"And the Oscar for Best Animated Feature goes to.... 'Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore!'"
Imagine the outrage if Academy Awards viewers were to hear that sentence in February. Not just because the talking-pet sequel seems like an afterthought in a category where the frontrunners are such critical and commercial hits as 'Toy Story 3,' 'How to Train Your Dragon,' 'Despicable Me,' and 'Megamind.' But also because 'Kitty Galore' seems like it should be considered a live-action movie (albeit one with a lot of CGI effects) that's not even eligible in this category.
Yet there it was among the 15 eligible animated features in the list of potential nominees that the Academy released on Monday. Which prompted us at Moviefone to wonder: Why does the Academy consider 'Kitty Galore' an animated film? And if it is, why don't the Oscars consider a movie like 'Avatar' to be an animated film as well?
So we called the Academy and got some answers.
First, you can rest easy knowing that 'Kitty Galore' did not elbow out some more deserving animated feature from the list. Academy Executive Administrator Ric Robertson tells us that there were two other animated features that didn't make the eligibility list -- 'Sita Sings the Blues' and 'Tales from Earthsea' -- but only because their distributors did not submit them for consideration. Which is the key step, perhaps not surprisingly, in the process of getting on the list.
'Kitty Galore's' makers did submit their film for consideration as an animated feature, Robertson says, and the Academy's animation panel checked it against the Oscar rules to see if it qualified. According to the Academy's Rule Seven, a film qualifies as an animated feature if it's a.) at least 40 minutes long, b.) uses frame-by-frame animation techniques, c.) has a significant number of major characters who are wholly animated and d.) uses animation in at least 75 percent of the film's running time.
By those standards, Robertson says, the panel determined that 'Kitty Galore,' which has several all-CGI characters and uses computer-generated animation in shots comprising at least three-quarters of its running time, does indeed qualify for an animated feature Oscar.
Still, that definition seems elastic enough that many of today's CGI effects-driven movies might qualify as cartoons. Indeed, a movie like 'Avatar' might well have qualified as an animated feature under Rule Seven.
Robertson agrees, but he notes that 'Avatar's' makers did not submit it for consideration in the category, so the issue never came up. He also acknowledges, however, that the increasing digitization of movies is forcing the Academy to scramble so that its rules keep up with the changing face of film. "This year," Robertson says, "they added a line: 'Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique'" That addition to Rule Seven might have kept out a movie like 'Avatar,' where many of the computer-drawn aliens were built from the movements of actors wearing motion-capture suits.
"That's the kind of thing they struggle with every year," Robertson says. "I'm sure the rules will continue to evolve in the face of changing circumstances and technologies."
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.