What will be effect of new Oscar rules for Animated Feature?

The academy continues to expand the number of members who take part in both the nomination and final ballot stages for the Oscars. This year, the entire membership will vote for the winners of Foreign Language and Documentary Feature as well as the three shorts categories. 

Now comes word that the pool of voters who take part in the nominating process for Animated Feature is widening. This newest of the two dozen competitive categories was introduced in 2001. Until now, nominees were determined by a screening committee of about 100 voters, drawn equally from among the 400 members of the Short Films and Feature Animation branch and the general academy. To cast a ballot, a committee member had to attend at least 80% of the special Sunday screenings at the Academy’s Beverly Hills HQ, effectively disenfranchising out-of-towners. 

This year, the academy will allow members to watch screeners instead and, as such, is increasing the size of the committee. However, it will still restrict animators to filling just half of the committee to avoid the bloc voting that has besieged the Annie Awards. Members need only see 60% of the contenders before voting, which will done via mail rather than in person as it is now. 

We expect at least 18 films to be eligible, thereby meeting the threshold of 16 entries that bumps up the race to five nominees. Over the 12-year history of the award, Pixar has dominated winning seven times out of nine nominations, including last year’s champ, “Brave.” Only one Pixar picture has failed to earn a bid: “Cars 2” in 2011.

This year, Pixar has “Monsters University,” a prequel to the 2001 hit “Monsters Inc.,” which lost the inaugural Animated Feature Oscar to DreamWorks’ “Shrek.” 

To prevail, “Monsters U” will have to overtake famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki who is  in contention with “The Wind Rises,” which he has announced will be his final film. His “Spirited Away” won in 2002 while his 2005 feature “Howl’s Moving Castle” lost to “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” He has yet to compete against a Pixar title. 

Longtime Pixar partner Walt Disney Pictures has a pair of its own films also eligible in this year’s race: the critically panned “Planes” and the upcoming “Frozen,” which is co-directed by previous nominee Chris Buck (“Surf’s Up”). Animation pioneer Disney has never won this race with a non-Pixar film, though last year it seemed to have its best chance with “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Director Chris Sanders earned a previous nomination for “How to Train Your Dragon” and returns with “The Croods.” Chris Wedge was previously in the running with “Ice Age” and now contends with “Epic.”

Also among possible nominees is the blockbuster film “Despicable Me 2.” The first installment of the film was released in 2010 and failed to earn a nomination in this category, but the sequel has far out-earned the original; it’s currently the highest grossing animated film of the year and the fifth highest grossing of all-time at the domestic box office.

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