Winning the Academy Award for best animated feature film Sunday evening wasn't a sure thing for "Finding Nemo."
Disney/Pixar's heartwarming father-son fish tale had been considered the shoo-in for Oscar gold until the November release of the quirky animated film "The Triplets of Belleville," which fast became the critics' darling. So Pixar and Disney probably breathed a big sigh of relief when "Nemo" was named the best animated feature of 2003.
"I am going to be forever grateful to the entire cast and crew of 'Nemo' for the giving of their talents to this little fish story that I had," director Andrew Stanton said in accepting the award.
"Belleville," which opened in limited release in the U.S. last November, received numerous awards from critics' groups -- including those in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, San Diego and Boston -- and made 26 top 10 lists. It was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for best foreign film.
The Oscar topped off an incredible year for "Nemo." With receipts of more than $339.7 million, "Nemo" became the box office champ of the year and toppled Disney's 1994 film "The Lion King" from its throne as the highest-grossing animated film of all time. In November, "Nemo" swam into home entertainment history when it sold 8 million units on DVD and VHS in one day, shattering the record set by "Spider-Man" the year before.
Although Pixar is no stranger to Academy Awards, with its animated shorts picking up Oscars over the years, "Nemo" marks the first time that the company, which announced in January that it was severing ties with Disney, has won the Oscar for best animated feature.
Pixar has not made a false step since its first computer-animated feature, 1995's "Toy Story." With each subsequent film -- "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2" and "Monsters, Inc." -- Pixar has improved the quality of its computer-graphic animation without losing sight of the films' characters and stories.
"Nemo" not only found itself on the top 10 lists of 79 major critics, but the family film also won nine Annie Awards from the International Animated Film Society, including outstanding achievement in an animated theatrical feature, outstanding character animation and outstanding direction for Stanton and Lee Unkrich. It also won the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. Award for best animated feature and several critics awards, including the Florida Film Critics and Toronto Film Critics Assn. Besides best animated feature, "Nemo" scored Academy Award nominations for best achievement in sound, score and original screenplay.