Animation: A look at the category’s inaugural year for the HFPA

Golden Globes Countdown

This year, the HFPA said “yes” to animated pics and “no” to talking animals — sort of.

Whereas the Academy has only once nommed a toon in Oscar’s best picture category (“Beauty and the Beast”), the Golden Globes have considered eight animated features for the comedy/musical trophy, spanning the medium’s full range of styles: traditional (“The Little Mermaid”), computer-generated (“Shrek”) and stop-motion (“Chicken Run”).

Now, the HFPA is giving toons a chance to contend for their own prize, nominating “Cars,” “Happy Feet” and “Monster House” in the category’s inaugural year.

“If you look at the 10 top box office films of the year, three or four of them are animated films. It’s obviously a major film category,” says HFPA prexy Philip Berk. And if animation should cool in the marketplace, the org will go back to considering toons for slots in the comedy/ musical category.

Yes, the penguins do talk — not to mention sing and dance — in “Happy Feet,” but it’s significant that the other two selections deviate from 2006’s trend toward wise-cracking critters.

The Pixar entry, “Cars,” takes place in a parallel universe populated entirely by automobiles, which director John Lasseter crafted as a Route 66-inspired slice of hot-rod Americana. And Sony Pictures Animation’s “Monster House” features human characters terrorized by a demonic domicile that makes “Poltergeist” look like child’s play.

But just how predictive are the HFPA’s picks? Considering this is the category’s first year, there’s no track record for Oscar accuracy and, with 16 animated movies in contention for Oscar, that race is likely to feature five nominees this year, which means there are still two slots unaccounted for.

“I’m sure that the three we nominated will definitely be on the Academy’s list of five. I would be absolutely astonished if they weren’t,” says Berk.

A better arbiter in years past has been the animation guild’s Annie Awards, whose nominees, like the Oscars, are selected by a committee of animation industry insiders, and whose winner has correctly forecast the Oscar every year since the Academy’s animated feature category was introduced. For its five slots, the Annies’ ASIFA-Hollywood picked the three Globe-nominated toons, along with Sony’s “Open Season” and DreamWorks Animation’s “Over the Hedge.”

At the Globes, the Pixar imprimatur on “Cars” and the breakout box office success of “Happy Feet” (which has so far dominated critics groups’ awards) have made those two pics front-runners.

It’s a good sign for Sony, which just launched its fledgling animation division this year, that “Monster House” nabbed the wild-card third spot.

But it could be tough for “Monster House” to trump either Lasseter or “Happy Feet” director George Miller, who both have history with the Globes, since “Toy Story 2” and “Babe” each won the comedy/musical trophy in their respective years.

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