Disney spent the season taking a serious shot at Toy Story 3 becoming the first animated film in history to win the Best Picture award at this year's Academy Awards. The campaign centered on a serious of mock posters, with the cast of Toy Story 3 emulating Oscar-winning films that were somewhat unique (IE -- The Godfather part II -- the first sequel to win, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King -- the first fantasy film to win, Silence of the Lambs -- the first horror film to win, etc). Since they likely already have the Best Animated Film award more or less locked, why not go for the big prize? And, quite frankly, while its chances of taking home the big prize on Sunday are between slim and none, it damn well deserves to win. Not because it would be a groundbreaking achievement, the first animated film to win Best Picture, but because it is the best film of 2010... period.
The film has a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.8 out of 10. It's far and away the best reviewed picture of the year. It has grossed $414 million in domestic dollars and has scored $1.062 billion worldwide. While box office doesn't necessarily equal quality (re - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and/or Alice in Wonderland), Toy Story 3 scored a 3.76x opening weekend-to-final gross multiplier, indicating strong legs. That means audiences liked it, they told their friends and/or came back for repeat viewings. This 'family cartoon' was a more thoughtful and nourishing piece of entertainment than anything else this year. The gang at Pixar somehow fashioned a bitterly haunting Holocaust/Exodus parable while still remaining light on its feet, laugh-out-loud clever, and utterly charming. They completed their unofficial death/rebirth trilogy (along with Wall-E and Up) with style and capped off their signature franchise with a grace and dignity that deserves more than just a polite golf clap. Toy Story 3, was the most powerful movie of the year and deserves to be acknowledged as such.
More importantly, there is a weird catch-22 in the realm of popular entertainment. We constantly whine about the often low quality of mass-market films. Yet, when something comes along that bucks the trend, be it Casino Royale, The Dark Knight, or Toy Story 3, we refuse to place it alongside the more 'appropriate' Oscar bait material, declaring it unworthy by virtue of its original goal as populist entertainment. If we aren't willing to acknowledge when an action film becomes a work of pure art, when a comedy scores on all cylinders, or when an animated film puts live-action dramas to shame, what message are we sending to the studios? We ghettoize our mainstream motion pictures, treat them as less than worthy, and then sit back and wonder why so many of them don't even try to achieve a superior quality. When we thumb our noses at Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, we deserve Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
So three cheers for Disney for going after the big prize. There is certainly a risk, as voters may think that Toy Story 3 has a shot at Best Picture and vote for (the terrific) How to Train Your Dragon for Best Animated Film. It would be nice for for Oscars to actually award the Best Picture trophy to the actual best film of the year more than once or twice a decade. The less we stigmatize popular genres (animation, fantasy, etc), the less we'll be willing to tolerate sub par entries in those respective genres. As for those who bemoan that Toy Story 3 is just a kiddie cartoon, well it's not Pixar's fault that the live-action dramas can't keep up. Let's be honest, animated films have had a superior batting average to any other genre over the last several years, producing varied top-notch entertainments like Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Persepolis, Meet the Robinsons, Ratatouille, Up, Waltz with Bashir, and How to Train Your Dragon. Besides, the usual Oscar bait can have their shot next year. I seriously doubt that I'll be writing a similar article of this nature in February 2012 in praise of Cars 2.
For a look at my thoughts on the Oscar nominations, as well as the best, worst, underrated, overrated, and missed gems of 2010, click accordingly.