In the history of the Academy Awards — which celebrate their 91st ceremony this February — only three animated movies have ever managed to break into the race for Best Picture: Beauty and the Beast in 1991, Up in 2009, and Toy Story 3 in 2010. As the fervor around it grows, will the buzzy Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse be the next animated film to grab the brass ring?
The fact that animated features have largely been shut out of the Best Picture race has as much to do with the perception of animation as being meant “for kids” — or otherwise not as lofty an art form as its live-action counterpart — and the relatively recent introduction of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001.
Even therein, the category has largely been dominated by Disney and Pixar (only four films have bucked that trend), meaning the cards are stacked against everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood superhero, even before reckoning with the way that summer blockbusters — read: superhero movies — generally fail to come into awards contention.
Spider-Verse’s win for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes, however, may signal the tide turning in its favor. The win establishes the film as one carrying significant awards season weight, as it beats out Incredibles 2 and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s penchant for Disney’s animated films.
The movie has also been building up momentum through word of mouth — Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins is among the film’s biggest fans — as well as other not-insignificant wins, including taking Best Picture and Best Animated Feature in the Utah Film Critics Association. The idea that Spider-Verse could snag a Best Picture Oscar nomination seems to be less and less of a distant possibility.
Certified hype: SPIDER-MAN #IntoTheSpiderVerse is magnificent! In being the best SPIDER-MAN film ever, one of the best films this year period & best tentpole since EDGE OF TOMORROW! The things I felt watching this Hats off to @pramsey342 and Miami’s own @philiplord & crew— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) December 23, 2018
Some bones have been made about the fact that having two superhero movies in awards running may undercut Spider-Verse’s chance at breaking out of Best Animated Feature, given awards’ aversion to the genre as a whole. Black Panther’s chances at securing a Best Picture nomination seem to grow more likely by the day — the Academy’s scuttled attempt to introduce a category for “popular films” also indicates a shift toward considering “popcorn” films — and as a live-action feature rather than an animated movie, it’s already a more likely contender. That the films aren’t really operating in the same sphere or with the same toolset (and are culturally important for different reasons) doesn’t seem to factor into the equation at all.
Still, the buzz around Spider-Verse makes it just as much of a force to be reckoned with. From praise for its distinct art style, to its electric soundtrack and score (which composer Daniel Pemberton has dissected on Twitter), to being called revolutionary for the genre, love for the film has been universal. Power duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (responsible for the Oscar-snubbed The Lego Movie, and producers on Spider-Verse) have also taken to social media to drum up support not only for the film in general, but also for its Best Picture chances, as has co-director Rodney Rothman.
This is the only thing that makes sense https://t.co/0onropBN6v— philip lord (@philiplord) January 1, 2019
Hey, wouldn't be the first movie with a talking pig to be nominated for BP. As always, George Miller got there first.— rodneyrothman (@rodneyrothman) January 1, 2019
It can’t be denied that the film is terrific, with no attention spared to detail and a seemingly direct tap into the cultural zeitgeist. As such, the question seems to be whether or not the film can overcome the thinking ingrained in Academy voters with regards to animated and/or superhero films, which is, in itself, an issue that grows more potent as the genres shift and expand.
The fact that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has laid out an entirely new blueprint for animated films and the superhero genre is worthy of recognition. As the Academy begins to change as well, taking action to increase diversity and bring fresh blood into the pool, maybe this February will find Spider-Man swinging away not only with a Golden Globe, but with an Oscar as well.