Why ‘Across the Spider-Verse,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ of Animated Films, Should Be a Best Picture Oscar Contender

Don’t tell me “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is merely a cartoon. It’s a visionary work that redefines what the animation medium can achieve, sitting alongside the handful of sequels such as “The Dark Knight” and “The Empire Strikes Back” that elevate their franchises by pushing them in surprising new directions.

On a personal level, this animated second installment of the web-slinging superhero is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing an accurate depiction of my life and culture on a movie screen – well, with a few fantastic elements added into the mix. That’s invaluable.

“Across the Spider-Verse” takes place a year after the events of the previous film with Miles Morales (a.k.a. Spider-Man) facing a new threat. Unfortunately, it’s one that causes him to interact with a new group of Spider-People from across the multiverse.

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So why did I respond so deeply to this superhero story? Like Miles, I’m made up of an exciting ethnic mix of Puerto Rican and Black parents brought together in the melting pot that is New York City. Neither of us possesses the acceptable amount of Spanish fluency that our fellow Boricuas require. Nonetheless, we have a weakness for fried platanos, as well as an appreciation for our heritage. Just hearing the word “bendición,” a standard greeting and farewell term used in Latino culture, used in “Across the Spider-Verse, ” filled my eyes with tears and pride.

But the movie isn’t only for Latinos. Its expansive heart and all-encompassing human story will allow viewers of any race, gender, or socio-economic background to resonate with Miles’ coming-of-age saga. Who hasn’t struggled to live up to their parents’ expectations or fallen in love with someone so effervescently cool, they seem forever out of our league?

Will all that translate into Oscars love? Well, the first film captured the Academy Award for best animated feature. But I think “Across the Spider-Verse” could go even further — if, that is, awards voters abandon their long-standing prejudices.

Too often in Hollywood, industry professionals will talk about movies like “Across the Spider-Verse” by saying: “It’s good, but it’s not an Oscar movie.” Unfortunately, those kinds of ridiculous qualifiers mean that instead of honoring the animated classics that have shaped so many childhoods, we’ve instead been inundated with an overabundance of war films, biopics and sprawling three-hour-plus epics winning best picture.

I’m not absolved. I’ve also contributed to this issue in the past. I was a reluctant convert to the awards season juggernaut that was “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” initially fearing it might be too rococo for staid Oscar voters. But times are changing.

Three animated movies have been nominated for best picture in Oscars history — “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) — all under the Walt Disney banner. And there have been more than two dozen worthy animated movies that should have been listed alongside them going back to 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

But could “Across the Spider-Verse” become the fourth animated best picture nominee and the first to take home the big one at the Academy Awards?

It has a chance. With Oscar-winning and nominated auteurs such as Guillermo del Toro (“Pinocchio”), Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Isle of Dogs”) and Charlie Kaufman (“Anomalisa”) exploring stories in animation and becoming vocal advocates for what it can achieve, it only helps the future of the medium. This conveys hope for more opportunities for the industry to see this as a serious art form as more respected filmmakers discover and explore its creative capabilities. Still, there could be misconceptions that “Across the Spider-Verse” doesn’t share the same ambitious visions as their live-action counterparts.

Look for “Across the Spider-Verse” to register in other categories. Composer Daniel Pemberton, who should have been nominated for his work on the first film, triple-dog-dares the music branch to overlook him again. Aurally, he’s throwing heat. I implore the technical branches, specifically production designers, editors, sound and visual effects members, to be afraid to consider the film’s other achievements. In a world where “Logan” (2017) and “Joker” (2019) managed to pick up adapted screenplay noms, scribes Lord, Miller and Dave Callaham give agency to Stan Lee’s comic book creation.

And yes, I know that the general population still has no fundamental understanding of what goes into directing an animated feature beyond telling the artist to draw something. Recalling the incinerator scene from “Toy Story 3,” director Lee Unkrich makes deliberate choices with imagery, color and music cues that puts the viewer through a gamut of emotions. We experience rage (Lots’o-Huggin’ Bear betrayal to not hitting the stop button), anxiety (the toys making little movement on climbing the fast-moving hill of garbage scraps), devastation (the toys’ decision to hold hands and accept their death fates) and utter satisfaction (the claw saves the day) — all of which happens in a four-minute sequence.

Oscar voters can witness another stellar example by directing trio Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, who know how to make us feel nearly every human emotion possible.

Gen Z and millennial moviegoers all have their favorite Spider-Men — Tobey Maguire (of the Sam Raimi films), Andrew Garfield (from the Sony reboots) and Tom Holland (of the current MCU/Sony collaboration) — but Miles Morales, voiced exquisitely by Shameik Moore, has cemented his place among his fellow web spinners. Likewise, his co-stars, like Hailee Steinfeld and franchise newbie Oscar Isaac, shine bright. But alas, there’s no Oscar for voice work…yet.

In the meantime, “Across the Spider-Verse” shouldn’t just be recognized as an exciting new comic book adventure. It’s also a work of art. One that has deep personal significance to me and, I’d bet, to you as well, regardless of your story.

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