Pixar films are known for their sublime character voices — just look at Tom Hanks in “Toy Story” or Paul Newman in “Cars.” But as the title heroine in “Finding Dory,” Ellen DeGeneres goes to even greater acting depths to channel a memory-challenged Blue Tang fish. It’s a portrait that’s far more nuanced than her turn as a lovable sidekick in the original 2003 movie “Finding Nemo.” In the sequel, as Dory’s childhood recollections slowly return, DeGeneres combines the kind of slapstick lines that would make “Aladdin’s” Genie jealous with heartbreaking drama (a la “Still Alice” under the sea). Even though we never see DeGeneres’ face, it could still be called one of her strongest performances, and one that audiences won’t soon forget.
But don’t expect her to get any awards recognition at the end of the year. That’s because Oscars have never once nominated a vocal performance in the acting categories. Although members of the Academy can vote for them, and studios have occasionally campaigned for actors for their voice work (such as Jennifer Jason Leigh in last year’s “Anomalisa”), Academy voters have been too rigid to actually celebrate acting in an animated film.
Which begs the question: do the Oscars need a separate category for these kinds of performances? The ceremony is already too long with 24 different contests, but it would certainly liven up a stodgy telecast to see Academy Award contenders like Amy Poehler (“Inside Out”), Idina Menzel (“Frozen”) or Jack Black (“Kung Fu Panda”). Not to mention that while most genres in Hollywood are suffering from lack of originality, animation is experiencing a renaissance, which is why the Academy added a category for such films in 2002.
That year, “Shrek” took the first Oscar for an animated feature. The inaugural Pixar movie to win wasn’t for another two years with “Finding Nemo.” If “Finding Dory” lands the trophy next February, it would be the first time that two movies from the same animated franchise received the Oscar. But that’s not a guarantee, even with “Finding Dory’s” rave reviews.
It will be another strong year for animation with “Dory” likely up against two Disney films (“Zootopia” and “Moana”), Netflix’s “The Little Prince,” Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Red Turtle” and the dark horse raunchy candidate, Sony Pictures’ “Sausage Party,” which is like an R-rated “Toy Story” set in grocery store. If there was a separate category for voice acting, DeGeneres would inevitably face off against Seth Rogen (who portrays a sex-starved hot dog named Frank in “Sausage Party”). That would give the Oscars a kind of MTV Awards meets “Celebrity Deathmatch” vibe that the show has been desperately missing.