Pixar’s latest film Coco is being endowed with so many awards, they have their own Wikipedia page dedicated to tracking them all. It’s not all good news though. The film’s dominance highlights a concern that the industry is disconnecting from audiences in a potentially damaging way.
Why Bob Lefsetz is Right
There’s a guy living in California called Bob Lefsetz. Despite never holding a siginificant position of power within it, Lefsetz is nonetheless one of the most influential people in the music business. His Lefsetz Letter is one of the most widely read and discussed both within and beyond the industry. I mention him because his diatribes on the current state of music are notoriously accurate and reflect a community alternatively embracing and repulsing progress and the march of technology.
A recent letter discusses the Grammy Awards; namely how out of touch and tone deaf they are with the consumers whom they purportedly serve and the culture they are supposed to reflect. The salient points are that the records and songs nominated and voted on by industry insiders, bear little or no resemblance to actual consumer listening habits. Bruno Mars won album of the year when Spotify’s listener charts prove that it has barely any actual traction. Awards shows are notorious for such examples of industries and groups patting themselves on the back for a job well done while consumers are (generally) left out in the cold or enjoying something completely different. Filmmaking is no exception and the Oscar’s have weathered every attempt to point out the general meaningless and irony of the evening to the general public.
Coco’s Cultural Impact (Or Lack Thereof)
What this has to do with Coco is quite simple. The film is racking up awards but public word of mouth is…surprisingly quiet. I got curious because not three years ago, Inside Out was seemingly inescapable. Critics, pundits, and consumers were all raving about it. Coco? Not so much. Sure enough, Google Trends paints a picture of two very different films:
Movie quality aside, have things changed that much in just a few years? The answer is yes! Big budget films rake in more money than ever, but fewer people see them than at any time in the artform’s history. The film is just not as popular as the praise heaped upon it suggests. The issue is further compounded by the fact that despite Coco’s 66 nominations and 43 wins, consumers cannot (as of writing) yet watch the film in a legally convenient manner. Lefsetz decries musicians and labels who withhold content from consumers used to receiving instantaneous gratification. Animation is no different.
Why Coco’s Awards Are a Problem
Coco’s slate of awards do not match its cultural impact. And this is the crutch of the issue because awards such as the Annies should be celebrating the diversity of the industry and reflecting at least partly what is viewed by the public as good art. With eleven wins from thirteen nominations, you would think that at least a few other nominees would get a look in given the number of films released last year. This is especially so given that the number and quality of films is much higher than even ten years ago.
As for the resulting publicity, audiences are rapidly fragmenting into independent films and alternative sources of entertainment like Netflix. They aren’t paying attention to the expensive marketing. Besides, there’s so much content out there today, consumers can afford to pick and choose; and they do! A gulf between what audiences are watching, and what is celebrated by the industry appears and grows.
Until the industry starts to better reflect consumer tastes and preferences, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. Just ask Bob Lefsetz; the music industry continues to push pop and rock when consumers overwhelmingly embrace hip-hop both on Spotify and platforms outside of industry control. It’s becoming a sideshow marginalized by consumers who don’t care what it or the people within it has to say. It’s struggling for relevance in a time when music has never been more relevant.
Animation doesn’t need to go down that road. Vibrancy within the industry is a sign of health and a benefit to all. Awards should remain relevant because they are one of the few vestiges of monoculture remaining. They concentrate focus on creative works and it would be a real shame if the animated ones descended into mere circle-jerks for the largest industry players ignorant of actual consumer trends.
Let this year be a wake-up call that films like Coco should be celebrated but not feted as the magnificent works they are not.