” with the exception of “Minari,” which benefitted from the pandemic impacting much of its competition that year. With at least two very strong contenders this year, perhaps a concentrated strategy is wisest. Nevertheless, “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” shouldn’t be too low on their list of priorities, especially since Pixar’s “Lightyear,” given its lukewarm reception from both audiences and critics, is a weak placeholder at the moment.
Every awards cycle, the internet finds some reason to call the Academy retrograde for their choices, both for nominations and wins. How accurate that perception is matters less than the fact that it exists. Nominating “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On“—a movie about going viral that is, in and of itself, the product of a viral sensation—for Best Animated Feature would demonstrate that the Academy doesn’t abide by some rigid, outdated precept of what an animated movie is, and suggest that voters have a better understanding of contemporary consumption habits than pundits give them credit for. Then again, someone by this time next year will likely still carp that the Academy is too safe, elitist, and out of touch no matter what they do. All of this is short of saying, “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” is one of the year’s best films and deserves to be recognized by the Academy. If it’s considered eligible for Best Animated Feature, then A24 should push it, and AMPAS should nominate it, especially in a field this wide-open.
Do you think “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” will be deemed eligible for Best Animated Feature? If so, do you think “the little shell that could” will be an Oscar nominee? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
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