Cartoon race features more adult fare this year

For the first time in its three-year history, the BAFTA feature animation race looks like a proper contest. “Wall-E” starts as a hot favorite, but with “Persepolis” and “Waltz With Bashir” both in the running, BAFTA voters face a tricky question about whether animation is really just, you know, for kids.

In the past two years, there were no serious rivals to “Ratatouille” and “Happy Feet.” This year, it’s hard to see how “Wall-E,” which enraptured high-brow critics, would lose the crown to other kid-friendly pics in the race, such as “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!,” “Kung Fu Panda” or even the British-made “The Tale of Despereaux.” But “Waltz With Bashir” and “Persepolis” pose a very different challenge.

How do you even start to weigh two foreign-language arthouse movies about Middle Eastern politics against a cute robot (albeit in a most thoughtful story) from Pixar? Serious adult dramas typically trump family entertainment in kudo races, but animation is one category where multiplex values often rule.

Artificial Eye is giving “Waltz” a real chance, both in the animation and the foreign-language category, by mailing screeners for only the second time in the distrib’s history. Likewise, Optimum Releasing is mailing “Persepolis” (which did not meet BAFTA’s release-date deadlines last year) to voters.

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