Could Toy Story 3 Win Oscar's Best Picture?

It may seem early to ask it, but some already are, so let’s address it. After spending the past week being lavished in critical praise, and after a weekend of huge box office results, does Toy Story 3 stand any chance of winning Oscar’s best picture? It’s already the best reviewed movie of the year, in fact one of the best all time, and that has to count for something. Even our own Katey Rich, who seemed to like it less than most, called it the first must-see movie of the 2010. Does that mean it’s a must-nominate for the Academy awards? Maybe.

If Up Was A Contender, Shouldn’t Toy Story 3 Be?

Two years ago we wouldn’t have considered this as a possibility. After all Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were just as beloved as Toy Story 3 and they never got a nomination. In fact animated movies almost never get nominated for any serious awards, the lone exception being Beauty & the Beast’s Best Picture nod in 1992. But last year Up got nominated, becoming the second animated film in Oscar history to receive that honor. And Up, while a great film, never received the kind of universal praise Toy Story 3 has. The consensus seems to be that Toy Story 3 is an even better film. Doesn’t that make it a shoe-in?

Ten Nominees Widen The Field

Working in Toy Story 3’s favor is the new, wider, Best Picture nomination field. Last year the Academy Awards upped the total nominee count from five to ten, which in theory, means a wider variety of movies will now get a shot. Last year it allowed movies like District 9 and yes, Up to get recognition when otherwise they might not. That certainly seems to increase the chances that Toy Story 3 could get nominated, but being nominated doesn’t really mean it has any chance to win. Though we had ten Oscar nominees this year, it was generally acknowledged that only five of those nominees were legitimate contenders, and Up wasn’t one of them.

Best Animated Feature Gives Voters An Easy Out

It doesn’t help that in 2001 the Academy added a new category for Best Animated Feature. Had that category existed when Beauty and the Beast got nominated, it’s possible that it might never have made it into the Best Picture category at all. While intended to give extra recognition to animated movies, what the Best Animated Feature category really does is give awards voters an out. Some may, and by all accounts have, avoided nominating animated movies for Best Picture because this gives them a way to recognize great animated filmmaking without taking up one of the valuable slots in the overall Best Picture category.

The Ongoing Bias Against Animated Movies

Pixar doesn’t make kids’ movies, they make movies which also happen to be as enjoyable for kids as they are for adults. They’ve been doing it since 1995, yet far too frequently their work is dismissed by the cynical as nothing but “cartoons” for kids. It’s a bias which has long extended to all forms of animation, and even though animation studios like Disney and Pixar have struggled mightily over the years to break through that glass ceiling, it persists. Unfortunately wide acceptance among elitist Oscar voters for movies like Up and Beauty and the Beast is more the exception than the rule. It’s part of why the first two Toy Story movies were ignored by Oscar voters and even though Up’s nomination last year seems to indicate things may have changed, don’t be surprised if they haven’t.

Box Office And Oscar’s Desire For Mainstream Appeal

Yet in spite of whatever bias the Oscars may have against animation, in recent years they’ve attempted to make some concession to public opinion. The new, ten-nominee format is in part a response to the snubbing of popular movies like The Dark Knight. The Academy will nominate their usual crop of movies no one has ever seen, but they’re also looking to curry favor with the general public by mixing in a few popular films people love. In light of last year’s win by the mostly unseen Hurt Locker, that may be true more than ever. To do it they’ll need at least a couple of nominees that are both financially and critically successful. In 2010 so far, there’s really been no other choice that fits those criteria but Toy Story 3.

Early In The Year Leads To Early Disappointment

The sad truth is that Oscar voters have short memories. There’s a reason so many of the year’s best films end up crammed into the last two months of the year. Potentially award worthy movies are desperate to be fresh in the mind of those nominators, and so they make it a point to hit theaters right before those voters hand in their ballots. It’s rare that anything released as early in June is remembered by the time it comes to casting those ballots. While it’s unlikely Toy Story 3 will be entirely forgotten, the further away those voters get from it, the more their memory of how much they loved it will fade, and possibly be supplanted by whatever they saw last Tuesday.

The Return Of The King Factor

Toy Story 3 is the third in what is almost without question one of the greatest trilogies ever put to screen. While the Academy isn’t normally in the habit of awarding sequels, they did it in 2004 for Return of the King. After snubbing the previous two Lord of the Rings installments, the win for ROTK was seen in part as sort of a make-up Oscar. A way of awarding the whole trilogy all at once, and acknowledgement of the cumulative excellence of Peter Jackson’s work. Since the Toy Story franchise is the best reviewed and perhaps one of the most groundbreaking movie series of all time, doing the same for it could make a lot of Oscar sense.

Josh Tyler