In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

For much of the year, the Best Animated Feature category was looking like a bit of a problem area: as one studio effort after another met with either an indifferent or disastrous reception, the threat of the weakest field in the award's 13-year history hovered in the air. In the end, however, things picked up: the Mouse House came through in November with a certifiable smash, and the Academy enriched the category by venturing further afield than Hollywood. As it is, it's a respectable enough contest, though a five-nominee field is beginning to look over-generous.

The nominees are...

"The Croods" (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson)
A win may have been a lost cause from the beginning, but no film has campaigned harder for its place in the race than DreamWorks's sentimental caveman family adventure. Knowing that the March release could easily have faded in voters' memories -- particularly with reviews that were only okay -- the studio sent out screeners early (and plentifully), held classy industry events and exhibitions dedicated to the film's artwork and even scored the endorsement of Harvey Weinstein himself, who has been vocally singing its praises in interviews. He's not alone: the film is bright, energetic and hard to actively dislike, even if it's few people's idea of the year's best in the medium. And after the disappointments of "Rise of the Guardians" and "Turbo," DreamWorks should regard this nomination as a win in itself. Sanders, by the way, has previously been nominated here for "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Lilo & Stitch." (Fun fact: "The Croods" is the only Oscar nominee in any category this year to have premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.)

"Despicable Me 2" (Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri)
This jolly, candy-colored return for the world's least threatening supervillain becomes only the fourth sequel to be nominated for this award, but it also has a unique place in the category's short history: it's the first nominated sequel to a film that was ignored by the animators' branch. (The asterisk, of course, is that "Despicable Me" would surely have been included in a year of five nominees.) That's the power of money talking: the new film wasn't appreciably better or worse received than its predecessor, but it grossed even more, finishing the year in fourth place. That it is strictly an also-ran in this category despite such stratospheric success speaks to its negligible artistic qualities, though the film is amiable enough; its best chance at an Oscar lies with Pharrell's bouncy, chart-topping hit "Happy." Meanwhile, we'll see how the Minions' spin-off movie fares in a couple of years' time. (Chris Renaud was first nominated for the 2006 "Ice Age"-related short "No Time for Nuts.")

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