When the Academy introduced its best animated feature category in 2001, it included a condition “that no award be made” in the event of a year without enough high-quality contenders. But what of a year in which an animated feature snags a best picture nom?

Disney-Pixar’s “Up,” which won the Oscar for animated feature, is only the second toon to find its way into the top picture category (the other being 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast”). It was a hard-fought battle for the house that “Toy Story” built, but one that could easily be repeated in the future, thanks to the top category’s expansion to 10 nominees.

Still, in light of 2009’s live-action competition, many feel that “Up” could have made the cut even in a five-slot race. According to “Up” director Pete Docter, “We look at these films as films. You want to affect people, and that’s the number one goal when we start putting these stories together. Even if it’s about bugs or monsters or fish or cars, we always look at them as real people who have real problems just like us.”

These days, as CG-heavy hybrid films such as “Avatar” blur the lines between live-action and animation, it makes sense that toons should compete alongside live-action features for best picture.

Animated films are consistently among the year’s best reviewed and highest earning pics. In 2009, Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” became the world’s top-grossing toon, with $884 million, while the animation-enhanced “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” matched the original’s $217 million domestic haul.

But 2009 also was noteworthy for the sheer number and variety of animated releases. With a record 20 toons in contention, the Acad expanded the category to five slots, covering techniques as varied as CG (“Up”), stop-motion (“Coraline” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) and hand-drawn (“The Princess and the Frog” and “The Secret of Kells”).

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