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What Happened with the 2017 Annies?

Posted in animation

How embarrassing! It’s my first year with a blog entirely my own, I posted my predictions for the winners of the 2017 Annie Awards, and they turned out to be very, very off. One of the hosts themselves called this year’s event weird on stage, and a variety of titles put out by studios that aren’t often mentioned took home a superb number of awards.

But I’m not here to make excuses – I’m here to figure out exactly why me, and so many of my friends who screamed in a chat along with me during our streaming party, were so far off the mark.

Let’s get the obvious mistake out of the way: Kubo versus Zootopia. Both films took home a lot of awards, as it should be, but in the end I was too focussed on the final visual presentation to realize that a group of voters with thorough understanding of the animation process would put equal weight on production, design, writing, and just how much work from every member of the team it took to create an entire world of talking animals. I have no bitterness about Kubo losing this one; Zootopia was equally deserving, and I’m just glad Kubo got credit where credit was due for its amazing artwork

Where being off gets real interesting, however, is the television and short-format categories. Google and Netflix took an unprecedented amount of categories for an award show that has often received criticism for Disney-centric nepotism an favoring traditional works. In retrospect, I should probably make more optimistic predictions; this is the industry I look up to and admire, after all, but my usual rule when making predictions for the Annies is that, in general, they tend to appreciate traditional works… and then this year happened. Dang. Years of the Annies playing it safe (2008 and 2014 specifically come to mind, but it’s been a general pattern) made it hard to imagine the show embracing experimental, artistically dangerous work like they did this year.

Sometimes.

The awards seemed to bounce between the two extremes this year. Some television shows seemed to win general categories due to artistic merit, even if their writing fell short. (My opinion on Adventure Time’s winning episode and, while I have yet to see it myself, a common criticism of Trollhunters.)

On the other hand, we have categories where very experimental works that threw out some basic sensibilities of filmmaking to take risky and rewarding new approaches won. And by that, I mean woah, Pearl won 3 Annie Awards even though traditional cinematography was thrown our the window. While managing to tell a coherent (beautiful, really) story where the viewer controls the camera at all times is incredible, I didn’t expect the voters to appreciate such a risk, even an incredibly successful one (It’s more than worth watching the film even if you lack a VR headset and have to click-and-drag the camera.), by a company that isn’t known for making films in the first place, in an awards show that is often accused of Disney and Dreamworks employees just voting for the project they worked on. (Say what you will about Piper beating out Pearl for best short, but I think Piper was a Disney/Pixar short that deserved to win based on merit, unlike Feast, which was enjoyable but humble when compared to The Dam Keeper.)

This year of the Annie Awards was probably a much-needed mess for prediction makers. It showed that while some nepotistic and “oooh that one looks pretty” voting may still be in effect at the Annie Awards, it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as pessimism from the animation fandom has lead it to seem. It’s time to go back to the drawing board, relearn the values of the animation community, and hopefully at least get half of them right in 2018.

In short, I greatly overestimated how much value Annie Award voters put into the sentimentality of it all, and that’s probably a good thing, because the less voters let sentimentality and nostalgia cloud their judgement, the more works that move the industry forward get brought into the spotlight.

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