Oscar Watch: Animation

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Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E" and DreamWorks/Paramount's "Kung Fu Panda" have been critical, audience and boxoffice darlings since their summer releases, making each a near shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. The feature that might capture the third nomination is less clear, though there are a number of worthy contenders.

Surprisingly, there are several animated films that could have been submitted to the Academy for consideration but weren't: Warner Bros.' "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," Universal's "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" and Fox's "Space Chimps." Had they been submitted, the number of eligible films would have topped 15 and brought the total potential nominees to five. Why weren't they submitted? The studios are mum and animators are still scratching their heads.

Check out the contenders beginning on the next page.



"Bolt" (Disney)

Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams

Boxoffice: $138.4 million

The art of urban painter Edward Hopper and 1970s cinematography were two major influences behind the look of "Bolt." That accounts for the painterly mien of urban scenes and a desaturated color palette, combined with such signature 1970s effects as lens flare and blooming.

Oscar odds: Everyone agrees the film delivers. It's a commercial crowd-pleaser, and Disney magic might pull this one out of a hat. It doesn't hurt that it's already garnered a Golden Globe nomination alongside "Kung Fu Panda" and "WALL-E."



"Delgo" (Freestyle Releasing)

Directors: Marc F. Adler, Jason Maurer

Boxoffice: $695,000

"Delgo" has been in the works for years, the output of Fathom Studios' indie animation studio in Atlanta. It's the first animated feature for both the directors and studio.

Oscar odds: Kudos must be given to an indie animation house pulling off a feature -- and one with an A-list voice cast at that -- but lack of buzz and a late release probably make this a no-go.



"Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" (Fox)

Directors: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino

Boxoffice: $297.0 million

Early designs of Horton gave the elephant a small mouth until actor Jim Carrey came on board to voice the lead character. Horton's mouth expanded -- and his physical actions grew larger -- inspired by Carrey's signature expressiveness.

Oscar odds: The film has a fabulous voice cast and the street cred of Dr. Seuss and longtime Pixar animator Hayward. "Who" knows?



"Dragon Hunters" (Peace Arch)

Directors: Arthur Qwak, Guillaume Ivernel

Boxoffice: $549,804

First a comic book series, then a short-lived TV series produced by Paris-based Futurikon, Qwak says it's "'Tom and Jerry' meets 'Lord of the Rings.' " Using proprietary software, the film was created in a speedy 18 months.

Oscar odds: With no awareness, this one doesn't have a chance.



"Fly Me to the Moon 3D" (Summit)

Director: Ben Stassen

Boxoffice: $32.5 million

Director Stassen's company nWave has produced eight Imax shorts, screening in museums and other institutional settings.

Oscar odds: When pigs "fly."



"Igor" (MGM/Weinstein Co.)

Director: Anthony Leondis

Boxoffice: $27.6 million

Another rare independent animated feature, "Igor" was born at Paris-based Sparx Animation Studio, which has been a resource for Walt Disney Animation.

Oscar odds: Slim to none.



"Kung Fu Panda" (DreamWorks/Paramount)

Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

Boxoffice: $631.9 million

Animators rave about the title sequence -- created by outside company Shine -- which was a clever hybrid of 2-D and 3-D elements that unfolded horizontally, like a Chinese scroll. For total authenticity, a Chinese calligrapher and a native Chinese speaker at DreamWorks made sure every character and "chop" was dead-on accurate.

Oscar odds: A definite place among the three nominees and a strong contender for the Oscar.



"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (DreamWorks/Paramount)

Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath

Boxoffice: $460.5 million

Creating the expansive African savanna was such a challenge that DreamWorks wrote its own software to create clumps of grass and strategically place them in the environment, giving the film a believable look, and then rendered untold numbers of blades without crashing the computers. The film also features so many crowds that DreamWorks established a department to manage "background animals." It took 30 million hours of rendering time to bring it all to life.

Oscar odds: The film is holding up amazingly well at the boxoffice, which gives it a shot.



"$9.99" (Regent Releasing)

Director: Tatia Rosenthal

Boxoffice: $781

Based on the short stories of Israeli author Etgar Keret, who penned "Wristcutters: A Love Story," "$9.99" took 10 years to reach the screen.

Oscar odds: This film is quirky and interesting, drawing even those who aren't normally fans of animated films to enthuse. Nominating animators could give this very dark horse a chance to compete.



"The Sky Crawlers" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Boxoffice: Unknown

The director of the iconic anime feature "Ghost in the Shell" has returned with this beautiful-looking aerial sci-fi drama about adolescents who mull over the meaning of life. Venice Film Festival critics liked it enough to give it the Future Film Festival Digital Award.

Oscar odds: This film's pedigree may draw some attention, but the release date is still not publicized, so its odds are dwindling by the day.



"Sword of the Stranger" (Shochiku/Bones/Bandai)

Director: Masahiro Ando

Boxoffice: Unknown

Anime News Networks calls it "exciting, hair-raising, action-packed and ultimately satisfying."

Oscar odds: Another film with uncertain distribution and release information. Will it be a no-show? This film may qualify, but otherwise is unlikely to cause a ripple in Hollywood.



"The Tale of Despereaux" (Universal)

Directors: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen

Boxoffice: $36.7 million

Written by Gary Ross, known for penning 2003's "Seabiscuit" and 1998's "Pleasantville," and directed by first-timer Stevenhagen, who was senior storyboard artist on Aardman Animation's 2005 Oscar-winning "Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

Oscar odds: The animation is engaging and beautiful, but the story line could be a little confusing for younger children. Would that lessen its chances?



"WALL-E" (Disney/Pixar)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Boxoffice: $507.3 million

Numerous items and characters from Pixar's past films are hidden in WALL-E's trailer and in the trash heaps that dot the landscape, including the snow globe from short film "Knick Knack"; Rex the dinosaur, Barbie's car and a Buzz Lightyear lunchbox ("Toy Story"); a Lightning McQueen toy ("Cars"); a bug zapper ("A Bug's Life"); and a Mike Wazowski antenna ball ("Monsters, Inc.").

Oscar odds: A shoo-in for the nomination, and already a favorite to win.



"Waltz With Bashir" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: Ari Folman

Boxoffice: $6.2 million

Folman is one of the co-creators of Israel's "In Therapy," which was re-made by HBO for U.S. television as "In Treatment." "Bashir" was first made as a documentary and then painstakingly remade as an animated feature. There is one porn scene in the movie; the filmmakers say viewers with sharp eyes will be able to make out a famous 1980s singer in the background.

Oscar odds: This film may well be this year's "Persepolis" (which was also released by Sony Pictures Classics), with a real chance of snagging the third nomination.
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