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New animation rules already obsolete?

Recently rewritten Acad regs may be outmoded

Bet on it: There will be rats in this year’s Oscar race.

Reviews were so strong for Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” which scored an unheard-of 96 on Metacritic’s 100-point scale, that the toon could even be a factor in nonanimated categories. Buried at the end of “Ratatouille’s” credits was a quality-assurance guarantee that read: “100% genuine animation. No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film.”

Them’s fighting words in a category where the rules were recently rewritten to address the evolving definition of animation, now phrased as a film “in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique.” The new wording was just vague enough for Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf” to qualify. For that film, flesh-and-blood thesps recorded all of the characters’ movements, which were then adapted by animators and visual effects artists into a completely virtual 3-D feature.

Understandably, Zemeckis isn’t eager to pigeonhole “Beowulf” in any category. According to producer Steve Starkey, “I believe that to call our performances ‘animation’ is both a disservice to all the animators that work in the animation art form as well as a disservice to the actors who worked on our movie, who lent the performances and brought our characters to life. So clearly we fall somewhere else, and I don’t know where that is.”

But chances are high that the Academy will accept it as animation, especially after nominating “Monster House” (which used similar techniques in a photorealistic fashion) last year.

The issue suggests that the animated feature category, just 7 years old, may already be limiting itself with obsolete definitions of the craft, especially as studios experiment with live-action/toon hybrids such as “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Enchanted” (the latter wasn’t deemed animated enough for Disney to submit).

Semantics aside, “Beowulf”now faces tough competition for the category’s three slots. DreamWorks is pushing both “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third,” while Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie” may tap into voters’ fondness for the ubiquitous sitcom family.

Family-friendly toons may dominate the box office, but adult-skewing animation tends to fare better with the Acad. That bodes well not only for “Ratatouille” and “Simpsons” but also a modest hand-drawn pic like “Persepolis,” about an Iranian girl who emigrates to Paris, which could grab the “Triplets of Belleville” slot.

David S. Cohen contributed to this report.

FAST FACTS

Animation Branch

Members: approx. 330

Governors: Jon Bloom (chair), John Lasseter, Carl Bell

Key dates

Nov. 1 Deadline for Oscar entry forms

Nov. 16 Film prints due

Contenders shortlist

Alvin and the Chipmunks

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon

Movie Film for Theaters

Bee Movie

Beowulf

Meet the Robinsons

Persepolis

Ratatouille

Shrek the Third

The Simpsons Movie

Surf’s Up

Tekkonkinkreet

TMNT

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