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Far from cartoons

There were some surprises in nominations of 'Persepolis,' 'Surf's Up' and 'Ratatouille,' which garnered five nods.

January 23, 2008|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

One is a tale about a rodent who dreams of becoming a gourmet chef in France. Another is about a rebellious girl living under post-shah rule in Iran. The third is a documentary-style, slapstick comedy about a penguin who surfs.

But together -- "Ratatouille," "Persepolis" and "Surf's Up" -- provide a glimpse into animation's possibilities and engaging storytelling that grabbed Oscar voters who nominated each for best animated feature film.

Few other filmmakers had more reason to smile Tuesday than Brad Bird, the writer-director of "Ratatouille," whose film captured five nominations, including Bird for original screenplay, as well as musical score, sound editing and sound mixing. The only animated film to receive more was 1991's "Beauty and the Beast" with six. "Ratatouille" also compared well with the live-action best film nominees. Only four other films this year had more nominations. "I'm just thrilled," Bird said. "It's particularly gratifying to get five. That was really wonderful. We felt we had a pretty good chance of a nomination in the feature animation category, but to get nominated for screenplay and sound and score, I was thrilled about that.

"The other nominees are really interesting films," Bird added. " 'Surf's Up' approached the film from sort of a documentary point of view, while 'Persepolis' is really a breath of fresh air. It validates my belief that hand-drawn animation is alive and well and vibrant. These are three very different films."

After celebrating her nomination with friends in Paris, where they downed three bottles of Champagne upon learning the good news, Marjane Satrapi, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Vincent Paronnaud, said it was "just incredible" that her little indie film, which was based on her own graphic novel and cost only $8 million, is now vying for an Oscar. "This is my first movie, my first nomination," she said.

Tuesday's nominations were not dispensed without surprises. "Ratatouille" (Disney) with its potentially off-putting story of Remy the rat handling food in a restaurant, and "Persepolis" (Sony Pictures Classics), with its graphic novel style, are idiosyncratic works far afield from the standard kid-targeted animation feature. And few expected "Surf's Up" (Sony Pictures) to make the final cut, while left out of the mix were two high-profile feature-length cartoons: "The Simpsons Movie" (20th Century Fox) and Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" (DreamWorks). Both films were nominated for a Golden Globe, with "Ratatouille" taking the prize.

Ash Brannon, co-director of "Surf's Up" (with Chris Buck), said being nominated "makes up for a lot of the disappointments along the way, the biggest of which was 'Surf's Up' not finding its audience in release." He called "Ratatouille" a "fantastic movie" and while he has only seen pieces of "Persepolis," added "having a small indie in the mix this year is amazing."

Satrapi noted that she used 2-D hand-drawn animation in her film because she doesn't know how to work with computers. "I don't know how to type," Satrapi said. "Imagine making a movie with computers."


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