Why has The LEGO Batman Movie been snubbed for an Oscar?

After the surprising omission of The LEGO Movie, it seemed certain that The LEGO Batman Movie be nominated for an Oscar – only it wasn’t. Why is the Academy snubbing the LEGO movies?

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the full list of nominees for this year’s Oscars ceremony was announced yesterday. That wouldn’t usually be of much concern to LEGO fans, but in 2017, the LEGO Cinematic Universe was bolstered by two additions – The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO NINJAGO Movie. Unfortunately, neither is to be found among the list of nominees. That’s no surprise for the disappointing NINJAGO Movie, but TLBM has been hailed by critics. So why, like The LEGO Movie before it, has it been snubbed?

Typically, animated films may find themselves nominated in a handful of technical categories, like The LEGO Movie’s sole nomination for Best Original Song (as it turned out, everything was not awesome, as it still lost out to Selma’s “Glory”). But the prestige category for these movies has always been, and always will be, Best Animated Feature. And neither The LEGO Movie nor The LEGO Batman Movie has found itself among the esteemed company of those nominated for the award.

To understand why, it’s important to first know how the Oscars work. Initially, nominations are registered from all 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences – hence the ceremony’s official title, the Academy Awards – who can only nominate within their own field; a director is not able to nominate a song, for instance. Then, a complicated method for calculating the nominees, which involves first- and second-choice tallies, produces the final list of five for each category, or up to 10 for Best Picture.

LEGO Oscars proved more popular than LEGO movies at the Oscars.

Once the nominees have been determined, it’s a simple case of the Academy members voting for their favourite in each category. In recent years, however, the entire process has been subject to massive criticism. In 2012, of those 6,000 members, just six percent were non-white, and only 23 percent female. That’s a serious lack of diversity for a 21st century awards ceremony. Meanwhile, in most categories, voters don’t even need to have seen all the films they’re voting for. It stands to reason that to pick the best of five in anything, you need to know exactly what the competition is. But with the Oscars? Not so, apparently.

Ironically, Best Animated Feature is one category where the opposite rings true, and according to Variety, it’s one factor that may have weighed against The LEGO Movie, and therefore could have impacted The LEGO Batman Movie in the same way. Every contender for a Best Animated Feature nomination must be screened, and as only members who work in the animation branch can nominate those films, it generally comes down to which film they like best versus what’s popular, as can happen in other categories.

So while TLBM may have met with critical – and to some extent commercial – acclaim, Academy members won’t be looking to nominate it purely on that front. Its 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and $312 million box office returns, against a budget of $80 million, don’t mean much to the animation pros who make those decisions. Instead, it’s judged entirely on its own merits, and there are generally certain unspoken standards that an animated movie must uphold to enter consideration.

For instance, handmade animation is always more highly valued than computer-generated animation, so a nomination for Loving Vincent – the first ever fully painted animated feature – was almost inevitable. Likewise, The Breadwinner’s hand-drawn animation style likely trumped The LEGO Batman Movie. And Pixar’s legacy, including its eight previous Oscar wins for the likes of Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3, practically ensured Coco a place. But those final two spots? They’re taken by The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, two other non-Pixar, CGI-driven movies – neither of which was received as well as The LEGO Batman Movie.

So, what’s the deal? The spin-off may not have been as worthy of a nomination as The LEGO Movie, but at least in 2014 the actual nominations could be explained fairly easily. But The Boss Baby? Yeah, we’re absolutely stuck on that one. And most of Twitter, it seems, agrees.

If you can think of any reasonable explanation for TLBM’s absence at the 90th Oscars ceremony, feel free to chime in in the comments below. And if you’re an Academy member reading this, perhaps it’s time to have a good long think about what you’ve done. Maybe in an empty mansion somewhere, with only a tiny plastic butler and unlimited lobster thermidor to keep you company.

Chris Wharfe

I like to think of myself as a journalist first, LEGO fan second, but we all know that’s not really the case. Journalism does run through my veins, though, like some kind of weird literary blood – the sort that will no doubt one day lead to a stress-induced heart malfunction. It’s like smoking, only worse. Thankfully, I get to write about LEGO until then. You can follow me on Twitter at @brfa_chris.

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