Cars Spins to Annies’ Victory Lane

In what may be the bellwether for what may happen on Oscar night, Disney/Pixar’s Cars took the top honor for Best Animated Feature at the 34th Annual Annie Awards Sunday night at the Alex Theater in Glendale, Calif. Man of the hour, director John Lasseter, was on hand to accept the award for the feature which beat Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet, Sony’s Monster House, Sony Picture Animation’s Open Season and DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge. The widely respected chief creative offcer at Pixar and Walt Disney Feature Animation, praised the industry and the hard work and talent of his team at Pixar and Disney studios. Lasseter also accepted the Best Music in an Animated Feature Production for composer Randy Newman who was not present.

Unexpectedly, the Directing in an Animated Feature Annie went to Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick who won for their work on DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge. The underdog pic was also honored for Best Storyboarding (Gary Graham) and Best Character Design in an Animated Feature (Nicolas Marlet).

Continuing the Annie Awards tradition of spreading the wealth, DreamWorks/Aardman’s Flushed Away was awarded six Annies for Animated Effects (Scott Cegielski), Character Animation (Gabe Hordos), Production Design (Pierre-Olivier Vincent), Voice Acting (Sir Ian McKellan), Writing (Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chris Lloyd, Joe Keenan and Will Davies) and Animated Video Game (D3 Publisher of America).

The TV categories were filled with titles familiar to Annie observers of the past few years. The Best Animated TV award went to Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. The popular show also won for Best Music (James L. Venable and Jennifer Kes Remington) and Production Design (Martin Ansolabehere). Show creator Craig McCracken gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, thanking his creative team, his wife, his dogs and even had kind words for the former general manager of Cartoon Network, Jim Samples, who was one of the evening’s recurring punchlines. (Samples stepped down last Friday because of the disasterous promotion of Aqua Teen Hunger Force which caused a costly bomb scare in Boston recently.)

Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender was a winner for Jae-Myoung Yoo (Character Animation in an Animated TV Production) and for director Giancarlo Volpe. Mike Kunkel took home the Character Design in an Animated TV Production award for his work on Cartoon Network’s The Life & Times of Juniper Lee. FOX-TV’s The Simpsons was also presented with its umpteenth award for Ian Maxtone-Graham’s script for the episode ‘The Seemingly Neverending Story.’

In other categories, DisneyToon Studio’s Bambi II (directed by Brian Pimental) was honored with the Best Home Entertainment Production Annie while Blue Sky Studio’s No Time for Nuts and DUCK Studios’ United Airlines Dragon spot won for Best Animed Short Subject and Animated TV Commercial respectively.

For the third year in a row, Annies host, Tom Kenny (the brilliant voice actor behind SpongeBob SquarePants and numerous other animated characters) proved to be hilarious, at-ease and self-effacing, while injecting the proceedings with flashes of inside humor, aimed at DreamWorks financial loss over Flushed Away, Mel Gibson and Michael Richards’ racist slurs, movies with CGI animals who band together against a common enemy, Warner Bros.’ marketing department and Lasseter’s wealth! ‘Pixar did what GM and Ford couldn’t do, which was make money off of cars,’ he joked. ‘John Lasseter’s wallet is so fat it now weighs three times Nicole Richie!’

And if all of that weren’t enough, the audience was treated to a George W. Bush impersonator who was happy to point out the commonality between himself and animators. ‘We have one thing in common: We both send a lot of people overseas!’ And let’s hope this is the last time anyone mispronounces ASIFA president Antran Manoogian’s name as Anthrax Smithsonian!

Also noteworthy was the smoothness with which industry veteran and presenter Frank Gladstone handled some unexpected technical difficulties and a small backstage fire’yes, it was that kind of a night! He bravely soldiered on during a video malfunction prior to the Winsor McCay Awards presentation, which were given to Bill Plympton, Genndy Tartakovsky and Andreas Deja. Animaton producer and ASIFA-Hollywood contributor Stephen Worth’s acceptance speech for his June Foray Award was another high note. Worth, who is largely responsible for ASIFA’s Animation Archive, praised the late Disney artist Eric Larson for his passion for training new generations of animators and emphasized the value of giving back to the community.

It was award-winner Mike Kunkel who spoke for many of the evening’s attendees when he said, ‘The great thing about this show is that it reminds us of how many talented people we get to work with every day in animation.’

For a complete list of winners, visit www.annieawards.org.