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Oscars: Will New Animated Voting Procedures Hurt Smaller Films?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced annual rule and eligibility changes this morning, but while most of the attention was on a shift in the documentary race that would render multi-part series like last year’s winner “O.J.: Made in America” (or, say, Netflix’s “Five Came Back”) ineligible, what struck me was a tweak elsewhere.

Going forward, nominations in the animated feature category will be open to anyone in the Academy willing to join a nominating committee. That puts it closer to the British Academy model, and counter to the process of nearly every other feature field, where members of the separate branches are charged with determining nominations. (Animated nominees will also be decided via preferential ballot now, like the best picture category, rather than a numerical scoring system.)

But things have always been a little different in this category; previously, the committee was supposed to be a 50/50 composition of animators and members from other branches, though that process has always been opaque. And it frequently yielded a low voter turnout, which is what the Academy is hoping to change with this shift.

Part of the problem has always been the inclusion of short films in the animated feature branch. One source says talks have been underway for years to split them up, and that may well be on the horizon. But for now, the organization is simply opening things up to a wider cross-section and allowing members interested in voting to opt in, crossing their fingers that it will mean more people will vote.

Hopefully that won’t turn the category into a corporate wasteland, though. The big studios have no doubt been annoyed by scrappy indies that have found purchase in recent years because of the die-hard traditionalists that permeate the branch. But films like “My Life as a Zucchini,” “The Red Turtle,” “Boy and the World,” “When Marnie Was There,” “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” “Song of the Sea,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “A Cat in Paris,” “Chico and Rita” — these keep the animated feature category fresh and, to use a popular buzzword, diverse.

Along the way, these underdogs have boxed out major plays like “Finding Dory,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Sing,” “Minions,” “The LEGO Movie,” “Monsters University,” “Rio,” “Cars 2,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Megamind,” “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

Will the studios come roaring back? I’ve heard they lobbied for these changes and I’ve heard they didn’t, but either way, they could ultimately benefit from them. More people certainly have a potential say in the process now.

Nevertheless, those with skin in the game are keeping a positive outlook. Many of those scrappy indie nominees were distributed by New York-based GKIDS, and Eric Beckman, the company’s founder and president, remains encouraged.

“You have to want to be part of the committee and that’s generally a good thing,” he says. “When we first came into this business, people said we had to do huge advertising, but we sort of forged our own path on the belief that a good film will find its way, and I still think that’s true. And I’d say we’re fortunate enough to be established enough that I hope whoever is on the committee will consider GKIDS films.”

Films in the hunt for animated feature recognition this year include DreamWorks’ “The Boss Baby,” Warner Bros.’ “The Lego Batman Movie” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” Fox’s “Ferdinand,” Disney/Pixar’s “Cars 3” and “Coco,” Universal/Illumination’s “Despicable Me 3,” and GKIDS’ “The Breadwinner” (pictured).

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