In a repeat of last year’s Finding Nemo run, Disney and Pixar made good on all ten nominations for The Incredibles at last night’s 32nd Annual Annie Awards. Though so many prominent figures in the animation industry were on hand for the awards ceremony, director Brad Bird was truly the man of the evening, occupying the podium almost as much as host Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. The ASIFA-Hollywood event was held at the Alex theater in Glendale, Calif.
Kicking off the evening, Kenny couldn’t help but comment on the week’s much reported attacks on SpongeBob, in which the cartoon character’s sexuality was called into question by a fringe conservative group. ‘First of all, he’s imaginary,’ Kenny noted, drawing applause. ‘Secondly, he’s a kid and thirdly, he’s a sponge’he’s asexual, which you would know if you ever watched the Discovery Channel.’
In addition to taking the top award for Animated Feature with its presentation of The Incredibles, Walt Disney Pictures’ sewed up the Short Subject category with the Oscar-nominated toon Lorenzo, directed by Mike Gabirel. Lorenzo beat out fellow Oscar hopeful Ryan from Chris Landreth, as well as Mark Kausler’s beloved throwback It’s the Cat, Blur Studio’s photoreal sci-fi thriller Rockfish and Barley Film’s humorous Agricultural Report. Barley Films was also nominated last year for Boys Night out, which it produced in association with Bert Klein and Teddy Newton.
Bird was called up to the stage so often to accept awards for The Incredibles that Kenny jokingly put a chair by the podium for him. Now nominated for an Oscar for his Incredibles screenplay, Bird picked up an Annie for Writing in an Animated Feature Production. In his acceptance speech, he gushed over the fine folks at Pixar and the creative control they gave him. ‘It’s a place where story truly is king,’ he declared before thanking his wife and three sons for inspiring the blockbuster about a family of superheroes. Also up for the award were the Shrek 2 team of Andrew Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss, and Shark Tale scribes Michael J. Wilson and Rob Letterman.
Pulling off an unexpected but much deserved win in the voice acting category, Bird was recognized for his work as eccentric superhero costume designer Edna Mode in The Incredibles. He thrilled the audience by doing a little Edna, saying ‘You push too hard, darling, but I accept. Bird later told Animation Magazine Online that he had no expectation of winning since he assumed his voice was going to be replaced with that of a professional actor. ‘I guess they wanted someone who would be there every day,’ he joked.
Called up again to accept the award for Directing in an Animated Feature Production, Bird commented, ‘I want to thank Disney for marketing the film. That was a great idea.’ The remark was a jab at Warner Bros., which failed to attract an audience for Bird’s directorial debut, the critically acclaimed The Iron Giant. He went on to comment on the respect animation has been earning in the eyes of the entertainment industry and the ticket-buying audience. ‘There’s been this kind of closeted thing where people would come up to you and say, ‘I loved your movie’ I mean, my daughter, Brittany, loved it.’ I love that things are changing ‘. People are embracing their inner animation lover.’
Pixar’s talented crew also picked up Annies for production design (Lou Romano), music (Michael Giacchino), character design (Tony Fucile), storyboarding (Kevin O’Brien), animated effects (Martin Nguyen) and character animation (Angus MacLane). Nguyen enjoyed his second consecutive win, having picked up last year’s award for animated effects in Finding Nemo.
Not to be shown up by collegue Bird, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull received a standing ovation as he accepted the Ub Iwerks award. The honor was presented by Leslie Iwerks, grandaughter of the legendary animator.
On the television side, SpongeBob SquarePants was the big winner, garnering the top award for Nickelodeon. While his feature film lost out to The Incredibles, the loveable yellow bath accessory beat fellow TV hopefuls Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends from Cartoon Network Studios, My Life as a Teenage Robot from Frederator Studio and Nickelodeon, Star Wars: Clone Wars from Cartoon Network Studios and The Batman from Warner Bros. Animation.
The rest of the TV kudos were pretty well dispersed. The award for production design went to Richard Daskas for Cartoon Network’s Samurai Jack ‘Season of Death.’ Best Music was awarded to Robert J. Kral for Warner Bros. Animation’s Duck Dodgers, while the writing award was handed to Etan Cohen for Fox’s King of the Hill episode ‘Ceci N’est Pas Une.’ Picking up a trophy for character design was Patrick Mat’ for NBC’s Father of the Pride and storyboarder Wendy Grieb pulled off a win for ‘The Maddening Sprite of the Stump’ episode of Disney’s Dave the Barbarian.’ No-show Brittany Murphy took top voice acting honors for the role of Luane Platter in the King of the Hill installment ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Giant Soon,’ while the TV directing award went to Shaun Cashman and Phil Cummings for Cartoon Networks The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (‘Attack of the Clowns’). In addition, Acme Filmworks took Best Animated Television Commercial for its United Airlines ‘Interview’ spot. The stylized 2D work bested some stiff competition, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in an Aflac commercial produced by Warner Bros. Animation.
Disney’s The Lion King 1 ‘ was named best Home Entertainment Production, winning over fellow DisneyToon Studios release Mickey, Donald & Goofy The Three Musketeers and Warner Bros. Animation’s Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster.
Receiving the prestigious Winsor McCay Award this year were independent animator/director Don Bluth, former Disney child star Virginia Davis and Top Cat voice actor Arnold Stang.
Accepting the honor, Bluth revealed, ‘I got into the animation business by accident. I was supposed to be an English teacher.’ He then recalled his days as a Utah farmboy, noting, ‘As I milked those cows, I grew to hate each and every one of them.’ He went on to explain that his only means of escape from the drudgery of farm life was riding his horse into town and hitching it to a post outside of the local theater where he would get lost in the latest Disney feature. Bluth also told of some of his personal brushes with Walt Disney, whom he eventually came to work for before striking out on his own to create such memorable films as The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, The Land Before Time and Titan A.E., as well as the ground-breaking video games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace.
Virginia Davis was also in person to receive the McCay Award. As a child, she was cast by a young Walt Disney to star in his series of ‘Alice’ shorts, in which she performed alongside his animated creations. ‘I cherish those memories of working with Walt early in his career,’ she commented. Contradicting a memorable quote by Walt himself, she concluded with, ‘I’d like to set the record straight. It didn’t all start with a mouse. It all started with a little girl and two visionaries [Walt and brother Roy, who ran camera on the films.]‘
Arnold Stang was snowed in on the east coast but was vouched for by a letter from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who worked with Stang on his first feature film, Hercules in New York. ‘I am pleased to congratulate Mr. Arnold Stang, whose terrific animation voice work dates back to the 1940s,’ the letter reads. ‘The Winsor McCay Award for Lifetime Achievement is a fitting recognition to Mr. Stang’s exceptional contributions.’
Noted animation historian, filmmaker, educator, poet and playwright Bill Moritz posthumously received this year’s June Foray award for significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation. Moritz is perhaps best known for the 30 plus years he spent archiving and restoring Oskar Fischinger’s films. His book, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger, was published shortly before his death in March of 2004.
For a full list of 2004 Annie Awards winners and nominees, visit www.annieawards.org.