Underdogs to be feted at Annies kudosfest

Event spotlights underrated projects

Although it was announced earlier this year that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences will finally be awarding an Oscar in the feature animation category in 2002 (if eight or more titles are eligible to be nominated next year), industry animators will always have a special fondness for the annual Annie Awards, presented to toon players by ASIFA-Hollywood.

The 28th edition of this intimate awards ceremony will be held Saturday in Glendale’s historic Alex Theater.

However, despite the impending addition to the Oscars Awards, ASIFA-Hollywood prexy Antran Manoogian is not concerned about the state of the Annies. According to him, they are still the creme de la creme in the animation field.

“As an organization that promotes and advances the art of animation, we think it’s great the Academy is recognizing animated feature films,” he says. “When you consider the breadth and scope of the Academy, it is a natural and logical step that they are taking, and it can only add to the betterment of animation.”

Two of the feature films with the biggest number of nominations this year are DreamWorks’ “Road to El Dorado” which totaled nine mentions — including ones for directing, character animation, writing and voice acting — and Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 2” which ranked in with eight noms of its own.

“We make films to entertain,” says “Toy Story 2” co-director Lee Unkrich. “And while I am thrilled with the response ‘Toy Story 2’ has received from the public, it is especially rewarding to receive accolades from our peers at ASIFA-Hollywood.”

Commenting on the Oscar alterations, Unkrich says: “Winning an Oscar for feature animation will clearly be a crap shoot due to the nature of rules. While it is long overdue and extremely positive that the Academy is recognizing our work, it is frustrating to think that a great film can get overlooked if animation has a slow production year and the category is not instated.”

This year ASIFA-Hollywood will bestow 24 statuettes covering areas from feature films and TV programming to commercials, homevideos, electronic media, and short subjects/special projects.

Top contenders, aside from “The Road to El Dorado” and “Toy Story 2,” are “Fantasia 2000” with five nominations, and “Chicken Run,” and “Titan A.E.,” each with three.

Competing for the daytime TV prize are “Recess” (Disney), “Angry Beavers” (Nickelodeon), “Batman Beyond” (Warner Bros.), “Warner Bros.’ Histeria!” and “Mickey Mouseworks” (Disney). Primetime competition is also fierce with “The PJs” (Imagine Television/Will Vinton Studios), “Futurama” (Curiosity Co./Fox TV), “The Simpsons” (Gracie Films/Fox TV), “Dexter’s Laboratory” (Hanna-Barbera) and “Spy Groove” (MTV) all in the running.

The event will also hand out juried honors that include a technical achievement award that will go to “Walking With Dinosaurs”; the June Foray Award will go to Linda Simensky; and the Winsor McCay Award will be shared by animator Norman McCabe, composer Hoyt Curtin and talent Lucille Bliss. The Special Achievement in Animation Award will go to Robert Clampett Jr. for “Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition,” and certificates of merit will be presented to Jerry Beck, Bob Miller and Mark Zavad.

A complete list of winners will be announced in Daily Variety the week of Nov. 13.