LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When an expanded list of 10 movies competes next year for the best picture Oscar, director Pete Docter hopes his "Up" will become the first animated film since 1991's "Beauty and the Beast" to vie for Hollywood's most coveted honor.
Award show trackers say Docter has reason to be hopeful because "Up," about an old man and a boy who float off to South America in a house tied to helium balloons, has earned wide acclaim from fans and critics, alike.
"Up" has tallied $507 million at worldwide box offices since May's theatrical release, and is one of the year's best-reviewed films scoring a 98 percent positive rating at review website rottentomatoes.com.
But the movie, which sees its DVD version land on retail shelves on Tuesday, faces a harsh Hollywood climate in which to soar if it hopes to win 2009's best film Oscar.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has not nominated an animated movie in its best motion picture category since it began giving a separate award for best animated feature in 2002.
In fact, "Beauty and the Beast" is the only animated movie ever nominated for best picture in more than 80 years since the Academy began giving away the film industry's highest honors.
Still, Docter told Reuters that Oscar voters should evaluate his computer-animated "Up" in the same way they view any movie because that's how his team approaches filmmaking.
"We happen to use computers to be telling the story, but it's first and foremost about the storytelling, just like anything else." he said. "For the world to look at it that way as well, that would be great."
When the Academy announced in June that the best picture Oscar nominations list would expand from five to 10, it said the change was meant to open the field to a wider array of movies instead of the live action dramas that dominate the category.
"There's a strong likelihood that 'Up' will be the second animated movie ever nominated for best picture," said Tom O'Neil, columnist for awards web site www.TheEnvelope.com.
The DVD version out on Tuesday comes with a number of bonus features, including commentary from Docter and co-director Bob Peterson, and an original short film about Dug, a talking dog who stars in the movie.
Docter said one of his early victories with the film came when he pitched the story to Pixar and Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter, and saw tears in the executive's eyes.
Lasseter connected to the main character, the curmudgeonly old Carl, and the summation of his life given at the beginning of the story, when his wife dies after a childless but long, loving marriage. "I got John to cry, so that was awesome," Docter said.
Editing by Jill Serjeant