Animated Shorts Academy Awards 1931-1969. A Look and Discussion Thread.

So here’s a little project that’s come to mind. Back in the golden age of animation, when shorts were put in theaters before movies, there were a select few that were that were chosen for the Academy Awards starting for the 1931/32 ceremony.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back and every Sunday I’ll put up a year of the awards with the winner and the nominees, and we can discuss if the winner deserved it or one of the nominees…or if you would suggest a different short entirely.

We start with 1931/1932 (that’s how it’s listed on Wikipedia.

The winner that year was “Flowers and Trees” from Disney (the first cartoon in Technicolor)

Other nominees were “It’s Got Me Again” from Warner Bros.

And…in a case of going against yourself (this would happen often in the early days): Mickey’s Orphans from Disney.

So yeah. Short list, and it wouldn’t be until the 40s when we’d get more than 3 or so nominees…but that’s for a few Sundays from now. For this week, let’s start the discussion with the inaugural winner and nominees.

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I’ve been waiting my entire life…

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I’ve picked Best Shorts for a list long ago. But I didn’t distinguish between animation, live action or documentary, so for 1931-32 I went with Laurel & Hardy’s “The Music Box” (D: James Parrott - USA)

I didn’t name any nominees and can’t remember what else was out there that was eligible, but of the Oscar animation nominees, yeah, they went with the better of the 3, as it’s maybe a little more groundbreaking in that it anticipates -in some ways- future Disney features, like Fantasia.

The other 2 are minor slapsticky stuff you’ll see all the time over the years.

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I gotta say, Disney deserved all of those early awards. The studio basically wrote the book on filming animation. The use of a multiplane camera was pure genius. It showed just how much could be done with animation.

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I’m sure it wasn’t as impressive to audiences of the time as COLOR, especially since the technique already had been in use for years, but the rotoscoping of Cab Calloway’s dancing in Fleischer Studios’ Minnie the Moocher ought to have at least earned some consideration from the Academy. Beginning the cartoon with some live-action footage of Calloway drives home just how well they captured his moves.

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It took WB a good decade to catch up.

And Koko makes a cameo, cute

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Fleischer studios as a whole got the shaft during their run. First example when they actually got nominated will be in 1936 (maybe, have to watch the other two shorts on that year’s ballot).

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One thing they had against them was Disney’s exclusivity rights to Technicolor. Cinecolor was the best they could do for a bit.

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Going back a year before the Academy gave out their first animations awards, and I went with Bimbo’s Initiation for my 1930-31 short’s winner.

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Oh! Those were also the years when Ub Iwerks struck out from Disney and tried to start his own studio, making Flip the Frog shorts for MGM. But the Academy was probably never going to give a nod to something as risque as The Milkman.

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He would also be responsible for a little short that was featured in a MST3K movie.

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The Iwerks studio is also where this guy got his foot in the door of the animation biz.

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Week 2 (day late because I was doing stuff yesterday).

We move on to the 1932-1933 season. Once more, only three nominees. Once more, Disney wins. Once more, Disney runs against itself.

The winner was Disney’s “Three Little Pigs”…which I may argue only won because of color, despite a rather dark joke in the background in the brick house about the “father” of the pigs.

Runner ups were the Mickey short “Building a Building” (had to use DailyMotion as the YouTube versions change the audio)

And a sort of fight against self even if Disney didn’t own the rights anymore, the Oswald short “The Merry Old Soul” (warning, some racist caricatures here):

My favorite thing about Three Little Pigs is the pictures on the wall of the brick house. They’re things like sausage links and ham and they say things like “Uncle Arthur.”

And people think that Disney couldn’t do dark humor. XD

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Disney did a lot (A LOT) of dark humor in the early days. Most of the cartoons from that era had some out there stuff in them. (Just wait until Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny hit the scene). Not sure if they didn’t think kids would be watching, that the kids wouldn’t get the humor if they were watching, or if the animators just didn’t care.

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Oh boy does this thread hit a raw nerve. Disney of course dominated this category at first, but then MGM went on a winning streak with clearly inferior material. They bottomed out with “Concerto Cat”. The story is Warner’s had finished “Rhapsody Rabbit” and sent the film to Technicolor for processing. The finished product was accidentally returned to MGM, who copied the cartoon, sometimes frame-for-frame, and was awarded the Oscar for their efforts. Anyway, that’s the story I’ve bought into and I’ll never get over it.

“Rhapsody Rabbit” went on to be the first cartoon broadcast on Cartoon Network. Here’s a comparison some smart and wonderful fan put together:

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“Three Little Pigs” also had a world-wide smash hit song, which they were still protecting when “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” was made.

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Yeah, the song thing was pointed out to me in another board where I’m doing this. This idea will come up again with the 1942 winner (spoiler: it’s one of the ones Disney won that you WON’T find on Disney+ )