Toon category is already highly animated

The live-action awards race has been slow getting started, but the toon category is already highly animated. There are plenty of contenders but, as in live-action, also plenty of questions.

A key query is how many contenders there will be for Oscar. In all the hoopla over the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ best-pic changes, many overlooked the tweaks to the toon consideration. Now, in any year with eight to 12 animated features, either two or three of them may be nominated. When 13-15 toons are released, a maximum of four may be nommed; with 16 or more, a maximum of five.

It’s been a strong lineup so far, with Disney-Pixar’s “Cars 2″ as of today joining DreamWorks Animation-Paramount’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” Paramount’s “Rango,” Fox’s “Rio,” Disney’s “Gnomeo and Juliet” and Weinstein’s “Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs Evil.”

Toons for the rest of the year include Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” (July) and “Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods” (fall); DWA-Par’s “Puss in Boots,” Sony’s “Arthur Christmas” and WB’s “Happy Feet 2″ (all in November).

That’s 11 clear toons, and there are at least five added films with questions. According to AMPAS rules, “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time.”

Talks are ongoing how to classify Paramount’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn,” because it involves motion-capture. The Steven Spielberg pic opens in December through Sony and Par, but bows two months earlier overseas. Many are confident it will be classified as animation, since so much of what is seen onscreen is animated.

The mo-cap question also is a factor in Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms.”

Universal’s “Hop,” “The Smurfs” (Sony, July) and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip Wrecked” (Fox-Regency, December) blend live-action and animation. They will have to meet AMPAS’ quota of animation and the rulings will mean the toon category could feature anywhere from two to five contenders.

Some of these are contenders in categories beyond feature toon, such as script, music, etc. And a key question, of course, is: Will a toon also score in the best pic race for a third consecutive year — and is it possible the best-pic group this year could include more than one animated title?

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