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Why Vocal Performances in Animated Films Deserve Their Own Oscars Category

Given all the praise heaped on Billy Eichner’s performance this year as the wisecracking meerkat Timon in Jon Favreau’s remake of “The Lion King,” which grossed $1.6 billion worldwide, you’d think he would be a bigger contender in the Oscar conversation. His work was such a standout, he even upstaged Beyoncé’s much-hyped appearance in the animated film.

After seeing the movie at its Los Angeles premiere back in July, I tweeted, “@disneylionking has brought @billyeichner to another level. Gamechanger. Hollywood needs to give him everything.”

Eichner replied, “Did you hear that Hollywood??? EVERYTHING!!!!”

“Everything” should include an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

But that’s unlikely.

Voice performances are eligible in the acting categories, but no one has ever been nominated for such work, presumably because what Oscar voter is going to not favor a live-action star?

That’s a shame. And this is why the Academy should consider adding an Oscar category for voice performance. Voice actors in animated movies deserve more love. The closest they get to any recognition is when their films are nominated for best picture (it’s happened only three times: with “Beauty and the Beast,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3”) or animated feature.

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“I love the idea of adding an Oscar for voice performances,” Eichner tells me. “Looking back, there are so many iconic and beloved voice performances that didn’t get acknowledged, like Robin Williams in ‘Aladdin” and Ellen DeGeneres in ‘Finding Nemo.’” 

Josh Gad, whose voice work includes more than 25 credits across television and film and is probably best known as the voice of the lovable snowman Olaf in “Frozen” and its new follow-up, “Frozen 2,” seconds Eichner’s beliefs. Calling the lack of Oscar recognition for DeGeneres and Williams “kind of crazy,” he says, “Some of my favorite performances of all time are [voice roles].”

Oscars aside, ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards includes one voice award for film out of more than 30 categories. The Society of Voice Arts and Sciences’ Voice Arts Awards began six years ago and feature 80 awards across a multitude of media platforms. “We saw an opportunity that needed to be filled,” SOVAS chief operating officer Joan Baker says. “No one has ever focused on the voice acting.”

But things get a little tricky given that animation is essential to a voice performance.

“Despicable Me” creator Sergio Pablos, who makes his directorial debut with the Netflix animated holiday movie “Klaus,” says a voice performance Oscar should be considered collaborative. “I used to be an animator, and I always believed that animation was a joint effort of the voice actor and animator,” he tells me. “I don’t think you could reward one without the other. I think both contribute equally.”

Jonathan Groff, who voices Kristoff in the “Frozen” franchise, concurs. “I’m proud to be the voice of Kristoff, but what really blows my mind is the artistry of the animators,” he says. “Even in the song I get to do in the second movie, ‘Lost in the Woods,’ what they did with that and the animation is so unbelievably brilliant that I feel lucky to be singing it. … For me, if anyone was going to win a performance Oscar, it should be the animator.”

The last time the Academy implemented a new category was in 2001, when best animated feature was added to the roster. And the organization received scorching criticism last year when it announced that it would start handing out an Oscar for outstanding popular film in 2020, a proposal that quickly went down in flames.

It’s highly unlikely a voice performance category will be created anytime soon.

In other words, I gotta let it go — for now. 

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