NEW YORK -- It all could come down to a chipmunk.
In a year when a number of Hollywood heavyweights -- including Jerry Seinfeld, Matt Groening and Robert Zemeckis -- are duking it out in the unlikely forum of the best animated feature film Oscar race, several complicating (and complicated) factors could rob many of their glory.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is expected to announce its eligibility list for the animated category next week. With heavy star power, a deep field and unconventional candidates -- and a rule that could involve the Fox family film "Alvin & the Chipmunks" -- animation players are bracing for the kind of drama and controversy that's never been seen in the award's seven-year history.
"This is finally the year you see the animation category breaking out and telling different kinds of stories," Animation Magazine editor Ramin Zahed said.
As a result, he and other animation watchers say, votes could be split in a way that will make a lot of toon players unhappy.
Seinfeld's "Bee Movie," Pixar critics favorite "Ratatouille," Groening's "The Simpsons Movie," Sony's technically lauded "Surf's Up" and Oscar-factory DreamWorks' "Shrek the Third" are all in the mix.
That would make for a crowded enough race in any year. But this year they'll be going up against the adult-aimed French-language political movie "Persepolis" and Zemeckis' take on the epic Beowulf tale.
"I could say it's the year of diversity," one Academy member said. "But really it's just the year of chaos."
Contributing to that chaos is an uncertain number of slots. Academy rules state that if 16 animated movies are released in a given year, the committee could nominate five movies instead of three.