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How Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Lampooned the Oscars’ Animation Controversy
How Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Lampooned the Oscars' Animation Controversy,The Oscars backtracked on its infamous animation misstep, and the category's presenters offered some surprisingly nuanced commentary on the medium.

How Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Lampooned the Oscars’ Animation Controversy

Guillermo del Toro's stop-motion Pinocchio adaptation won the 2023 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature after a year in which animated films received more critical attention than usual. Unfortunately, the ceremony's relationship with animation has not always matched the pedigree of its nominees. Besides the infamous quotes from anonymous Academy voters who continually claim not to have seen all the animated nominees, another key example is the controversial presentation of the award for Best Animated Feature in 2022.


The Academy drew criticism for implying animation was only for kids and barely tolerated by their disgruntled parents. One year later, the presentation for the same category may have slyly acknowledged the controversy. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt's double act poked fun at dismissive attitudes towards animation while also providing some thoughtful analysis of the medium. Here's why the 2022 presentation was so flawed and the extent to which the 2023 presentation rectified it.

When the Oscars Got It Wrong With Animation

In 2022, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was presented by Lily James, Naomi Scott and Halle Bailey. However, their controversial words were likely penned by the Academy's own team of writers. Bailey praised animated films as formative experiences for children, and James and Scott joked about kids forcing their parents to suffer through repeat viewings of their favorite animated movies.

In a different context, these comments could be seen as fairly benign. After all, there are great animated movies that are family-friendly affairs, from Aladdin and Shrek to Frozen. And their status as classic children's movies shouldn't undermine their brilliance or even their timeless appeal to fans of all ages. It's also fair to laugh and sympathize with parents who have listened to "Let It Go" countless times since 2013, including those who loved the movie but couldn't maintain their enthusiasm for it as long as their obsessed kids.

The problem was that it didn't seem appropriate to undermine the craft and skill of the nominees by casting the whole medium in such negative light moments before presenting an award intended to celebrate it. In the context of animation as a whole, even the positive comment about children's formative experiences came across as reductionist. That's not only because there are many great animated films made to connect with adult issues, such as Anomalisa and Flee (both having been nominated for the category, adding to the absurdity), but because some of the most iconic animated movies transcend shallow demographic boundaries, such as Prince of Egypt and Up. Animation has unlimited potential for all kinds of different stories, something that could never be determined from this dismissive-sounding, ill-conceived introduction.

Animation fans were outraged at the fumbled presentation. Few blamed the presenters — not just because they likely didn't write the speech but because the frustration was more directed at the institutional attitude it represented. The LEGO Movie co-director Phil Lord tweeted, "Super cool to position animation as something that kids watch and adults have to endure." Sony Animation's official The Mitchells vs. the Machines Twitter account even posted an image of its character Linda holding a sign reading "Animation is cinema." The Academy must have taken notice of the fallout, as the ceremony's 2023 writers (such as Agathe Panaretos, Dave Boone and newcomer Nefetari Spencer) took a decidedly different approach to the category's introduction the following year.

How the Academy Changed Course in 2023

When Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson arrived to present the award in 2023, Blunt jokingly insisted on getting the category over with as Johnson continually interrupted her to describe the magic of animation. Host Jimmy Kimmel had previously joked about how long the ceremony would be now that several technical categories had been reintroduced to the proceedings upon viewer demand, so it's possible that they were riffing on that. However, given the context of the previous presentation, it's easy to infer that the gag was also intended to address that controversy. Having Blunt act like she didn't care about animation could be seen as the Academy's parody of the 2022 introduction, a playfully self-deprecating mea culpa.

Johnson described animation as "Artfully telling sophisticated narratives," which even seems like a pointed counterargument to the implication that animation was just a distraction for kids. Most profoundly, however, Johnson observed that "Animation is the very definition of film." As Burt Fabelman explains in the opening scenes of 2023 nominee The Fabelmans, movies are just a series of images juxtaposed to create the illusion of movement. What is animation, then, if not the most creative, essential version of that process?

When Guillermo del Toro received his award for Pinocchio, he said, "Animation is ready to be taken to the next step," focusing more on the medium's promising future than its illustrious history. The Oscars introduce audiences to films they may not otherwise have thought to watch. That means the nominations present an opportunity to support the experimental animations that take the "next step" del Toro described. Whether animation fans believe the light-hearted performance was enough to declare the Academy's dedication to animation or not, it showed that the Academy could understand the power of the medium and why it's respected by so many.