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'Spirited Away' big winner at animation awards

The Japanese work takes four Annies and possibly the inside track for animated feature at next month's Oscars.

February 03, 2003|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

"Spirited Away" triumphed Saturday at the 30th annual Annie Awards -- the animation industry's answer to the Oscars.

Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's magical tale of a little girl's journey through the spirit world won four Annies, including awards for best feature, direction, writing and music. Many animators predicted that the English-language version of the Japanese film will also take the Oscar for best animated feature.

Executive-produced by John Lasseter of Pixar and repackaged and distributed for American audiences by Disney, Miyazaki's film topped a formidable field of best feature nominees. They included Disney's "Lilo & Stitch," DreamWorks' "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." and Fox/ Blue Sky's "Ice Age."

The recent explosion in animation was much on the minds of those who remember when audiences waited three years to see whatever animated feature Disney released. While mingling before the ceremony, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg observed that this is a golden time in the industry.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 04, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 236 words Type of Material: Correction
Animated film -- A story in Monday's Calendar about the Annie Awards mistakenly referred to the Disney film "Treasure Planet" as "Treasure Island."

"For animation, I think this is almost a second renaissance," said Katzenberg, who helped revitalize the field at Disney in the 1980s and '90s. More than a dozen animated features were released in 2002. "Good movies breed good movies," Katzenberg said.

The Annies are sponsored by the local chapter of the international animation society, ASIFA-Hollywood. Emcee Steve Marmel, an Annie-nominated writer for television's "The Fairly Odd Parents," joked: "Welcome to the Annies, or as the rest of Hollywood likes to call it, 'Oh, yeah, the Annies.' "

But now that feature animation has its own Oscar category (DreamWorks' "Shrek" won the first), the profile of the industry and its peer prizes is rising. A record 750 people attended this year's ceremony at Glendale's Alex Theatre, a neon-trimmed landmark ideal for honoring the creators of 'toons.

While animators feted their industry in black dresses and tuxes, Tom Sito, president emeritus of the Animation Guild, lamented the current lull in the business. "We have suits. We just don't have jobs," said Sito. Disney recently laid off animators, and production continues to leave town.

"There's more animation than ever before," Sito said, "but there's a lot of unemployment. A lot of the work is being outsourced."

Hailed for its return to hand-drawn animation, "Lilo & Stitch" led the field with 10 nominations but took home a single Annie -- for voice actor Daveigh Chase, who is now 12 but was 8 when tapped to play its young Hawaiian protagonist, Lilo. Receiving her Annie in a satin gown worthy of Cinderella, Daveigh said she liked Lilo because "she wasn't perfect. She fought with her sister, and she punched the little girls at her hula class."

Disney feature animation head and Walt Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney said he thought much of the film's success lay in its quirky characters: "They spoke to the little devil in all of us."

Daveigh also gave voice to the young heroine in "Spirited Away." She said she loves Japanese animation because "it's just so gorgeous."

Other winning films included "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," starring a horse that doesn't talk, which took four Annies, including one for story-boarding. TV's "Samurai Jack" also took four Annies, including one for production design. "Rolie Polie Olie: The Great Defender of Fun" won in the increasingly key straight-to-video category.

Inevitably, jokes were made about Disney's box-office failure "Treasure Island." Said Marmel: " 'Treasure Island' was a beautiful movie, but it cost $74 million. That's the bad news. The good news is we'll never have to see it on ice."

Roy Disney said that the film's poor performance "was really hurtful.... To this day, we don't really understand it." He added: "Unfortunately, I think the company's announcing it had to take a big write-off on it the weekend it opened didn't help."

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