Happy Feet Dances Off with Oscar

There was no checkered flag for Disney and Pixar this year as Cars was upset by Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet, which snagged the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Sunday night at the 79th Annual Academy Awards. Many expected the night to be a victory lap for director John Lasseter’s Cars, which has had a successful awards season run that resulted in top toon awards at the Golden Globes, the Annies and the People’s Choice Awards, among others. Disney fared better on the movie magic side as its Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest plundered Oscar gold for visual effects created by Industrial Light & Magic.

As a testament to how important animation has become in Hollywood, the Oscar broadcast started off with an animated segment that featured a group of penguin characters from Happy Feet sending Mumbles off to Tinsel Town for the big night. In his travels to sunny California, Mumbles even came across Lightning McQueen, the Owen Wilson character from Cars. Animated characters from the films were also seen composited into the audience as the nominees for Best Animated Feature were announced.

Directed by George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City), Happy Feet ended a winning streak for Disney and Pixar, who took Best Animated Feature for its last two releases, 2003′s Finding Nemo and 2004′s The Incredibles. Mumbles and his arctic pals also won over Sony’s Monster House from first-time feature director Gil Kenan. Accepting the award, Miller remarked, ‘I asked my kids what should I say and they said to thank all the men for wearing penguin suits.’ He added, ‘They gave me a lucky coin and a lucky penguin, but my real good luck was to work with hundreds and hundreds of great people.’

Pixar also came up empty-handed in the category Best Animated Short, which went to Norwegian-born filmmaker Torill Kove’s The Danish Poet (National Film Board of Canada). In addition to beating Lifted from Pixar and director Gary Rydstrom, Danish Poet bested Roger Allers’ The Little MatchGirl (Disney) Geza M. Toth’s Maestro and Chris Renaud and Mike Thermeier’s No Time for Nuts (Blue Sky). Accept the award, Kove commented, ‘I want to thank the Academy for continuing to support this animated short category, it means a lot to us.’ She went on to thank the thank National Film Board of Canada and all those in Norway who supported the film.

There was little doubt that the hugely successful Pirates sequel would lay waste to the competition, especially after team at ILM got the nod from their peers by sweeping the recent Visual Effects Society Awards. The swashbuckling adventure, which features a healthy helping of impressive CG animation, won over the Warner Bros. releases Poseidon and Superman Returns. Accepting the award for Dead Man’s Chest were John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall.

“With effects-driven films becoming increasingly more sophisticated with each passing year, it makes receiving the Oscar this time around that much more special,” said Knoll. “That said, this is truly a team effort and the ILM crew is a very special group that deserves every bit of the recognition this award brings to it.”

Director Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which features visual effects by CafeFX, was favored to win Best Foreign Language Film but ended up losing to the German entry The Lives of Others. Labyrinth did, however, walk away with wins a number of categories, including make-up, art direction/set design and cinematography.

For a complete list of this year’s Academy Award winners, visit www.oscars.org.