What will Lightning McQueen wear on the red carpet? Will Mumble get a dance number? How will the Beverly Hilton ballroom be able to accommodate a Monster House? These are all critical questions now that animated features get their own category at the Golden Globes.

“It used to be that every few years, you would see one animated film, and many years you saw none, but that’s different today,” says Judy Solomon, longtime member and former president of the HFPA.

Solomon writes about film for Maariv, one of Israel’s major newspapers. “There are so many animated films now and audiences just love them so it was time for this,” she says.

In previous years, animated features were eligible for a slot in the musical or comedy category.

But last year, the HFPA voted to establish an animated feature film category for the 2007 kudocast. Eligible films must be 70 minutes or longer with no more than 25% live action. The category is limited to three nominations per year.

“It used to be that the best animated features could hope for was a best song or best sound or something like that, but this really gives prestige to animators and animated features,” says director John Lasseter, whose Disney-Pixar project “Cars” is a leading contender for the Globes’ first toon trophy. (Additionally, Lasseter’s “Toy Story 2” earned a 2000 Golden Globe Award in the comedy/musical film category.)

“For a long time after I directed ‘Toy Story,’ I would get asked in interviews when I was going to direct a real movie, meaning one that wasn’t animated, and I think having this category says these movies are real movies and an art,” he adds.

Adds Rob Coleman, animation director for Lucasfilm Animation: “It immediately brings more attention to animated films. And any filmmaker likes to have more exposure and more recognition and the respect of your peers.”

The addition of another high-profile award also impacts animation marketeers.

“In our business, it’s a question of how things can be used in advertising or leveraged at retail, and a nomination or a win can be something that lives beyond the year that the award is given, because you’re always the winner from that year forward,” says Kelly Sooter, exec VP and G.M. of the family category at Paramount Home Entertainment.

“There are only a few films nominated and there’s only one winner, so I would say there’s a credibility factor,” she adds. “And credibility from a mom’s perspective is something we really want, because she’s the one who gives a DVD her stamp of approval for her family.”

Hype aside, the award is another indication that animation — after some 100 years — is a serious and substantial art form.

“The legitimacy has always been there, but this shines a light on the art involved in creating these movies,” says Cecil Kramer, a producer on “Flushed Away” and an executive producer on “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” “When you get the recognition from your peers that ‘Wallace & Gromit’ got with an Oscar and a BAFTA Award, it’s like they’re celebrating the four or five years and the hundreds of artists it takes to make an animated film.”