List of animation contenders pared down

HOLLYWOOD — Nine pics were declared eligible Wednesday for the first new Oscar category in 20 years: feature-length animation.

A committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will pare the list down to three nominees. The contenders are “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Osmosis Jones,” “The Prince of Light,” “Shrek,” “The Trumpet of the Swan,” “Waking Life,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and “Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu.”

The toons will be viewed by a 100-member screening committee chaired by Academy governor Tom Hanks. Members of the committee — half of them animators, half members of the Acad’s other 13 branches — will determine the nominees to be announced Feb. 12 with the other Oscar contenders.

Acad prexy Frank Pierson has suggested to the committee that they consider all elements of the pic — not just animation work, but the script, performances, score and other elements.

Films submitted in the animated feature category may qualify for Academy Awards in other areas, including best picture, provided they meet the criteria governing those categories.

For decades, the term “animated film” referred to traditional cel animation. The contenders this year prove the definition now is much broader.

The nine pics offer a wide range of styles, with only two completely cel-animated: “Polo” and “Swan.” Computer animation is repped by “Neutron,” “Monsters” and “Shrek.”

“Fantasy” is a photorealistic computer-animated toon, while “Osmosis” blends live-action sequences with cel animation. “Waking Life” uses a computer-generated method called interpolated rotoscoping; co-writer/co-producer Krishna Shah described the style of “Prince” as fusion, a combination of the Japanese manga style with India’s Ravi Varma, a classical Indian painter.

Under the Acad’s rules, the animation Oscar will be presented only in years in which at least eight films are eligible for the award.

Many in the media have portrayed this year’s contest as an inevitable showdown between “Monsters, Inc.” and “Shrek.” Certainly those are by far the highest-grossing of the nine films, with domestic hauls of $212 million and $267 million, respectively. But B.O. popularity doesn’t always translate to Oscar attention.

Come Oscar day, the frosh nod will be presented to “the key creative talent most clearly responsible for the overall achievement,” normally one individual, on behalf of the production. No more than two statuettes will be presented.

Pics were chosen from a submissions pool of 13, which included the German pic “Help! I’m a Fish,” “Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade,” “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust” and “Atlantis,” which Disney withdrew from the race. (The Mouse House did not return calls Wednesday seeking an explanation.)

“Neutron” and “Marco Polo” made the cut on the condition that the toons bow in L.A. before Dec. 31. “Neutron” is slated for a Dec. 21 release; “Marco Polo” opens Dec. 22.

An Acad spokesman would not comment on the last-minute “Atlantis” pullout, but he told Daily Variety that “Help! I’m a Fish,” was cut from the list because the pic is not yet slated for a U.S. release, which is one of the key stipulations for consideration. He also explained that “Jin Roh” was released in France too early and “Vampire” never submitted official screen credits forms.

The 74th Academy Awards will be held March 24 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

(Timothy M. Gray and Dade Hayes in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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