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'Stuart Little 2' blazes a trail by making animation category cut

December 12, 2002|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

"Stuart Little 2," the Sony-made family film in which a computer-generated mouse lives an adventurous life in a house with humans, became the first movie mixing animation and live action to become eligible for the Oscar in feature animation as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Wednesday released a list of 17 films eligible for nominations in that hotly contested young category.

Among the leading eligible films in the award's second year are "Ice Age," an adventure featuring a saber-toothed tiger, a sloth and a woolly mammoth who try to reunite a lost human infant with his parents; "Spirited Away," Hayao Miyazaki's tale of a 10-year-old girl who wanders into a world ruled by witches and monsters; "Lilo & Stitch," Disney's story about a Hawaiian girl who adopts an extraterrestrial as a pet; and "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," the story of a wild stallion in the Old West.

Also ruled eligible were "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights," "Alibaba & the Forty Thieves" "Eden," "El bosque animado (The Living Forest)," "Hey Arnold! The Movie," "Jonah -- A Veggie Tales Movie," "Mutant Aliens," "The Powerpuff Girls Movie," "The Princess and the Pea," "Return to Never Land," "Treasure Planet" and "The Wild Thornberrys."

The eligibility of two films, "Eden" and "The Wild Thornberrys" is subject to their opening in Los Angeles before Dec. 31. "Eden" is scheduled to open Friday and "The Wild Thornberrys" on Dec. 20.

In accepting "Stuart Little 2" as eligible, the executive committee of the academy's short films and feature animation branch is sure to widen the debate over what constitutes an animated film.

Under academy rules, an animated film is defined as a motion picture of at least 70 minutes running time and a significant number of characters who are animated, and in which the animation figures in no less than 75% of the picture's running time.

Since many special-effects-driven films today feature both live action and animation, films that could conceivably be eligible include "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and the "Star Wars" movies. Studios of movies like those, however, prefer to pursue an Oscar for best picture, not best animated feature.

Still, it is a subject that is raising debate.

Kevin Koch, president of the Hollywood Animation Guild, said the academy's decision "makes things blurry."

"You have plenty of things that are primarily live-action with one or two characters who are animated," he said. "I'm curious why "Scooby-Doo" wasn't nominated.

"I think the concern I've heard from [animators] is, does this dilute the category into basically being a special-effects category," he added, noting Jar Jar Binks in "Star Wars" or Gollum in this year's "Lord of the Rings." "On the other hand, it does give recognition to the character animators who are working on those films," he said. "Ultimately, the award is for the film, not the individual."

Tom Sito, past president of the animation guild, predicts these hybrid films will continue to be made.

"I'm working on a film now called 'The Looney Tunes Back in Action' starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Martin, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. When that comes around next Christmas, is that going to qualify?"

"Almost every scene in 'Stuart Little 2' has animation or computer graphics in it although audiences may not realize that," said Lucy Fisher, who produced the film with Doug Wick. "Our four main characters -- Stuart, Margalo the bird, Snowbell the cat, and Falcon the villain -- are totally created in the computer. Anytime a cat is on the screen, it is real but the visual expression isn't....The world that Stuart lives in, a lot of it is created in a computer as well."

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