Academy Names 11 Animated Eligibles

The Oscar race for Best Animated Feature has begun as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today released the list of 11 eligible films. Like Stuart Little 2 before it, the live-action/animation mix Looney Tunes: Back in Action made it to the list. However, this year the real surprise is what didn’t make the cut.

While last year saw a record 17 films qualifying for Academy consideration, this year’s list contains 11 titles: Disney’s Brother Bear, Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Munich Animation’s Jester Till (Till Eulenspiegel), Disney’s The Jungle Book 2, Warner Bros. ’ Looney Tunes: Back in Action, DreamWorks’ Go Fish acquisition Millennium Actress, Disney’s Piglet’s Big Movie, Miramax’s Pokémon Heroes, Paramount’s Rugrats Go Wild!, Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Tokyo Godfathers and Sony Pictures Classics’ pick-up The Triplets of Belleville.

Noticeably absent form the list is DreamWorks’ Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, which was apparently not submitted by the Nov. 3 deadline. Though it wasn’t a strong performer at the box office, the big-budget animated adventure won some critical praise and did nearly as well as Disney’s Treasure Planet, which was submitted last year. Sinbad debuted on home video yesterday.

DreamWorks’ head of feature animation, Ann Daly, tells Animation Magazine Online, "In light of the fact that Sinbad was clearly a commercial disappointment, although we stand behind the extraordinary artistic achievement of the creative team behind the movie, we decided that it was the best decision not to enter it in the Oscar race."

Asked why the studio chose instead to enter Millennium Actress, Daly explains, "When we picked up the film and entered into an agreement to distribute it to American audiences, we agreed that if it was well received we would support it in any way we could. And that’s what we did."

Also missing in action are Bandai’s Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, released in the U.S. by Samuel Goldwyn Films, and Rothkirch Cartoon Film’s The Little Polar Bear, which was picked up for U.S. distribution by Warner Bros. Both movies did not qualify due to their U.S. release dates.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away broke box office records in Japan, but it was critical appraise that fueled its win at the 75th Academy Awards ceremony. This year’s frontrunner is a critical darling as well, but also bares the distinction of being the highest grossing U.S. release of the year. With Nemo favored to win, there is speculation that studios didn’t bother to enter certain films into the race. On the other hand, Disney apparently threw everything it has into the ring, including three traditionally animated entries. In fact, of the 11 movies on the list, only Nemo features 3D animation.

Two really dark horses on the list are Tokyo Godfathers, the latest from Millennium Actress director Satoshi Kon. Godfathers made its U.S. debut at this year’s Big Apple Anime Fest in August. The film borrows a page from the John Ford silent Three Godfathers in telling the story of three homeless people who accidentally stumble upon an abandoned baby at a garbage dump.

Films submitted in the Best Animated Feature category also may qualify for Academy Awards in other areas, including Best Picture, provided they meet the rules criteria governing those categories. The eligibility of three of the films, Jester Till, Tokyo Godfathers and The Triplets of Belleville, is subject to their opening in Los Angeles prior to December 31. The Triplets of Belleville is scheduled to open November 21 and Jester Till and Tokyo Godfathers during the first week of December.

The field will be narrowed down to three films when the Academy announces the official nominees on Jan. 27 at 5:30 a.m. The Oscars ceremony will be held on Feb. 29.