(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 the general confusion of the 69th Academy Awards, no one knew what to expect for 1997. Pixar had yet to reassert itself following the success of Toy Story, but the slate of feature length animation for the year was considered to be much stronger than that of 1996. What was not anticipated was the new controversy that was about to crop up.
1997 – Nominees for Best Voice Performance in a Motion Picture:
- Billy Crudup (Ashitaka) – Princess Mononoke
- Claire Danes (San) – Princess Mononoke
- Danny DeVito (Phil) – Hercules
- Susan Egan (Megara) – Hercules
- James Woods (Hades) – Hercules
Many insiders had expected the award to become a showdown between Disney’s Hercules and Fox’s Anastasia, so there was quite a bit of shock that Anastasia received no nominations, especially considering its all-star cast. The fact that it was nominated in other categories (Best Original Song and Best Original Score, Musical or Comedy) was thought by some to be a sure sign that the Best Voice Performance category was beginning to show favoritism to Disney, who either produced or distributed the two films that produced nominated performances.
Beyond that, however, there was some confusion over the inclusion of Billy Crudup and Claire Danes for Princess Mononoke. While no one questioned that the film, from legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, was worthy of consideration, the fact that the dubbed American voices were nominated caused quite the backlash. The debate over whether the original actors (Yoji Matsuda and Yuriko Ishida) should have been eligible instead raged from the moment the nominations were announced until months after the awards ceremony, despite the fact that the dubbed version was the only one shown in America, where the Oscars are based. Despite the controversy, a precedent was set with the awards for 1997 and the English dubs used when foreign films came to the US were considered the only version to qualify for the award.
James Woods (Hades) – Hercules
Regardless of the controversy over Princess Mononoke, most people felt the correct performance won. James Woods’ Hades was the highlight of Hercules for many viewers, and it was felt that his frequent ad-libbing elevated the film beyond what it would otherwise have been. Roger Ebert even compared it to Robin Williams in Aladdin, the inaugural winner of the award. So following a satisfying win despite a controversial slate of nominees, all eyes turned toward the future, which heralded the much anticipated return of Pixar to the big screen.
What do you think? Should the original voice actors or the English dubbed actors be eligible for a Best Voice Performance Oscar? After all, aren’t they basically completely new performances, worthy of consideration on their own? Nominees for Best Animated Feature are based on the versions shown in the US, after all. Is there any way that James Woods doesn’t win the award for 1997? Let me know in the comments!