As emcee of the 29th Annual Annie Awards, voice actor Billy West set the tone Saturday night for the animation Oscars. It's going to be wild and crazy, West promised: "We're going to open envelopes without fear."
In fact, the annual gala seems to have mellowed over the years, and the once notoriously scruffy animation crowd to have spruced up.
Yes, sneakers continue to be the footwear of choice--new black-and-white sneakers to go with the tux. But this year few attendees sported hair dyed a color found only in 'toons, not in nature. And many of the women at Glendale's Alex Theatre wore long black gowns, like those seen at the Emmys.
If "Monsters, Inc." had been eligible, there may have been a battle for best animated feature. But the Disney/Pixar blockbuster was released after the July 31, 2001, cutoff for this year's contest.
So no one was surprised when PDI/DreamWorks' "Shrek," with 12 nominations, took best animated feature away from Disney's "The Emperor's New Groove," Warner Bros.' "Osmosis Jones" and "Blood: The Last Vampire" from SPE Visual Works, Sony and others.
Disney's ambitious animated adventure "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" was not even nominated in the best-feature category. But Disney prodigal son Dale Baer, who had left the studio in 1976, was the surprise winner for character animation for "The Emperor's New Groove," besting three "Shrek" nominees.
But there was no question that the night belonged to the green ogre and his garrulous donkey. In introducing "Shrek's" directors, West quipped: "Saying our next presenters are having a good year is like saying Bill Gates can afford private school." The "Shrek" team took seven Annies in all.
Film historian and critic Leonard Maltin was honored with the June Foray Award for his contributions to the industry. Animation is getting more respect for the oldest of reasons, he said.
"There's awareness finally in some circles of Hollywood that never paid much attention to it before," Maltin said. "That has a lot to do with money. If you make money, people notice you."
"Monsters, Inc." made a record $63 million in its opening weekend, while "Shrek" sold $110 million worth of CDs and DVDs the weekend they were released.
But even as the community celebrates having an Oscar category for the first time next spring, animators wonder where their next job will come from.
"It's a cyclical thing," Mike Wolf, head of production for Film Roman, said of the business. "We had a bigger upcycle than usual. This is the first downturn we've had for about 10 years."
Vicky Jenson, who co-directed "Shrek" with Andrew Adamson, is one of a handful of women directors in the industry and the first to win an Annie for a feature film. She said that "Bambi" was the movie that made her tumble for animation. One of the few animators who did not go to CalArts, she got her start the old-fashioned Hollywood way--through nepotism.
Her sister and her husband made animated commercials, Jenson said, "and I painted cels for them when I was baby-sitting." A veteran of such TV cartoon shows as "He-Man" and "Ren & Stimpy," she said she learned how to direct from storyboarding.
Foray is founder of the Annies, and its sponsor, the local branch of the international animated film society, is known as ASIFA-Hollywood. Wearing a gold pendant featuring her most famous voice character, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Foray said she is thrilled that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will finally recognize the animated feature with an Oscar of its own.
The Oscar will only be given in years in which at least eight films are in contention. Foray said 13 have been submitted for the coming year.
Foray said she thinks exciting things are being done in computer animation, including "Shrek." But she continues to cherish animation done the traditional way--cel by painstaking cel. "I am sad to see cel animation go," she said, "because that is our history, beginning with 'Gertie, the Dinosaur."'
Other Annie winners were: "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" (Warner Bros.) for best animated home video, "Hubert's Brain" (Wild Brain Inc.) for best animated short and "Batman Beyond" for best animated daytime TV production.
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