Pete Hammond

Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sent out a reminder confirming the 5 PM PT November 1st deadline for 2010 Best Animated feature entries. At this point there do not appear to be enough entries to trigger five nominations rather than the more common three but there is still time, brother. What wasn’t mentioned in the release is the number that have been received so far at the Academy. A really good clue though is a  letter I have learned that was  sent late last week updating members and potential members of the Animation committee (the ones doing the voting)  and informing them that 14 entries had been received but that it was still possible to reach 16, the magic number needed to expand the category. Last year a flurry of last minute entries flooded the Acad offices and Oscar ‘toon watchers were hoping the same might miraculously happen this year. Academy rules state that in any year with 8 to 15 eligible entries there will be three nominations allowed but if it’s 16 or more there will be five contenders, as has happened twice (including last year) since the  category was created in 2001 when Dreamworks’ Shrek became the first winner.

Dreamworks Animation has only won once  since then (for releasing 2005’s Wallace & Gromit in The Curse Of The Were Rabbit) and is back in the game big time this year with its March release, How To Train Your Dragon but would also love to see its upcoming  Megamind (Nov 5) in the hunt as well, not likely if just three ‘toons are invited to the party. Disney/Pixar which has won the award for 3 years running (Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up) is going for 4 in a row with Toy Story 3 but would also like their Thanksgiving release, Tangled to grab a spot, also not as likely with just 3 nominees. If Dragon and Toy Story are the 800 pound gorillas in the race, and there are no last-minute contenders to bump this thing up to five nominees, that leaves just one slot for all the rest,  an impressive list that also includes Universal’s big hit and lone serious Oscar contender, Despicable Me; Sony Pictures Classic’s The Illusionist from an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati;  Zack Snyder’s Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole and the live action/ani combo’d Yogi Bear, both from Warners; DreamWorks Animation’s Shreak Forever After; Bill Plympton’s Idiots And Angels;  the Japanese anime,  Summer Wars; Lions Gate’s Alpha And Omega;  Disney’s  straight-to-DVD Tinker Bell & The Great Fairy Rescue which got a qualification run at the El Capitan in order to prop up the chances of Tangled getting in; and a wonderful underdog (literally) from New Yorker Films, My Dog Tulip, a refreshingly literate more-traditional looking ‘toon based on J.R. Ackerley’s touching 1956 memoir of his loving 16 year relationship with his German Shepherd rescue, Tulip. With award-worthy splendidly acidic voice-over narration by Christopher Plummer as Ackerley and the late Lynn Redgrave (in her last credited film role) this one could be the irresistible sleeper to dash the hopes of all the majors’ higher profile entries angling for that prized third slot.

An interesting aspect affecting the ‘toon race this year is that the two perceived front runners are also waging visible – and viable – campaigns for Best Picture too.  Only two animated films have ever made that grade: Beauty And The Beast in 1991 when there was no feature ani category and Up last year when the new 10 nominee rule took effect.  At their lavish DVD launch party recently, Dreamworks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg pointed out to me the three best widely reviewed films of the year to date (if you go by RottenTomatoes scores) are  Toy Story 3 (99% fresh), How To Train Your Dragon (98%) and The Social Network (97%). HTTYD producer Bonnie Arnold says, “it is nice to be recognized by the animation community itself,  but it’s also nice to be recognized as a film. It’s just a good movie that’s in competition with other good movies no matter what the medium, whether it is live action, animation or whatever. There are 10 nominations now. I genuinely feel it is one of the best pictures of the year.”

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich also makes the case for Best Picture and not just because it grossed over a billion dollars making it the most successful animated movie of all time. “We look at our films like every other film. Yes it is animated and we’re working in a specific medium but our  approach is very much the same as live action – production design, costume design, casting of actors, scoring, editing – we’re making movies,” he said.

Of course they first have to overcome perceptions by many in the Academy that the Animated Feature category is enough recognition for this art form, and that particularly includes the large and influential actors branch.

Bottom line is whether it turns out to be 3 or 5 nominees this year in the animated feature race and with 10 nominees for Best Picture, Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks are looking to take their battle of the ‘toons to an even bigger stage than ever.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.