Tooning up

A new category recognizes the year's best animated features.

According to Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. president Philip Berk, it wasn't too difficult for the organization's members to decide to add a best animated feature category to the Golden Globe Awards. "If you look at the top moneymaking movies of the year over the past decade, two or three of them are always animated films," Berk says. "That has to be recognized. And why throw animation into the mix with the musical and comedy (genres), or even drama? We decided to follow the Academy's example."

They picked a good year to do it, too. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added the animated feature category to its Oscar ceremony in 2001, the industry had difficulty coming up with enough quality feature-length animated films to fill three nominee slots. This year, more than a dozen high-profile animated films have been released in the U.S. -- the majority of them computer-animated.

When Buena Vista's awards front-runner "Cars" rolled out in the summer, some theaters appended no fewer than five trailers for upcoming computer-animated feature films.

"We all have to deal with a more crowded marketplace," says Christopher Meledandri, president of 20th Century Fox Animation, whose "Ice Age: The Meltdown" is a potential awards contender. "But I think the audience's response to animation has been so strong that it's allayed some of my fears. And the evolution of CG animation has taken us to a place where the success of a film is based on the strength of that film. It's no different than live action now."


But are the two genres equally understood by voting bodies?

Can the HFPA discern what makes a great animated feature the way they can discern what makes a great live-action feature?

Steve Fritz, senior columnist for the comics and cartooning Web site, believes that "the two real groundbreaking animated movies this year were (Warner Independent Pictures') 'A Scanner Darkly' and (Miramax's) 'Renaissance,'" but he's sure that neither has much of a chance at major awards. Both are dark sci-fi dramas aimed primarily at adult audiences, and neither pulled in the kind of astronomical sums earned by their family oriented counterparts.

Fritz keeps a separate list in his head of his mainstream favorites, citing "Cars," Sony's "Monster House," Paramount/DreamWorks Animation's "Flushed Away" and "Over the Hedge" and Paramount's "Barnyard" as the movies he'd love to see nominated.

Meledandri naturally thinks "Meltdown" has a good chance, too, noting that the HFPA especially can't ignore the movie's worldwide success. "The film made such a unique global impact, unlike any other film released this year," he says.

But its awards success might be affected by the recent release of Warner Bros. Pictures' equally "icy" "Happy Feet," an upbeat story about dancing penguins that features the voices of Hugh Jackman (who also delivers a starring vocal turn in "Flushed Away," the first CG feature from England's beloved Aardman Animation) and Nicole Kidman. The film is receiving quite the awards-season push from Warners.

Meledandri says he makes a point of seeing other animated features and insists the competition is ultimately healthy. "When I go to some of our leading competitors' films, I can't help but walk away inspired and, at times, enlightened," he says. "There (are) amazing filmmakers at Pixar and incredible dedication and talent at DreamWorks (Animation), and there is absolutely a tremendous amount to be learned from both studios' films."

Even nonanimators are taking note. Says Marc Turtletaub, one of the producers of Fox Searchlight's Globes hopeful "Little Miss Sunshine": "I think it's a positive for all films that there's an animation award. The more awards, the better."