This Year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar Race is the Most Fascinating of the Year

By: Dylan Hysen


This year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar race is between two films with starkly differing approaches to mental illness. It’s remarkable that the category with films typically aimed at children features the only nominated films this year about this topic. In one corner, the favorite in the category, Inside Out, personifies emotions to show differing contributors to things like depression, and our mentalities in general. In the other, Anomalisa takes a cynical, grounded view of day-to-day life, employing an incredibly unique narrative device to show how disorders can effect people’s perspectives.

Personally I think Anomalisa is heads and shoulders above Inside Out in terms of quality. Inside Out is too simplistic with its literal personifications, too seldom focusing on any profound points about people’s mental states and getting bogged down in an unrelated, stale narrative. Meanwhile Anomalisa is close to a masterpiece, portraying a specific mental illness from one person’s perspective in an incredibly creative and profound way.

But my main point here isn’t to argue for one film over another. Yes I think Anomalisa is better, and yes Anomalisa is more directly focused on mental illness while Inside Out attempts to explore many aspects of our minds (in addition to discussing depression). But the commonality between both films is that both are animated, and both discuss mental illness and our mental states in general in unique ways that only animation can.

These two films tackle mental illness, one of the most taboo aspects of our society, while all the eight  Best Picture nominees do not. This shows not only the obvious- that animated fare can be about serious topics, but also that animation is capable and is broaching serious topics that live action films aren’t. And they do it in ways it would be impossible for live action films to do. Inside Out personifies the mind of a young girl, showing the interplay between emotions to comment on how various emotions contribute to aspects of our minds, including mental illness. This would be obviously be impossible to show as uniquely and clearly with live action. Anomalisa features a narrative device with characters’ voices in order to show, again clearly and uniquely, how the disorder effects the main character’s perspective. Both of these would be impossible with live action, and both are incredible ways to portray the films’ narrative.

Inside Out and Anomalisa make for the most clear argument in favor of animation as a serious, unique, critically legitimate medium that I’ve ever seen. There is such a bias against animation as a serious film and television medium, and one needs only to look to these two films to instantly disprove that bias.

And then there’s When Marnie Was There, a third film in the category, and another that deals with this topic. It’s extremely subtle, but the main character in the film is struggling with depression at a young age (codified as “asthma” in the film, a realistic burying of the topic in Japan) and is sent to the countryside to deal with it. Marnie may even be the best portrayal of mental illness in the category, arguing that it’s not necessarily something to be “treated”, it’s just an aspect of our lives that we have to live with and find meaning in life with regardless. The main character in the film Anna begins the film unhappy and ends more contented after developing a deep and romantic bond with another girl and after gaining an appreciation for the beauty of our world. It’s the one of the most subtle and realistic portrayals of how many people deal with their own mental states, and is one of the best messages on the topic I’ve seen from film. And yes I’m reading a lot into the film that is not immediately apparent from the narrative, but this film also encourages more than a superficial understanding of film’s narratives and themes.

How can a category filled with films about such a serious, under-discussed topic not be treated with the utmost legitimacy? And more importantly than this specific category or the Oscars in general, how can a medium filled with films that go where live action films don’t, in ways that live action films can’t, not be seen on as on an equal level as their live action counterparts? Just watch Inside OutAnomalisa, and When Marnie Was There to see the legitimacy of animation.

Dylan is a software developer from the DC area who hosts the Overly Animated podcast discussing everything animation.


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