Who are the unknown saviors waiting in the wings to rescue the Oscars’ Animated Feature category from going back to a paltry three nominees?
For movies like “Despicable Me,” “Megamind,” “Tangled” and “The Illusionist,” the answer to that question appears to be a crucial one, indeed.
Under Academy rules, a maximum of three films can be nominated for Best Animated Feature in a year in which between eight and 15 qualifying films are submitted.
If 16 or more films make the cut -- a circumstance that has happened only twice in the nine-year history of the award -- then the field of nominees increases to five.
That was the case last year, when a record 20 films were submitted. Nobody in the animation field wants to go back to only three nominees, particularly since “Toy Story 3” and “How to Train Your Dragon” seem all but guaranteed to secure two of the slots.
But after conversations with many of the people involved, I can only count 13 films that are likely to be submitted before the Academy’s Monday, Nov. 1 deadline, which is a full month earlier than the deadline in most other categories.
The presumed line-up so far:
DreamWorks Animation has three films: “How to Train Your Dragon,”“Shrek Forever After”and the upcoming “Megamind.”
Disney has Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” and its own November release “Tangled” – and a spokesperson confirms that the company will also submit “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue,” which got a one-week qualifying run two weeks prior to its DVD release.
Universal can add “Despicable Me.” Warner Brothers has “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” – and according to a spokesperson, the company also plans to submit the animated/live action blend “Yogi Bear,” a December release.
(Some longtime observers of the category think “Yogi” could have trouble qualifying under Academy rules, which specify that “a significant number of the major characters” must be animated by a frame-by-frame technique – not simply motion capture – and that “no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time” must include animation.)
Assuming “Yogi” passes muster, that’s nine.
Lionsgate has the September release “Alpha and Omega,” and in December Sony Classics will release the acclaimed film “The Illusionist,” from “The Triplets of Belleville” director Sylvain Chomet.
That brings us to 11.
Meanwhile, two smaller films will also be submitted. New Yorker Films confirms that it has booked a qualifying run for “My Dog Tulip” later this month, and will submit the film, a Paul and Sandra Fierlinger adaptation of the 1956 memoir by J.R. Ackerley about the bond between the author and his German shepherd.
And two-time Oscar nominee Bill Plympton, a legendary figure in animation circles, has booked his own October 29 qualifying run for his hand-drawn “Idiots and Angels” (above), the darkly comic story of a misanthrope who unexpectedly grows angel wings.
But that only gets the number to unlucky 13, still three shy of triggering five nominees.
There’s still a good chance that at others will surface: last year, for instance, the Spanish film “The Missing Lynx” was a last-minute entry, as were “A Town Called Panic” (whose filmmakers bankrolled a qualifying run themselves after their distributor opted for a 2010 release) and the Irish entry “The Secret of Kells” (left), which wound up receiving a surprise nomination.
Only days before the 2009 deadline, it looked touch-and-go as to whether enough films would submitted to trigger five nominees; once the Academy released its list of qualifying films, it turned out that the number was reached with room to spare.
And maybe the same thing will happen this year, preventing a heated battle for that final spot between big-studio productions (“Tangled,” “Despicable Me,” “Megamind”), art films (“The Illusionist,” “Idiots and Angels”) and wild cards.
But where are those extra entrants coming from? The sequel "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil" was originally said to have a 2010 release in the works from Kaleidoscope TWC and the Weinstein Company, but the company now says that the release will take place in February 2011.
I’ve heard murmurs about the Japanese films “Midori-ko” and “The Asylum Session,” the Colombian feature “The Mysterious Presages of Leon Prozak” and the Serbian graphic novel adaptation “Technotise: Edit & I,” but I can’t find any sign of U.S. distributors or qualifying runs in the works for any of them.
If anybody hears of other possible qualifiers, I’d love to know about it. The clock is ticking, and the fate of a lot of ‘toons hangs in the balance.