What if there was a Best Voice Performance Oscar? – 1993

(Note: This is a fictional creative writing exercise, inspired by hours of contemplation of which animated performances have been most worthy of attention over the years.  This feature imagines that a Best Voice Performance category was added to the Oscars following Beauty and the Beast’s nomination for Best Picture at the 64th Academy Awards.  Each week I’ll cover the hypothetical nominees and winner from one year of animated performances.)

Following Robin Williams’ win of the first ever Best Voice Performance Oscar for his role as The Genie inAladdin, industry experts began looking ahead at 1993’s slate of animated films, trying to anticipate who the next winner might be.  Both the experts and the Academy were more than a little dismayed to find that not only was Disney not releasing a classically styled animated films along the lines of Beauty and the Beastand Aladdin, but that there were very few animated films lined up for the year at all.  There were calls from opponents to drop the category entirely, while even some supporters of the award thought it might be best to hold the award back and only bring it out on years with better prospects.  Nevertheless, the Academy decided to press on with the award as an accepted part of the ceremony, not knowing exactly what the nominations would bring.

1993 – Nominees for Best Voice Performance in a Motion Picture:

  • Danny Elfman (Jack Skellington) – The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Catherine O’Hara (Sally) – The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Ken Page (Oogie Boogie) – The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Peter Sallis (Wallace) – Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers
  • Chris Sarandon (Jack Skellington) – The Nightmare Before Christmas

The nominations turned out to be extremely confusing, raising many questions about eligibility that had not been raised last year.  For starters, all of the nominees came from stop-motion films, instead of traditional hand-drawn animation, much to the chagrin of animation purists everywhere.  It didn’t help matters that The Nightmare Before Christmas was considered to be too “weird” by many, despite also being nominated in the Best Visual Effects category and widely considered to be a revolutionary work in stop motion animation.  Tim Burton would of course go on to produce several other films along the line of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but at the time the film was considered a bit strange.  Also causing controversy was the nomination of Peter Sallis for a performance in a short film, instead of a feature.  But while The Wrong Trousers would go on to win the Best Animated Short award, and while the category didn’t technically say “feature film” in the title, it was considered to be a sign of the poor slate of animated films that a performance in a short was even considered.

And then there was the oddity of Chris Sarandon and Danny Elfman both being nominated for playing the same role in the same film.  Sarandon performed the spoken parts of Jack Skellington’s dialogue, while Elfman provided the singing voice in the film’s songs (which he also wrote).  It was pointed out that actors had been nominated for awards in the past despite not doing their own singing (Deborah Kerr in The King and I, for example), but never had someone been nominated just for singing.  And while many acknowledged the worthiness of the role, the confusion about which performer deserved more credit made it difficult for anyone to guess the possible outcome of the award.

Winner:

Catherine O’Hara (Sally) – The Nightmare Before Christmas

Robin Williams presented the award, cementing the tradition of the previous year’s winner presenting the award.  Williams poked some fun at the controversy surrounding the nominees, joking that the Academy probably wished that he had done voiceover for a toothpaste commercial just so they could nominate him again.  Catherine O’Hara was gracious and funny accepting her award, particularly praising Tim Burton, with whom she had worked previously on Beetlejuice.  Conventional wisdom concluded that the votes had been split between the Elfman and Sarandon, allowing O’Hara, who had been considered a long shot, to win.  In general, while O’Hara was a likable winner, the lack of variety and the controversy surrounding the nominees made the critics of the award even louder.  Although the next year would bring a more mainstream film to the race, it would do little to address the concerns of the critics.

What do you think?  Was 1993 a pitiful year for animation?  Who gives the best performance in The Nightmare Before Christmas?  How would you handle a character that has one actor for the speaking parts and another for the singing parts?  Who do you think would win the next year’s award?  Let me know in the comments!

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