×

Category sparks animated debate

Toon kudo not always a sure thing

In only its second year of existence, the category of animated feature is offering up one of the hottest Oscar races, with consideration ads in toon buff magazines and heavy PR activity already whipping up the waters.

Part of this could be 2002 being a rich and varied year for animated films. As opposed to 2001’s largely digital sweep, this year has seen a return to traditional animation with DreamWorks’ “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”; Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch”; and Japan’s “Spirited Away,” dubbed and released by Disney in the U.S.; and Paramount’s “The Wild Thornberrys Movie,” among others.

On the pixilated side of the contenders’ pool are “Ice Age,” which finally put Fox Animation on the map after five wobbly years, and “Jonah: A Veggie-Tales Movie,” from FHE Pictures (Artisan). Meanwhile, Disney’s “Treasure Planet” is a mix between the two techniques, right down to the character of John Silver, who is animated in 2-D but with 3-D cyborg limbs.

No sure thing

Another reason for the early push could be that, unlike most other Oscar categories, the existence of the animated feature kudos is not automatic. The category must be recommended to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board of governors by the shorts and animation branch.

Last year the rules mandated that a minimum of eight films had to be submitted before the category could be triggered. But after realizing that a studio could theoretically veto the category’s existence by choosing not to submit its films, the rules were changed.

Starting this year, the category is allowed to move forward simply through the release of eight or more animated films in qualifying theatrical runs. “The ‘threshold of eight’ is the minimum requirement,” says Jon Bloom, chair of the short films and animation branch, “but on top of that we’re charged with looking at the films that come out and evaluating the quality.”

Eight films can trigger three noms while a minimum of 16 qualified pictures could lead to the category’s first five-nominee slate, based on the judgment of the branch committee.

Weighing heavier than the subjective judgment of quality, however, is the question of what, exactly, constitutes an animated film. Sony has fought hard to include “Stuart Little 2” as a contender, to the howls of purists who feel that it is not an animated film, but a live action-special effects hybrid.

Open season

Still, the language of the official Academy rules, which define an animated feature film as one that contains “a significant number of the major characters animated, and in which animation figures in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time” leaves room for judgment and interpretation.

In a year when even such limited-release long shots as Bill Plympton’s ultra-indie “Mutant Aliens,” and the Japanese imports “Metropolis” and “Escaflowne” are out there vying for consideration, the contest promises to be, well, animated.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content