The Academy Awards are still a few months away, and while some of its biggest contenders are yet to be released in theaters, Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross feels the competition is already over. Ross feels confident that Disney/Pixar’s latest gem Toy Story 3 will be the first animated feature (and first Disney film, for that matter) to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Since the Academy changed the number of nominees to 10 last year, Toy Story 3 is sure to be a lock for a nomination at the very least. Ross’ argument is sound, albeit a bit haughty. The competition is steep this season, but Disney/Pixar has its most promising opportunity since Beauty and the Beast was nominated in 1991.

Last year Up earned a Best Picture nomination, but fell to The Hurt Locker. This year’s group of potential nominees seems much tougher than those from last year. That said, Ross is tired of hoping for a Best Picture win and walking away with just a Best Animated Feature award.

The chairman didn’t hold back in an interview with Deadline on the possibility of an unprecedented victory:

“We’re going for the Best Picture win. We wanted to have the best movie and the reviews have clearly said that and it’s the number one box office hit of the year so I’m not sure why we would not go for it all.”

“The theory is pretty simple for us. It’s thrilling that there is a separate category for animation and that allows animated movies to be recognized but for some reason an animated film has never gotten Best Picture and I always wondered was there not an appetite? We decided this year we have the biggest and best reviewed film of the year. If not this year, and not this movie, when?”

His confidence may be brash, but it is far from misplaced. If the Academy is in line with the majority of critics, Toy Story 3 is the early frontrunner. But the box office argument is a bit overzealous. Only two of the seven movies that have grossed over $1 billion worldwide have won Best Picture – Titanic (1997) and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). While it doesn’t hurt Toy Story 3‘s chances, it won’t sell the Academy.

‘For Your Consideration’ campaigns always rub me the wrong way. If a film is the best of the year, it should speak for itself. Why does a studio need to remind the industry of its superb quality? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: business. We don’t complain about Pepsi commercials when the company clearly needs no help in selling product (well, we do, but you know what I mean). In addition, if you quintuple your production budget, the least you can do is dish out a few more dollars for an Oscar campaign – especially one as cool as Toy Story 3‘s.

Disney/Pixar has launched a public campaign to target Academy voters, loaded with posters that tip a hat to past award winners. Like a high school student council campaign, the flashiest and most dedicated nominee may push itself to the top. If that is the case, Toy Story 3 is ahead of the curve.

Check out one of the posters below. Ironically, it features a nod to Shakespeare in Love – a Best Picture winner shrouded in the controversial rumor that the Weinsteins “bought the Oscar.” Considering its competition, it sure seemed like a suspicious victory.

Mr. Pricklepants channels his inner Shakespeare

So what kind of chance does Toy Story 3 have in the upcoming Academy Awards? Surely it will be the cream of the crop. But when votes pour in, will it earn the most? Competition is steep, but also unpredictable right now.

Popular opinion has already reserved a few spaces for the final ten nominations. Christopher Nolan’s Inception and David Fincher’s The Social Network exploded on the scene with rave reviews.

But it seems the majority of potential nominees’ films might release in the coming weeks. According to early reviews, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Peter Weir’s The Way Back, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit, David O. Russell’s The Fighter and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech are all top notch contenders for the final 10 Best Picture slots. All release between now and the Oscar deadline.

Woody, Buzz and Jessie run from a monkey stampede in 'Toy Story 3'

Members of the Academy are considered a fickle bunch, infamous for picking the more artistic films over generally beloved blockbusters. The Dark Knight and Avatar are a pair of films from the past two years that provided voters an opportunity to side with the fans, but were passed over for Slumdog Millionare and The Hurt Locker (great films in their own right).

Toy Story 3 is the rare instance where critics and the general public seem to be in agreement. A victory for the animated feature will surely win over the show’s dilapidated crowd. Let’s face it, the Oscars are in dire need of a popularity boost. Whether it was your favorite film of 2010 or not, few people would argue against a victory for Toy Story 3.

Do you agree with Rich Ross that Toy Story 3 deserves the Oscar? What film from this year do you want to see walk home with the top prize?

Source: Deadline