Superheroes on top of animation's world
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The number of nominees may be few in the 4-year-old category of best animated feature film — but they are mighty. "The Incredibles," "Shrek 2," and "Shark Tale" are all box office power hitters, collectively hauling in more than $851 million.

"The Incredibles," from Pixar Animations Studios and written and directed by Brad Bird ("Iron Giant"), centers on a family of superheroes forced into early retirement, until Mr. Incredible is lured back into action by an evil nemesis.

The film received some of the best reviews of any film last year, but Bird refused to dwell on the possibility of any nominations until he was awakened early Tuesday.

"I think the danger in this stuff is in expecting anything," Bird said. "So, I'm basically still very happy that I got to make the film and it got released and it did well. And anything extra is just frosting."

"Shrek 2," the sequel to a little movie called "Shrek," finds the newly married ogre couple Shrek and Fiona fighting for love against the wiles of a nefarious Fairy Godmother. Rounding out the competition, "Shark Tale" tells the story of a fish named Oscar who learns a lesson when he tries to gain prominence by pretending that he killed the son of a gangster shark.

"Shark Tale" and "Shrek 2" hail from DreamWorks SKG, and principal partner Jeffrey Katzenberg served as executive producer for both films. As the proud father of twins, now 22 years old, Katzenberg considers himself uniquely suited to the dilemma of having the films in competition against each other.

"There are no favorites," he said. "They're equally loved, and equally treated."

He added that while the academy nominations are never predictable, the "Shark Tale" nod was completely unexpected. "I'm so genuinely proud for the filmmakers who worked so hard on the movie. It's not a movie that got the kind of critical recognition that we had hoped for, so it's very nice for them."

The field was capped at three movies because of academy rules: Five nominees are selected only in years when at least 16 eligible movies have been released.

As in past years, animated films are well represented throughout the song and sound arenas as well. "The Polar Express" tune "Believe" joins "Accidentally in Love" from "Shrek 2" in the song category. "The Incredibles" and "The Polar Express" were also nominated in the sound editing and sound mixing categories.

What's more, "The Incredibles" also landed in the original screenplay category.

"That was extremely gratifying for me," said writer Bird, "because there are a lot of screenwriters whose work I admire, and it's very humbling to be in their company."

Noting that the film is up against such serious fare in that category as "Hotel Rwanda," "Vera Drake," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Aviator," Bird added, "How did our goofy little movie get in there?"