In the end, the Best Animated-Feature category appears to have hit its magic number with room to spare.
The Academy announced on Friday that 18 films have been submitted to compete in the category for this year's Oscars, meaning that the field will likely have five nominees for only the third time in the category's 10-year existence.
A field of 16 is required to trigger the move to five nominees. This is the second-biggest year for entries in the category; two years ago, 20 films qualified.
Several of the films still have to complete their week-long qualifying runs to become eligible.
UPDATE: According to a branch member with knowledge of the process, the press release announcing the 18 contenders came out before the branch's final vetting process had taken place. In addition to the films that need to complete their qualifying runs, three films made using the motion-capture process ("The Adventures of Tintin," "Happy Feet Two" and "Mars Needs Moms") and two live-action/animation blends ("The Smurfs" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked") still had to be ruled eligible by the branch — though all indications are that they will be.
Academy rules specify that the motion-capture technique in itself does not qualify as animation. The filmmakers were asked to speak about their intent in using the process to the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch.
The Foreign-Language entry from the Czech Republic, "Alois Nebel," uses the rotoscope technique, another controversial process among animators.
The list of 18 films included "Wrinkles," a Spanish-language, adult-oriented work set in an old-age home. The film came out of the blue and virtually never figured into category-watchers' forecasts of what films would make up the field.
Unlike most recent years, there is no prohibitive frontrunner in the category at this point. While a string of Pixar films have been clear favorites and eventual winners for four consecutive years ("Ratatouille," "Wall-E," "Up," "Toy Story 3"), this year's "Cars 2" is not the runaway favorite.
Among the films expected to compete with "Cars 2" for the award are DreamWorks' "Puss in Boots," Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin," Gore Verbinski's "Rango" and Blue Sky Studios' "Rio" – though in a notably unsettled year in the category, nominations could easily go to smaller movies on the list as well.
The submitted films:
"The Adventures of Tintin"
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"
"A Cat in Paris"
"Chico & Rita"
"Gnomeo & Juliet"
"Happy Feet Two"
"Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil"
"Kung Fu Panda 2"
"Mars Needs Moms"
"Puss in Boots"
"Winnie the Pooh"