20 years after getting its own Oscar category, animation is still an afterthought

This trio of nominees symbolized a battleground not only in animated cinema but also in American cinema of the early 2000s. Disney was the undisputed champion of the medium for decades and enjoyed a lavish renaissance in the 90s which has seen its critical and commercial influence grow to new heights. Jeffrey Katzenberg, former president of Walt Disney Studios from 1984 to 1994, was rebuffed by many in the company with the feeling that he was taking too much credit for films like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘La Petite Mermaid”. When Katzenberg didn’t get the promotion he was looking for, he left Disney and decided to top them by co-founding his own studio. DreamWorks SKG, which he created alongside David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, has made no secret of his desire to attack Disney. Katzenberg founded a new animation division and soon began recruiting major talent from Disney.

DreamWorks Animation went to work on lavish 2D titles like “The Prince of Egypt,” but also released Aardman’s “Chicken Run” and invested in 3D work, in part to keep up with Pixar. Indeed, their first computer-generated film, “Antz,” is such a blatant rip-off of “A Bug’s Life” that it was hard not to see Katzenberg’s work as a declaration of war against his former bosses. If that was too subtle for some, then 2001’s “Shrek” screamed their intent from the rooftops.

Loosely based on a novel by William Steig, “Shrek” was very important when it was released. Initially considered a non-priority for the company (Katzenberg was confident that ‘The Prince of Egypt’ would be nominated for Best Picture and animators who didn’t pull their weight on that film were ‘demoted’ to production” Shrek”), “Shrek” became the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. It premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, the first animated film to do so since 1953. Critics loved it, too, with Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum calling it “a kind of palace stunt, a scream of challenge and a passage to adulthood”. for DreamWorks.” Virtually every reviewer noted that Shrek was a scathing parody of Disney, ruthlessly poking fun at Uncle Walt’s fairy tale tropes and immaculate society image, with a villain who looked a lot like to Disney CEO Michael Eisner and a name that sounded like “f**kwad.” It felt like a long overdue dismantling of the corporate powerhouse that had defined what family cinema should look like for generations and the public adored him.

Of course, “Monsters Inc.” was considered the best movie, a more sophisticated storytelling effort with Pixar pushing the boundaries of what 3D animation could do even further. It also made more money and cemented Pixar’s reputation as the true heirs to the Disney crown after that company suffered a decline in quality in the early 2000s. Still, it seemed inevitable that “Shrek” would fight for the Oscar. If the Academy had been hesitant to create an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for fear that Disney would win year after year, seeing “Shrek” take home the very first prize must have been a relief.