In just a few months, a team of holiday warriors, an orange environmentalist and 19 other animated hopefuls will battle for an Oscar. Of course by then the number will have been whittled down to a handful (probably 5), but the astounding fact remains that this year features more award-submitted animated features than ever before.

There are widely-released, popular entries like Hotel Transylvania, ParaNorman and Pirates! (THR has an excellent run-down of the entire list), but the large and diverse queue once again raises the problem inherent in having an animated category: animation is not a genre. While most of the films are aimed squarely at the young and young at heart, there’s also the wildcard Liar’s Autobiography which uses 17 different animation styles to tell the story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. That dark horse is awkwardly shoehorned into a category that might also be called “Best Family Film” at this point.There’s also Hey Krishna, an entry from India that tells about the childhood years of the dairy-loving God, and “Best Talking Animal Animated Film” could be its own subcategory this year (although it’s unclear what species The Lorax is).

Since the category has cemented its own importance (and arguably achieved the goal of placing a spotlight on animated work), we have to ask every year whether it’s time for this style of movie to stand on its own in the “regular” categories. With Toy Story 3 being nominated for Best Picture at the 2011 broadcast and an undeniably large field representing non-live-action this year, it becomes harder and harder to dismiss both the place that animation has in the cultural landscape and that it should have in the broader field of accolades.

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