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'Nemo' swims away with animated feature prize

Pixar claims first Oscar as it parts company with Disney
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Finding Nemo” found its way to the Oscar podium Sunday night, winning the Academy Award for best animated feature.

The child of divorcing corporate parents Walt Disney Co. and Pixar Animation Studios, Nemo was one of the smash hits of 2003, taking in $340 million in ticket sales. The lushly animated film tells the story of a father fish looking for his little son, who struggles to make his way back home to the ocean.

But amid the feel-good film’s success, the family behind it was fragmenting, with Pixar chief Steve Jobs breaking off negotiations with Michael Eisner-led Disney. Eisner, in turn, has been under attack for his management of the company he has led for 20 years, which recently was the target of a takeover bid by cable giant Comcast.

The winning moment at Kodak Theatre could have been awkward, but director Andrew Stanton simply credited the “extraordinary filmmaking environment at Pixar” as well as Dick Cook, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Backstage, he was asked if Pixar’s first best-feature Oscar would help the company go it alone.

“Well, it never hurts. ... This just legitimizes that we are on the right track,” Stanton said.

Presenter Robin Williams alluded to the Disney-Pixar breakup before the award was announced, saying that with Eisner losing Pixar, “all you’re going to have left is basically a Muppet and a waterslide.”

The possibility of airing more Disney-Pixar dirty laundry evaporated when the Roy E. Disney-produced “Destino” lost to “Harvie Krumpet” in the animated short film category. That kept Roy Disney — who recently quit the Disney board and has been trying to oust Eisner — off the podium.

Pixar had previously won or shared three Oscars. Animator John Lasseter won best animated short film in 1988 for “Tin Toy.” In 1995, he won a special achievement award for leading the Pixar team that produced “Toy Story,” the first feature-length computer animated film. And Pixar specialists shared a scientific technical award in 1994 for pioneering work in the field of film input scanning.

“Finding Nemo,” which was up against Disney’s “Brother Bear” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Triplets of Belleville,” was in the lineage of such hits as “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters, Inc.”

The filmmakers populated their animated water world with a school of clever characters — the clown fish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), the blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a trio of sharks and a surfing turtle, among them.

Two more Pixar-Disney features are upcoming under the current contract: “The Incredibles,” due out later this year, and “Cars,” slated for release next year.