Another funny thing has happened in the best animated feature category.  First, animation and Oscar fans everywhere were disappointed to learn earlier this month that only 15 films qualified for this year's award.  By Academy rules, that means only three pictures can be nominated in the category.  Last year, five films made the cut and it was expected 2011 would duplicated that feat.  No dice.  Not when you don't have 16 qualified films.  Yep, that's right -  just one additional qualifying picture would have bumped it up to five. 

When that news broke, most pundits and animation industry watchers made "Toy Story 3" and "How To Train Your Dragon" locks for two of the three nomination slots.  The third?  That would most likely be a battle between Universal Pictures' monster hit "Despicable Me" and Sony Classics' "The Illusionist."  That was, however, until this past week. 

Not only did Walt Disney Studio's reboot of the "Rapunzel" fairy tale, "Tangled," become an unexpected hit at the box office, but it actually received not just good, but very good reviews.  This writer isn't a fan of the film for a number of reasons (it's stagey, the songs aren't memorable and the whole kidnapping mom thing is beyond creepy), but critics for the NY Times, the LA Times and Richard Corliss of Time Magazine (who never met a Pixar or Disney animated movie he didn't adore) gave the 3-D animated feature raves.  Currently, "Tangled" has a 72 rating on Metacritic ("Despicable Me" has the exact same score) and an 87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes ("Despicable" clocks in with an 82%). 

Now, unlike other races its up to the Academy's animation committee to decide whose in or whose out, not the overall general membership.  However, this will no doubt make the nomination that much more interesting for Universal Pictures and Disney.  "Despicable Me" is the one shining light in a tough year for the Uni crew and to lose to "Tangled" would be a big slap in the face.  Disney, on the other hand, would love to celebrate its one significant non-Pixar success under the new Rich Ross regime (at least until "Tron Legacy" opens).  Will a race of expensive trade ads and special events meant to influence the committee and media transpire over the next few weeks?  Probably nothing too extravagant, but both companies will no doubt bump up their campaigns for both films a notch.

Wouldn't it just be so much nicer if the Academy could just change the rule so, perhaps, 12-16 films are necessary to qualify?  Dare to dream...


In other awards season news…

- Speaking of animation, Cartoon Brew has the list of 33 Oscar-qualified shorts.  As expected, Pixar's "Day & Night," Warner Bros.' "Coyote Falls" (featuring the return of Coyote and the Roadrunner) and Bill Plympton's "The Cow Who Wanted To Be A Hamburger" made the initial cut.  As for the final five?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I don't predict this one until the nods are in.

- Just a reminder that its a big week for awards season following the Thanksgiving holiday.  Here's a quick rundown of the fast and furious:

Monday, Nov. 28

The 20th Anniversary Gotham Awards will be held in New York City beginning at 6:30 PM EST.  Look for winners and red carpet galleries on HitFix.

Tuesday, Nov. 30


2011 Independent Spirit Awards nominations will be announced by Eva Mendes and Jeremy Renner at 8 a.m. PST and 11 a.m. EST.  The event will be broadcast live on Livestream.  Look for a complete rundown of the nominees and analysis here on Awards Campaign and HitFix.

Wednesday, Dec. 1

The Sundance Film Festival will announce its dramatic slate and more for the 2011 edition of the festival. Full team coverage as HitFix gets ready for what has arguably become the most important film festival in the world (sorry Cannes).

The 2011 Grammy Award Nominations will be revealed in a CBS special airing at 10 PM EST/PST.  Look for a complete rundown and analysis for HitFix's own music mavens Melinda Newman and Katie Hasty.

The 2011 Annie Awards nominations will be announced. Will the membership ignore "Toy Story 3" since Disney pulled out from supporting the organization earlier this year? We doubt it, but look for lots of love for "How To Train Your Dragon."

Thursday, Dec. 2

The National Board of Review will announce it's increasingly relevant best of the year picks. 

And on Friday?  Everyone breathes.

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