As of this writing, the world is watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie stomp on record after box office record. The film is nothing short of a phenomenon, and it shows no sign of slowing down. While audiences are enjoying the movie, the one group that isn’t as impressed are the critics, who have given a consensus that the movie is, shall we say, “fine.” Lest you think that critics just simply don’t like animation though, they have been singing the praises of another animated film in theaters called Suzume. Directed by acclaimed director Makato Shinkai and distributed by anime juggernaut Crunchyroll, Suzume is the film that critics wish audiences were turning out to see.

Reading reviews of Suzume is nothing short of an onslaught of positive ink, with them not only being some of the best of Makato Shinkai’s career but some of the best reviews for any movie this year. Audiences who have shown up for it also comment how much they love the film, and if Mario wasn’t so popular the film might have gotten a bigger audience (there is certainly some crossover appeal). The film is so good that those who have seen it believe that it should be the front-runner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar at the Academy Awards. Despite this acclaim, the chances of a nomination appear to be slim, and the reasons are complicated.

RELATED: Why Does this Studio Ghibli Film Have No English Dub?

The History of Animation at the Oscars

Walt Disney & Shirley Temple

The history of animation and the Academy Awards can be traced back to the 1930s when Walt Disney revolutionized the field of animation with the introduction of synchronized sound and the first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was a critical and commercial success, and it paved the way for many more animated feature films from Disney and other studios. In 1932, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced the category of Best Animated Short Film, which was created to recognize the artistry and technical skill of animated short films.

In 1991 Disney's Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film nominated for Best Picture (although it lost to The Silence of the Lambs). As the years passed, more and more animated films gained critical and commercial success, including The Lion King, Chicken Run, and Toy Story, yet none of them were nominated for Best Picture (and rarely were nominated in categories outside of Best Song and Best Score). In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced the category of Best Animated Feature, recognizing the increased importance of animated films in the industry. The first film to win the award was Shrek, a computer-animated comedy produced by DreamWorks Animation.

Since then, the Best Animated Feature category has been won by a diverse range of films, including traditional hand-drawn animation, stop-motion animation, and computer animation. While there is some controversy that the award makes it more difficult for animated films to get into the Best Picture race, it does ultimately bring attention to animation in a way that the Academy hadn’t paid it before. Sadly, the award has other controversies, and some of those controversies are why Suzume’s journey for an Oscar is going to be an uphill battle.

How Many Anime Films Have Been Nominated for Best Animated Feature?

Sophie and Howl in Howl's Moving Castle, Chirio and No Face in Spirited Away, Nahoko and Jiro in The Wind Rises

As of this writing, 7 anime films have been nominated for Best Animated Feature. They include:

  1. Spirited Away
  2. Howl’s Moving Castle
  3. The Wind Rises
  4. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
  5. When Marnie Was There
  6. The Red Turtle
  7. Mirai

Of those seven films, all but one of them were produced by Studio Ghibli (The Red Turtle was a co-production between them and several French companies). Of those movies, only Spirited Away won the award in 2002, becoming the first (and as of this writing only) anime film to win the award. Why is that though when many of those movies listed above seem like worthy award winners?

The Oscars are a Closed Industry

academy awards Oscars trophy photo

When you look at that list there are some other things to account for. Of the Studio Ghibli films that were nominated, three were distributed by Disney in America while one was distributed by Sony. Two of the Ghibli films were released by independent distributor GKIDS, but were nominated after Studio Ghibli had become a known name to the Academy. Mirai is the only independent non-Ghibli anime to be nominated in this category. Other acclaimed anime like Your Name, Weathering with You, Metropolis, Paprika, A Silent Voice, and Belle might have been critically acclaimed, but they came from Japanese studios that were unfamiliar to most American’s and were distributed by independent studios.

This is important because the Academy Awards is, at the end of the day, a club. Members are invited by the Academy, they work in Hollywood, and thus they tend to favor Hollywood productions. When you look at the category as a whole, Pixar has received 17 nominations in this category with 11 wins. Disney (Pixar’s parent company) themselves have received 13 nominations and 4 wins. Throw in that Disney distributed Spirited Away, and Disney has won this category 16 times out of the 22 times the awards has been given out. Needless to say, Disney certainly has a strong grip on this category, with DreamWorks, Paramount, Sony, and Netflix winning the years Disney did not. So clearly there is a Hollywood bias with the Academy.

Oscar Campaigns Are Expensive

one piece money

Another reason anime tends not to win is that you need to campaign to likely win an Oscar. With hundreds of movies to watch a year, you aren’t getting into the club unless you do some baby kissing. Disney, DreamWorks, and Sony all have the deep pockets to print ads, run commercials, and Academy screenings. A pre-Sony acquired Funimation doesn’t have millions of dollars to pour into an Oscar campaign for Your Name (which grossed about $5 million in America). And Eleven Arts…heck, they’re just happy that their limited release of A Silent Voice got people to buy tickets in the first place. Unless you get Hollywood actors to talk up your film like they did for To Leslie, the studios will out-campaign anime every year.

RELATED: How Disney Messed Up a Key Marketing Ad for Spirited Away

Most Voters Don’t Watch Animated Films

Kaguya in The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya

One of the open secrets of the Best Animated Feature category is that most Academy members are not voting for the films in this category. Sure, various member do select films to be nominated, but once nominated the Academy as a whole is pretty indifferent to the award, and usually let their kids vote for the category. Two famous quote by an anonymous Academy member by The Hollywood Reporter had this to say about how they voted in the category several years ago:

I only watch the ones that my kid wants to see, so I didn’t see [The] Boxtrolls but I saw Big Hero 6 and I saw [How to Train Your] Dragon [2]. We both connected to Big Hero 6 — I just found it to be more satisfying. The biggest snub for me was Chris Miller and Phil Lord not getting in for [The] Lego [Movie]. When a movie is that successful and culturally hits all the right chords and does that kind of box-office — for that movie not to be in over these two obscure freakin’ Chinese f**kin’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw? That is my biggest b*tch. Most people didn’t even know what they were! How does that happen? That, to me, is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

Another voter had this to say:

I saw all five. I like to sit down with [the young people in her family] and watch them. We all loved Big Hero 6 and there was no discussion, no argument, no nothing. The kids watched that one three times — what does that tell you?

You read quotes like that, and it paints a grim picture of voters who do not care about animated and are more than happy to follow the kids lead on this one (which may explain why of the 22 films nominated, none of the winners were for adult films).

In Conclusion


Suzume is a great film. It not only deserves to be a lock for Best Animated Feature, but should also be considered in other categories like Best Score, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. Sadly, with the way the Academy is set up, it will be lucky to land in Best Animated Feature. Crunchyroll has committed to a full-blown Oscar campaign to the film, and that is certainly a step in the right direction. It will need more though. It will need to be a surprise box office hit (something that seems unlikely as Mario continues to stop all over the competition). It will need adults to take it seriously. Sony will have to push it hard (they may be unwilling since they have a homegrown film in competition: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse).

Suzume is one of the best films of the year so far and hopefully the Academy will recognize that with a Best Animated Feature nomination. Yet the film has an uphill battle to climb. If no nomination materializes in January…well, you may have some as ideas as to why.

Suzume is currently playing in movie theaters. Check your local listings.

MORE: Suzume Review