Who better to cover the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s first-ever animation panel than a columnist who used to watch and even admire certain Jeffrey Katzenberg-sired animated features when the boys were young in the ‘90s, but has since avoided animation like the plague?

I have to say that I feel a tiny bit differently after watching and listening to the five Oscar-nominated animation hotshots who showed up today.

I will always feel vaguely annoyed or tortured by family-friendly animation features but I respect the semblance of soul and obviously serious craft that went into Encanto, Flee, Luca, The Mitchell’s vs. the Machines and Raya and the Last Dragon.

And having now spent a little time with the people who respectively created (or co-created) these films — Charise Castro Smith, Charlotte de la Gournerie, Enrico Casarosa, Mike Rianda and Jon Hall — I can honestly call myself an admirer.

Hall (ginger-haired, glasses) and Rianda (big personality, gray-haired) are the nerdy-looking guys on the right. Charlotte de la Gournerie is the blonde with the high-heeled sandals and the curly frizzy hair, Castro Smith is the short-statured brunette with the jean jacket, and Casarosa is the slender, non-nerdy guy with the big ears and graying goatee.

SBIFF honcho Roger Durling was a gracious and passionate interviewer, asking knowledgeable and thoughtful questions and making everyone feel respected and among friends.