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New Oscar Category Will Change Animation


Beginning in 2002, an award will go to a best animated film, provided at least eight were released during the year. As the stakes get higher, the marketing of the genre could explode.


If the award were to be given this year, would DreamWorks and Disney be slugging it out in campaigns for "Chicken Run" vs. "Dinosaur" (or "The Emperor's New Groove," slated for the holiday season), as DreamWorks and Miramax did in 1998 for "Saving Private Ryan" and "Shakespeare in Love"? Studios already spend millions of dollars in increasingly aggressive Oscar campaigns for live-action films--and it's likely the same tactics will apply to animation as well.

Merchandising and product tie-ins are already a very important ancillary business tied to animation: "The Lion King" accounted for an estimated $1 billion in product sales, far more than the movie made in its feature release. Winning an Oscar--or even an Oscar nomination--could be a valuable marketing tool, especially considering how animated films tend to stay in theaters long after their initial release and that new ways of selling the film are needed.

An Oscar nomination might have helped a film such as last year's critically praised but financially unsuccessful "Iron Giant." Warner Bros.' ineffectual promotional campaigns have been blamed for the failures of "Iron Giant," but one can't help but think that the chance for an Academy Award might have pushed the studio to publicize the film more effectively; a nomination might have also brought in new audiences.

It's a bit early to start handicapping the 2001 race, but some possible candidates for the first-ever feature animation award include:

* Disney's action-adventure "Atlantis," billed as having fewer songs and more explosions, from Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, the directors of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

* "Monsters, Inc." from Pixar.

* Warner Bros.' "Osmosis Jones," a spoof of noir detective films set inside the human body, with gross-out gags from the Farrelly Brothers.

* DreamWorks' "Shrek," a computer-animated fantasy based on a book by New Yorker cartoonist William Steig.

* Possibly also from DreamWorks in 2001 will be "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron," a drawn feature about wild horses.

One thing seems fairly certain: There will be more than eight animated features in 2001 so the category should be eligible. So, animators, don't be nervous. Your time in the Oscar spotlight is about to come.

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