Cartoons are a pixel's-length away from taking the Academy by storm. Animated films this year have a serious increase in competitors, giving award voters a lot to choose from. As the Oscar watch warmsup, studios are wooing Academy members for their animated films as much as they are for Dreamgirls or Babel. This year there are sixteen animated features that are contenders for Best Animated Feature nominations. A category once dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks, the pool has now grown to include Fox, Sony and Warner Brothers.

The Annie Awards -- given by the International Animated Film Society -- are a surprisingly accurate indicator of animation Oscar noms and winners. Studios thus are courting Annie voters even more so than Academy members -- some animators even create their projects with the desire to win an Annie.

For the Oscars, handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a committee of just 100 members selects the nominations, and then the nominations are voted on by the full membership of over 5,800. As a result, animation studios spend their energy pumping the interested community with excitement about their film to get the right people to vote in their favor.

Are animation projects looking towards Annie and Oscar nods for the sake of winning or for the free publicity? Like other films, animated features are often times given an extra box office boost from nominations; it also increases DVD sales. This is an incredible publicity ploy that gets people otherwise not interested or who simply forgot the first time around, to go back out and see the film.

This is a big year for animation. The amount of films being produced and Happy Feet's box office death-grip over Casino Royale were shocking. Studios are even working to expand their nominations beyond best animated feature and perhaps to best director, editor, and screenplay.

The same work is being done for foreign films and I say, why not? Really, these films deserve to be looked at with the same seriousness provided for The Queen or Blood Diamond. It's the same travesty as is with comedy -- it often times gets the short end of the stick when it comes to awards season -- people forget that thought provoking art can also be cute and funny. And it is that kind of creativity that deserves to be recognized.

What do you think? Is it about time for animated films to be taken more seriously?