The Oscars have come and gone, and once again the not-so-big dance was full of disappointments (although it was admittedly a step up from some recent years). The show finally had someone who works in animation host the show...it's just too bad it had to be the anti-talent himself, Seth MacFarlane. Plenty of great movies were snubbed, boring movies were lavished with praise, and although there were some good winners, overall the show was, well, it was the Oscars. Which in recent history means an affair as forgettable as the movies that win most of their awards.
Anyway, let me jump to the chase. The only award I've cared about for years now is, ironically enough, the award the Academy itself thinks the least of: Best Animated Feature.
It's always been pretty obvious that the Best Animated Feature Oscar was created by the pretentious snobs in the Academy as a kind of "pitty prize" for animation. The Academy is far to elitist and pompous to seriously consider animated films on an equal footing with the "real" movies on the ballot, and so the Academy saw fit to throw the medium a bone.
The Academy's lack of interest can be seen by how the award has consistently been the first or second award given since its inception (it originally opened the show, before the Academy decided the Oscars needed a "strong opener," so Best Supporting Actor has taken its place, pushing Best Animated Feature to an even more forgettable second spot on the card). Their less-than-ideal perception of the award can also be seen by some of the completely throwaway nominees they've tossed in the hat. Is it really an honor just to be nominated if one of the nominees is Shark Tale? Not to mention the gross omissions of truly deserving films (Ponyo should have taken the award easily in 2009, but wasn't even nominated).
With that said, the award did earn some hefty credibility in its winners in its earliest years. Shrek, the innagural winner, still represents the peak of Dreamworks abilities. The second ever winner (and only traditionally-animated winner), Spirited Away, gave the award the most credibility it has ever seen, as far as I'm concerned there's never been a more deserving winner of any Oscar. Pixar's dominance with the award arrived in 2003 when Finding Nemo won the award, with (arguably) Pixar's best film, The Incredibles, following suite the next year.
And although the award has seen some deserving winners since then, those first four years were certainly the most consistent in terms of winners. But for years now Pixar has had a growing trend of walking away with the gold, and after these past awards, it's clear they'll keep walking away with the award whether they deserve it or not.
Sure, some will point out that Monsters, Inc. missed out on the innagural award, and that Cars also went home empty-handed (although I would have much rather Cars won than that dreadful Happy Feet, which is quite possibly the most pompous and unlikable animated film I've ever seen), but now it seems Pixar is just handed the award on name alone. Yes, Ratatouille deserved to win in its year, as did Wall-E and Toy Story 3, but making great movies in the past shouldn't mean a movie as "decent" as Brave should beat superior films like Wreck-It Ralph just by the legacy of its studio. And don't even get me started on the omission of The Secret World of Arrietty.
Brave certainly wasn't a bad movie, as some unfair criticisms would have one believe. But it also wasn't anything special. The story was all too close to formulaic, the build up to the plot took far too long, the humor was sub-par, and its heroine felt more forced than strong. A good little movie, and one that the kids would certainly love, but in no way does it begin to live up to the legacies of Spirited Away or The Incredibles. The Best Animated Feature award has lost whatever meaning it once earned for itself (despite the Academy's best efforts to make it a "bathroom break" part of the show), and now it feels more like its making due instead of awarding a winner.
It would be easy to find excuses as to why none of the other nominees were probably never even seriously considered for the award (Wreck-It Ralph is about video games, a medium that the likes of the Academy already have a bias against, for example), but I think the simple answer is this: Brave had the Pixar name attached.
That alone made Brave the frontrunner for the award, it didn't matter whether or not it was actually as good as the Pixar of yesteryear, the name alone was all the push Brave needed. If even for a moment the Academy ever cared about this oft-mistreated award, it's apparent now that the award is such a non-issue in the minds of the Academy that they probably assigned Brave as the winner shortly after seeing it. Wreck-It Ralph and its fellow nominees never really stood a chance, not because Brave was just that good, but because Brave had the name Pixar attached. Cars 2 notwithstanding, the Academy knows Pixar is an all-too easy choice for a winner, given some of their past work and their consistent box-office results (well, at least movies that actually make money can win this award, even if they get snubbed elsewhere).
Pixar may have an impressive resume (although those who hail them as the "greatest" animation studio has clearly never heard of Studio Ghibli), but 2012 wasn't the first year that other animation studios have proven to be able to go toe-to toe with Pixar. And it wasn't the first year that that didn't matter.