(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.)
When Jeremy Irons won the award at the 67th Academy Awards, the general consensus was that the category had finally produced a winner that represented the dramatic performance quality that the award had been created in order to recognize. There was still some grumbling over the fact that the nominees were largely dominated by one film, but The Lion King had been so impressive that it was hard for people to complain too much about any of the individual nominees. Disney was set to release another animated film in 1995, Pocahontas, based on a time period and series of events ripe for drama, and featuring the voice of Mel Gibson, who would go on to have a huge year with Braveheart. But what no one could have predicted was Toy Story and the emergence of Pixar.
1995 – Nominees for Best Voice Performance in a Motion Picture:
- Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear) – Toy Story
- Christine Cavanaugh (Babe) – Babe
- Tom Hanks (Woody) – Toy Story
- Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) – Toy Story
- Peter Sallis (Wallace) – Wallace & Gromit in A Close Shave
Toy Story took the world by storm in 1995. Visually, of course, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen, and it forever catapulted computer animation into the limelight. But even beyond that, people were most impressed with its story and characters, as it established the extra “Pixar level” of story quality that would be a hallmark of their movies for years to come. The film was the first animated movie to be nominated for an Oscar for its writing, as the script (written by future king of the geeks, Joss Whedon along with many of the Pixar founders) gave the story a sense of humor and drama that had never been seen in animation before. It wasn’t a musical, or based on some well-known fairy tale, it was completely original. Toy Storywas filled with famous talent for its voice roles, and was finally the blessing that the Best Voice Performance category had been waiting for.
For the first time since its creation, the still-new category was at the forefront of award show discussion. Everyone knew it had to be a race between Tim Allen and Tom Hanks for the Oscar, and the show approached the oddsmakers gave up trying to predict it at all and simply declared a 50-50 chance between Allen and Hanks. It was felt that Hanks was more the “lead” role in the film, but Allen’s role was more flashy and fun. It was felt that Don Rickles was nominated for getting the most laughs in the film, but no one gave him a chance when compared to Allen and Hanks. Christine Cavanaugh got some praise for her role in Best Picture nominee Babe, though there was some confusion as Babe featured none of the generally accepted forms of animation (hand-drawn, computer or stop motion). Poor Peter Sallis was generally ignored, despite receiving his second nomination for the role of Wallace for the nominated short, A Close Shave. In the days before the ceremony, the Allen/Hanks debate reached a fever pitch, as everyone made their last second bets and predictions and held their breath in anticipation.
Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear) – Toy Story
No one cheered louder or clapped harder for Tim Allen than Tom Hanks, and as he accepted the award the first thing Allen did was to praise Hanks for his performance in the film. He followed with a joke about how he’d given up on ever winning an Oscar after he wasn’t nominated for The Santa Clause, then poked some fun at Disney about how Pocahontas wasn’t nominated at all, and finished his speech with a loud, “To infinity and beyond!” It was a race and a win that people would talk about for years, as the Best Voice Performance award was finally deemed to have truly arrived. From 1995 onwards, the debate over the category’s inclusion died off, and in lean years with disappointing nominees, people would always point back at this year whenever someone dared to question the award. It was also the beginning of Pixar’s dependable presence at the Oscars, one which would continue to build through the inclusion of the Best Animated Feature award and the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten nominees. Following Allen’s win, eyes were turned to the next year’s slate of films, but no one could have guessed the eclectic nature of the nominees to come.
What do you think? In an Allen/Hanks duel, who would win the Oscar? Were there any other roles fromToy Story that should have been nominated? What about Pocahontas? Who do you think will make the list for 1996? Let me know in the comments!