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What an Animated Oscar Race?

Rick DeMott ponders the Oscar race -- who are the shoo-ins, who has a chance and who doesn't have a prayer.

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The battle is set and it looks like the Oscar winner will either be Shrek 2 or The Incredibles. Shrek 2 © DreamWorks Pictures. The Incredibles © 2004 Disney Enterprises Inc./Pixar Animation Studios. All rights reserved.

The cherished 11 for the animated Oscar race have been announced. Now its time for us in the industry to debate the final three and eventual winner. So therefore, I say, let the discussion begin.

Pretty much anyone can look at the list and know that Shrek 2 and The Incredibles are shoo-ins. Up until the release of Pixars latest, the film to beat was Shrek 2, which boasts the impressive stat of being the third highest grossing film in U.S. box office history at more than $440 million. Globally the film ranks seventh, bringing in more than $883 million. Then you add in home entertainment sales and the giant green ogre of a film has piled into the coffers of Spielberg & Co. more than a billion dollars. One adds in merchandising and you start to get dizzy. So what does this all mean in the Oscar race? The Academy loves to reward a good film that succeeds.

That being said The Incredibles fits the bill as well. The reviews have been stellar. The Wall Street Journals Joe Morgenstern said this is the picture to beat for best film of the year. Disney and Pixar are following the same feeling and are pushing the flick for best picture as well. Golden Globes may be a lock, but Oscar may be a building this film wont be able to leap in a single bound. Remember, Toy Story 2 won the Globe for comedy, but got bubkis from the Academy, except the inevitable best song nomination (or previously known as an animated films consolation prize).

So the winner will most likely be one of these two films. The campaigning will begin once the nominations are announced and it will be a matter of marketing and voter perception. Outside organizations will launch ads claiming that Mr. Incredible doesnt deserve to be called a superhero because he doesnt bleed. Others will claim that Puss in Boots is a flip-flopper one moment he wants to kill Shrek and the next hes the big guys best friend. Nine states will pass laws banning ogre/human civil unions and others will use The Incredibles as proof towards tort reform. But I digress into the land of tongue-in-cheek.

I highly doubt the campaigns for Shrek 2 and The Incredibles will be as bitter and divisive as the U.S. presidential election, but I do foresee some bickering in regards to the wild card film. Can I call it the Nader nomination? The field is pretty wide open in terms of the film that will grab the third slot. And Im sure whomever gets the nod will have people complaining why another film didnt.

So lets look at the contenders. Unlike last year when Jester Till came out of left field, there are no real surprises on the list. Blazeway and Pentamedias The Legend of Buddha and Maxmedias Sky Blue (also known as Wonderful Days) were already on the radar as 2004 releases. But has anyone seen them? Likewise, there arent any glaring omissions like last years decision by DreamWorks not to enter Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas into the running. The only omission of note is the absence of Samuel Goldwyn-released French 3D feature Kaena: The Prophecy, which was left off the list because off Academy rules regarding foreign films being entered by their country of origin.

So now lets go by studios. First, the old school studio synonymous with animation Disney along with the new school studio synonymous with animation, Pixar, have The Incredibles as their best shot for the award. Disneys other two contenders are Disneys Teachers Pet and Home on the Range. Both films have little hope of making the final three. Both were released in the beginning of the year with little fanfare, despite being generally well received by people who saw them. With the mega-push behind The Incredibles, these films will be left behind in superhero dust.

Yet, wouldnt it be nice if Home on the Range did get a nod. A farewell salute to original 2D animation at Disney. We can wish upon a star cant we?

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With two strong contenders for the third nomination, DreamWorks could defeat itself in having Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Shark Tale cancel each other out. Ghost in the Shell 2 images courtesy of Go Fish Pictures. Shark Tale © DreamWorks Pictures.

Like Disney, DreamWorks has the other lock with Shrek 2, but it also has two other very strong contenders in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Shark Tale. The studio seems to be pushing Ghost in the Shell 2 and Shark Tale equally. The Japanese import has the critical acclaim and Shark Tale has the box office success. As for Ghosts chances, critically acclaimed imports havent done that well at Oscar time. Other than Spirited Away, no other Japanese film has been nominated and only one other foreign film Triplets of Belleville. Ghost in the Shell 2 is very anime, and though anime is popular with the youngsters, will Academy voters bite? As for Shark Tale, the tone and humor is very Shrek-like, so will voters want two of the same thing? Plus, only Disney has been able to pull off more than one nomination in the same year.

With that said, its up to the other studios to steal the final nomination from DreamWorks. Warner Bros. has two contenders with Cliffords Really Big Movie and The Polar Express. Cliffords looks like an entry only to make sure that the Animated Feature category will go in effect. (WB also had the foresight not to even enter Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie into the competition.)

So Warners is putting its marketing might behind The Polar Express. With big names like director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks attached, this film gets built in buzz that Ghost in the Shell 2 could only dream for. So there are a couple factors in play here. Buzz, box office and performance capture.

Buzz is good for the film and the source material is revered. In some circles, the film and Hanks are being talked about for award nominations in non-animated categories. However, its lackluster opening box office performance gives a few extra points in favor of Shark Tale, which also has big name stars creating buzz. So what it really comes down to is whether Academy members will be creeped out by the performance capture.

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If The Polar Express creeps too many Academy members out, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie could sneak in and make a stand for 2D animation. The Polar Express © 2004 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.

Critics ranging from the L.A. Times to CNN have already panned the film as a remake of The Night of the Living Dead. Another major factor is Zemeckis previous statements that the film isnt animated. He makes it clear that he directed Hanks, who performed the roles. The producers are also pushing the film in the visual effects category. Considering that the WB felt to enter it in the animated category and extensive animation had to be done to bring the characters and non-human elements to life, Zemeckis words could come back to haunt him more than Death Becomes Her.

So with Ghost in the Shell 2, Shark Tale and The Polar Express having hurdles to overcome on their way to the final three, Paramount may sneak in and steal it away with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Im serious folks think Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The Academy likes good films that are popular. Everybody loves SpongeBob. He could be the Helen Hunt of toondom, making a successful transition from TV to film. It would also be a safe nomination as well. The Academy went with Treasure Planet over Bill Plymptons Mutant Aliens, Neutron over Waking Life and Brother Bear over Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfather. Give them too many challenging or questionable choices and they may pick the simple sponge. Films like Spirit, which got nominated in 2003, represent the good-natured, traditional perception of what animation is supposed to be.

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The other thing that Paramount has in its favor is that it doesnt have to divide its attention between more than one film. It tried to squeeze Team America: World Police into the category, because the Academy rules mention puppets, but the governing board cut the strings on that idea and showed that without them those foul-mouth marionettes arent that animated. So if Paramount really wants the nomination, they just have to go out and fight for it.

But not to be neglected by an emphasis on the features, the Animated Short category seems to be as certain as last years win for Finding Nemo. Chris Landreths Ryan has been snatching up prizes all over the globe and seems destined take home the golden guy. The other contenders are Mike Gabriels Lorenzo, Sejong Parks Birthday Boy, Pjotr Sapegins Gjennom Mine Tykke Briller (Through My Thick Glasses), Georges Schwizgebels The Man Without a Shadow, Greg Holfelds Get in the Car, Arthur des Pins The Crab Revolution and Alexander Korejwo, Caroline Leaf and Perez Lucs Suite for Freedom.

But, this is all speculation. Well know the results come Jan. 25, 2005, when the Academy announces the nominees. In the end, whats really a true statement in the Animated Feature and Shorts category is that its just nice to be nominated.

Note: Of the 11 films to have received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature five have been 3D and six have been 2D.

Rick DeMott is managing editor of Animation World Network. He recently contributed to a coffee table book on the history of animation for Flame Tree Publishing, entitled Animation Art. Previously, he served as the production coordinator for sound production house BadaBing BadaBoom Prods and animation firm Perky Pickle Studios. Prior to that position, he served as associate editor of AWN.

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