LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Beloved by all ages and praised by critics, cartoons from ``Pinocchio'' to ``The Iron Giant'' have proven a perennial sure bet during Oscar season: They never win, and are rarely nominated.

The dearth has led some artists to call for a new Academy Award honoring feature-length animation, despite objections from others who say it would diminish cartoon's standing against live-action fare.

``There is a lot of interest in animated films. They're very popular, and there's a large selection out there. Why not give them their own division or category?'' asked Tom Sito, president of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Guild, Local 839.

A longtime advocate for an animated feature Oscar, Sito has worked on such films as ``The Little Mermaid,'' ``Aladdin'' and ``Beauty and the Beast,'' the only feature-length cartoon ever nominated for Best Picture.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences periodically considers forming an animated feature category, but has declined because of a shortage of nominees.

Studios in the United States have released an average of only seven fully animated features each year since 1989, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office statistics.

``You have to have more than that to play the game,'' Academy spokesman John Pavlik said. ``Otherwise, we'd be giving nominations to almost every animated feature that comes out.''

One way to add more films to the proposed category would be easing qualifications to include movies that are only partially animated, such as sci-fi or action thrillers which use animation in virtually every scene.

With the advent of computer-generated images, visual effects films and purely animated movies now use ``essentially the same techniques,'' according to Sito, who helped blend animated characters with real actors in ``Who Framed Roger Rabbit.''

By that rationale, Buzz Lightyear and Woody the cowboy from ``Toy Story 2'' could be considered cousins to Jar-Jar Binks in ``The Phantom Menace'' and the dinosaurs in ``Jurassic Park.''

However, the Oscars already offer a category for visual effects, and some filmmakers may balk at the animation label.

``There are hybrids of live-action and animation, but it would be hard to create a category that includes both,'' Pavlik said. ``I don't see how that could be done in a way that would satisfy everyone.''

Opposition to an animated feature award also comes from artists who would consider it a symbol that their work is inferior to live-action productions.

``Animation has never gotten the respect it deserves, but this would just further ghettoize it. You'd essentially lock yourself out of the Best Picture category,'' said Steve Hulett, an animator on such films as ``The Fox and the Hound'' and ``The Great Mouse Detective.''

Sito said the idea of competing with live-action films, however romantic to animators, remains a longshot. ``It's a nice idea but a tough sell,'' he said.

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