Final entries are due today to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to qualify for this year's best animated feature film Oscar.
But the real question is not necessarily: "What will make the final cut?" but "Is there a chance in hell that one of those nominees (we smell a rat here) could actually be nominated for best picture as well?"
Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991 is the only animated film to earn the distinction, but that was before the academy established the animated feature category in 2001. The ruling immediately gave 'toons their fair share of Oscar spotlight, but it ghettoized them as well.
In the eyes of many, particularly animation aficionados, the separative move just guaranteed voters wouldn't reward deserving films with a nomination for the big prize when they already have their "own" picture category.
But is the idea still so far fetched? "Ratatouille," the Pixar/Disney summer smash, has taken the world by storm, raking in more than $500 million to date around the globe and climbing.
Disney, as a studio, is still looking for its first best picture win, although it bought itself some BP glory when it purchased specialty label Miramax, which has won the top prize three times ("The English Patient," "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love").
In a season of dark, depressing dramas, "Ratatouille" may seem like an alternative - lighter, more optimistic and audience pleasing. Bloodshot, gun-shy academy voters looking for something different might come back to this one after trying out some of the newer films in the awards mix.
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As Disney's home video campaign (it streets Tuesday) correctly states, it is "the best reviewed movie of the year," leading all comers with a remarkable 97% "fresh" rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website (out of 190 reviews) and a 96 score on MetaCritic, placing it not only first for the year there, but sixth on their all-time list led by none other than "The Godfather."
These critical huzzahs, plus its box-office clout, could give the little kitchen rat the street cred the academy needs to justify a super rare bump up to best picture.
A key best picture award from a couple of those critics groups that seemed to uniformly rave about the flick certainly wouldn't hurt "Ratatouille's" chances come Oscar time.
The trick to pulling off this kind of long shot, according to veteran awards publicist and Pixar consultant Tony Angelotti, is actually getting all the members, not just the committee, to watch animated films in the first place. When they do, they usually like what they see.
When we decided to pose the question earlier this week (no one from the studio had even dared suggest the possibility to us) to multiple Oscar winner John Lasseter, Disney/Pixar's chief creative officer and an animation director himself of such films as "Toy Story" and "Cars," he said that while animators are thrilled to have their own feature recognition now, it shouldn't preclude consideration for best picture as well.
"There is a separate category for foreign language films too, but that didn't stop 'Life Is Beautiful' (in 1998), for instance, getting nominated there as well as best picture," Lasseter said.
The Roberto Benigni tear-jerker went on to win three Oscars, including best actor and foreign film but lost best picture to "Shakespeare in Love."
Of course that was an exception not the rule, and it should be stressed that in addition to the animation hurdle, no film about a rodent has ever been nominated for best picture.
No matter what happens, Lasseter's film (written and directed by "Incredibles" Oscar winner Brad Bird) is probably the 800-pound gorilla in the animated feature race. Yet, after Pixar's champ "Cars" lost to Warner's "Happy Feet" last year, Lasseter is taking nothing for granted.
"Cars" had won just about every significant precursor award, including the inaugural Golden Globe for animation, the PGA, Broadcast Film Critics, National Board of Review and many others only to run out of gas and get stomped to death by those "Happy Feet" on Oscar night.
And taking note of that, there are many carnivorous Oscar campaigners looking to pull off just such an upset this year.