How Is Avatar Not an Animated Film?

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 2 2010 3:27 PM

How Is Avatar Not an Animated Film?

Among the nonstories coming out of this year's Oscar nominations is the fact that Pixar's Up has become the first film ever to be picked for both the best picture and best animated feature lineups . (That's not such an impressive feat when you consider that the latter category has only been around since 2001.) Somewhat more interesting is the fact that Up is only the second animated film to receive a best picture nomination, after Disney's Beauty and the Beast in 1991. An animated movie has been the highest-grossing film of the year at least a dozen times since the academy started handing out its awards. Yet no other cartoon—Disney, Pixar or otherwise—has ever had a shot at winning best picture.

Unless you count Avatar .

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Advertisement

According to a Hollywood Reporter article from 2008, the film (then in production) was slated to end up 60 percent computer graphics , with plenty of special effects and animated backgrounds in the "live action" shots. For comparison, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? —generally considered to be an animated film —consisted mostly of live scenes and backgrounds with animated characters drawn in . So why wasn't James Cameron's CGI-soaked epic also nominated for best animated feature? 

In a smart analysis of this question posted to RopeOfSilicon.com, Brad Brevet reviews the academy rules on what makes for an animated feature film : "A significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture's running time."

If you trust that Hollywood Reporter number from 2008—and ignore all the CGI backgrounds and special effects in Cameron's live-action shots—then Avatar would fail the 75 percent test.  But so would another film that was on the shortlist of possible nominees : Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel . As Brevet points out, only six of that film's characters were animated: Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and their female rivals, The Chipettes.

Avatar may not have a chance at winning best animated feature, but Brevet reminds us that it's all but guaranteed the Oscar for best visual effects. "Why is the CG in Avatar considered visual effects," he asks, "while the CG employed for a Pixar or DreamWorks film [is] simply considered animation?" 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.