Talk about superheroes.
“The Incredibles,” Pixar’s hilarious look at the midlife crises of a super-powered family, swept the animation industry’s awards show Sunday at Glendale’s Looney Toon-hued Alex Theatre.
Besting “Shrek 2,” “The Incredibles” won 10 Annies, with three going to Brad Bird, who wrote, directed and did the voice of Edna Mode, costume maker to the phenomenal.
Antran Manoogian, longtime president of the local branch of the international animation society sponsoring the event, noted that the Annie has come to be seen as a harbinger for the category at the Oscars. “Up to this point, every animated feature that has received the Annie award has gone on to win the Oscar.” “The Incredibles” faces DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2" and “Shark Tale” in Academy Award competition. Bird is also nominated in the original screenplay category.
At ASIFA-Hollywood’s 32nd annual awards ceremony, which was scheduled to take place early Sunday evening, “The Incredibles” grabbed even more prizes than “The Iron Giant,” Bird’s poignant film about a boy and his 50-foot robot that won nine Annies in 1999.
In an interview before the gala, Bird said he had taken 15 members of the “Iron Giant” team with him when he moved from Southern California to Pixar in Emeryville.
Making a feature for the Bay Area studio, which pioneered computer-generated animation with “Toy Story” and has never had a flop, was daunting, Bird said. “We felt like we were the next guys at bat, when everyone else had smacked a home run.” The Pixar film, probably the penultimate in its soured partnership with Walt Disney Pictures, won in a best-feature category that included “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,” a dark sequel to Mamoru Oshii’s anime classic, and the anything-but-dark undersea comedy “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” (Nickelodeon/Paramount).
But its real competition was “Shrek 2,” DreamWorks’ CGI hit that brought back green ogres-in-love Shrek and Fiona and introduced Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots to vie for laughs with Eddie Murphy’s Donkey.
Mentored as a teenager by Disney’s legendary Milt Kahl, Bird is distressed by what he sees as the mindless abandonment of traditional animation by much of the industry as it tries to mimic Pixar.
“I don’t think Pixar’s success has been about technology,” he said. “Pixar’s focus has always been about stories and characters.... I would love it, as a watcher of animated films, if we could fast-forward through this stupid time and get to a point where all kinds of films are made.” In the rush away from 2-D animation, he said, “I think people conveniently ignore the fact that ‘Lilo & Stitch’ was a hit, and it was very hand-drawn.”
One pleasure of the Annies, Bird said, is that the crowd understands that animators are performers.
He cited the genie in Disney’s “Aladdin”: “So much of what made the genie special, in addition to [the voice of] Robin Williams, was that it was animated by Eric Goldberg.”
Angus MacLane won Sunday for character animation, beating three fellow “Incredibles” animators and Ken Duncan of “Shark Tale.” “The Lion King 1 1/2 ,” from DisneyToon Studios, won in the increasingly important best home entertainment category. Walt Disney Pictures’ “Lorenzo” was named best animated short.
Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” took best animated television production.
In recent years, those milling outside the Alex Theatre have often bemoaned contrasting trends in animation -- increasing respect for the field but fewer and fewer jobs.
Manoogian, who wore tails to the show long before others began sporting tuxes and smart black dresses, said he thinks employment is beginning to pick up. He senses more optimism.
Bird was delighted that extensive coverage of his film has included speculation about what it may say about political life in America today.
“That was a wonderful surprise,” he said. “Animation is usually marginalized and thought of as a children’s medium.”
Whoever the stories appeal to, for animators, the medium is always one that combines aesthetic pleasures with those of technical problem-solving, or as Bird put it: “That’s what movies are all about, this technology in the service of something as ethereal as dreams.”