If you don’t follow the animation scene, then you probably haven’t heard the news that The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (a.k.a. the Oscars) have made an interesting, yet frustrating decision regarding the Best Animated Feature Film award, which has been an integral part of the Oscars since the category’s induction in 2002. So, what is this rule change and how might it affect the Best Animated Feature Film category going forth?

Image via DreamWorks Animation

Brief History

The category was first introduced in 2002, where three wide release animated films were nominated at the 74th Academy Awards ceremony: DreamWorks Animation’s ‘Shrek’, Pixar Animation Studios’ ‘Monsters, Inc.’, and Nickelodeon Movies’ ‘Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius’.‘Shrek’ ultimately took home the trophy, becoming the first ever winner for Best Animated Feature Film.

This new category at the time allowed the Academy to nominate animated films in their own category, as animated films almost never received nominations for the Best Picture award, with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ being the one notable exception in 1992. This was a good move for not only the animation industry, but the movie industry as a whole since it allowed animated films that really never stood a chance of awards recognition to take home an Oscar, while also bringing publicity to lesser known animated films, some even winning such as the acclaimed ‘Spirited Away’. Even obscure films like ‘The Red Turtle’ and ‘A Cat in Paris’ have benefited from their nominations despite not winning.

One concern the introduction of the animated category brought with it was the greater potential for exclusion from the Best Picture category and the segregation of the art form from the rest of the film world. This fear was allayed, however, when Pixar’s ‘Up’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ were nominated for Best Picture in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Animated nominations for Best Picture are still a rarity and likely always will be, which is why the Best Animated Feature Film category is so important. If it wasn’t introduced, then many brilliant animated films would have never been recognized for their hard work, including the likes of ‘Inside Out’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Rango’.

Image via Pixar Animation Studios

So What’s the Problem?

Before the rule change, for animated films to get a nomination in the category it was divided evenly between animators and voters from other industry branches. However, per Variety, the rule change now means that anyone in the Academy registered as a member can suggest nominations for the category, no longer limiting it to animators.

So why could this be a potential problem? It may lead to the exclusion of indie animated films over more mainstream animated features. Moving forward, films like ‘My Life as a Zucchini’ or ‘When Marnie was There’ may no longer get nominations over for the more widely distributed films like ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Moana’, and that could be a huge blow to the indie animation industry. The diversity of the nominees makes the Oscars interesting and helps to provide smaller animated films with a nice boost of recognition. I would never have heard of ‘A Cat in Paris’ or ‘The Illusionist’ if it wasn’t for the rule before these changes were made. Even if you still haven’t heard of these films, the Oscars made sure that many others did and even a small publicity boost can have far reaching impacts on a film’s success.

Of course, this might not be a problem, and those industry outsiders who do nominate in the Animated Feature category may have equally diverse tastes as the animation professionals, yet the change does cause some concern as it might lead to an increased emphasis on wide-release animation, not only at the awards themselves, but also in the local theatres. We’ll find exactly what this means during next year’s Oscar race, but with rule changes like these, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If you want to read more, including an interesting quote from the GKIDS’ president, I recommend giving Variety’s article a read.