Toon race heats up with five possible contenders

It looks like the best picture race isn’t the only one that’s growing ­­ — the animated feature race is shaping up to have five contenders this year.

Under rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, there must be at least 16 eligible films in a year to expand to five noms (at the other extreme, if fewer than eight enter, the category disappears). This year, 20 films were submitted for consideration. Since many of the toons have not yet opened, and since the Academy has not yet viewed all 20, it’s possible some will be disqualified — but it’s highly unlikely that five or more will be KO’d.

The 20 submitted features are:

  • “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
  • “Astro Boy”
  • “Battle for Terra”
  • “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
  • “Coraline”
  • “Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
  • “The Dolphin – Story of a Dreamer”
  • “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
  • “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
  • “Mary and Max”
  • “The Missing Lynx”
  • “Monsters vs. Aliens”
  • “9”
  • “Planet 51”
  • “Ponyo”
  • “The Princess and the Frog”
  • “The Secret of Kells”
  • “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”
  • “A Town Called Panic”
  • “Up”

The entries represent a wide range of approaches — from hand-drawn to computer-generated to performance-capture animation — and include a record six pics released in 3D. Also surprising is the number of stop-motion submissions, with four of the films produced in the painstaking style the Academy has often favored in the past (in 2003, two of the three noms were stop-motion pics).

The animation race has featured five nominees only once before (in 2002), and toon pros and Oscar prognosticators alike have been keeping close tabs on the number of submissions this year in hopes of crossing the 16-pic threshold. Disney and Fox even went so far as to submit films they were quite certain would never be nominated in order to improve the chances of their stronger contenders (the Mouse House gave straight-to-DVD “Tinker Bell” prequel a one-week qualifying run, and Fox plans to do the same with “The Dolphin”). At the same time, several last-minute indie additions, including Spanish-made CG entry “The Missing Lynx” and Irish 2D toon “The Secret of Kells,” appear to put the category past the 16 point.

But they can’t breathe easy quite yet. Seven of the 20 have not yet had their L.A. qualifying runs: “Alvin,” “The Dolphin,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Planet 51,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Secret of Kells” and “A Town Called Panic.” And for a film to quality, a print of it must be submitted to the Academy by Monday.

In the past, some pics (such as 2006’s “Arthur and the Invisibles”) have been disqualified because the live action-toon mix did not contain enough animation, for example. And contenders can also be disqualified on the grounds of quality: The nominating committee must still view all 20 entries and rate them with a number between 6 and 10; only those pics receiving an average score of 7.5 or more will be deemed eligible.

Films submitted in this category also may qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including best picture, provided they meet the requirements for those categories.

The 82nd Academy Awards nominations will be announced Feb. 2 and statues will be presented March 7.

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