Suspended Animation #306
Animated characters have been guests at the Academy Awards as far back as 1932 when Mickey Mouse led a Parade of Award Nominees, the same year animated cartoons were first recognized with a Best Short Cartoon category. Bugs Bunny famously crashed the ceremony in this 1944 Merrie Melodies cartoon (excerpt above) What’s Cookin’ Doc? (directed by Bob Clampett).
But it would take several decades before the actual cartoon stars themselves could attend and help present the Oscar’s themselves (little things, like the advent of television and various chroma key technologies needed to be invented). Here’s a survey of some of highlights of these presentations.
At the 50th Academy Awards Ceremony, held in April 1978, the orchestra played “The Mickey Mouse Club March” (the theme song from the original Mickey Mouse Club television show) and a costumed Mickey Mouse character in a tuxedo walked on stage.
After announcing that he was there to award the Oscar for best animated short (thanks to a live voice-over by Mickey’s official voice at the time, Jimmy MacDonald, who was backstage), Mickey was joined on stage by singer/songwriter Paul Williams as co-presenter along with actress Jodie Foster.
Williams complimented Mickey on Steamboat Willie and joked that maybe he would get Mickey two more fingers for his 50th birthday being celebrated that year. Mickey then announced all the nominees. The winner was The Sand Castle.
In 1979, presenter Robin Williams handed an honorary Oscar to animator Walter Lantz for “doing strange and wonderful things with a laughing bird,” Woody Woodpecker. Actually, the official designation was “for bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world through his unique animated motion pictures”.
An animated Woody Woodpecker (with animation by legendary Warner Brothers animator Virgil Ross) ran across the stage to congratulate his producer (with his voice being done by Gracie Lantz, the wife of Walter).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this tribute to Donald Duck, with remarks by Clarence “Ducky” Nash, at the 1984 event:
On March 30th, 1987 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles, actor Tom Hanks and cartoon star “Bugs Bunny” presented the Oscar for Best Short Film (Animated) to producers Linda Van Tulden and Willem Thijssen for A Greek Tragedy. The animation was produced by Kathleen Helppie and directed by Terry Lennon. And yes, that’s Mel Blanc as Bugs.
In 1988, as part of his continuing year long 60th birthday celebration, Mickey Mouse appeared at the Academy Award ceremonies to present the Oscar for Best Animated Short to The Man Who Planted Trees.
An animated Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Minnie Mouse sat in the audience in the front row as comedian and host Chevy Chase introduced a compilation of film clips of “one of the most beloved cartoon stars of all time,” Mickey Mouse, ending with a clip from the “Sorcerer Apprentice” sequence of Fantasia (1940).
At the end of the clip, an animated Sorcerer Mickey stepped off the screen and onto the stage where he was joined by an animated Donald Duck, who thought he was going to be the co-presenter.
Mickey had to gently tell his friend that the Academy had chosen a human for that role. Donald is then yanked off the stage by a hook and with a little Sorcerer Mickey magic finds himself bound up back in his front-row seat.
Disney historian Charles Solomon (and author of many fine Disney books) described the scene in the April 13th, 1988, edition of the Los Angeles Times:
“[Mickey] conjured up a giant package that burst to reveal Tom Selleck. The cartoon mouse exchanged banter with the live actor, walked across the stage and announced one of the nominees. The envelope flew out of his hand, turned circles in the air and landed on the lectern within Selleck’s reach.
“Although the Disney animation staff and telecast director Marty Pasetta began planning this surprise bit of technical legerdemain in early January, directing animators Mark Henn and Rob Minkoff and free-lance artist Nancy Beiman had to create two minutes of animation in just three weeks—less than half the time the work would ordinarily take. The artists used still photographs of the stage and lectern as guides when they devised the cartoon action.
“It’s difficult enough to coordinate the movements of actors and cartoon characters in feature films, when all the footage has been shot in advance. The awards show was a live broadcast: The action on nine separate reels of animation had to be matched to Selleck’s movements in real time. The two images were combined electronically by technicians in the control room.”
The audience in the Shrine Auditorium saw Selleck talking to an empty space on the stage and to Mickey on the monitors. Selleck was familiar to audiences for his role in the popular television series Magnum P.I., but the previous year he had starred in the successful Touchstone film Three Men and a Baby.
In 1991, at the 63rd Academy Awards, Woody Woodpecker (animated and voiced by Dave Spafford) notoriously read the nominees in this spectacular piece of animation. Nick Park won the Oscar for Short Film (Animated) for Creature Comforts; Martin Short and Chevy Chase physically presented the award.
An animated Snow White in a white gown popped up at the Oscars in 1993 to present the animated short subject category that was won by Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase.
“Frankly, it’s about time,” Snow White said with a smile. “I’m not getting any younger, you know [giggles and fluffs hair] but on the other hand, I am not getting any older either. So here I am presenting the award for Best Achievement in Animated Short Films. And as you all know, I’ve got more than a little experience with short subjects.”
Obviously, there were several animated versions filmed of announcing the final winner and, unfortunately, Snow White froze briefly in mid-sentence before the announcement so the right version could be played at the appropriate moment.
The reason for Snow White’s appearance was Disney’s planned re-release of the film that summer and the Oscar show’s theme that year of “Oscar Salutes Women and the Movies”.
There was a small controversy that even though the original voice of Snow White, Adrianna Caselotti, was available, Disney decided to go with another voice artist for the princess.
The voice was Mary Kay Bergman who in 1995, claimed she did not know about the Disney duplicity of replacing Caselotti’s voice. Bergman had just finishing taping the singing voice of Snow White for an extra feature on a new special feature enhanced DVD version of the film and assumed that Caselotti had turned down the opportunity for whatever reason.
In 1995, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck presented the Oscar for Short Film (Animated) to Alison Snowden and David Fine for Bob’s Birthday, at the 67th Academy Awards. Darrel Van Citters directed this sequence with the crew at Warner Bros. Animation.
In 2003, Mickey made one more appearance at the Oscar ceremonies to celebrate his 75th birthday, presenting in the shorts category with actress Jennifer Garner. The animated shorts winner that year was The ChubbChubbs!
At the time, Walt Disney Imagineering was developing a “digital puppetry” process as part of its “Living Character Initiative” that it would introduce at Epcot in 2004 in the Turtle Talk With Crush attraction.
For this Oscar presentation, a CGI Mickey was created using the same technology. Backstage, a performer utilized an electronic rig to manipulate the image of Mickey that audiences saw on their television screen in “real time.”
Mickey entered from the opposite side of the stage in a black tuxedo and white tie. He searched through his suit for the list of nominees and found his parking stub and an envelope with a ring, a reference to the film Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers nominated that year for several Oscars.
Mickey also made a joke about being unable to read a name, asking actor Jack Nicholson sitting in the front row for help. It was in reference to that year’s nominated film About Schmidt, where Nicholson’s character had difficulty pronouncing another character’s name.
Garner suggested that Mickey read the nominees from the TelePrompTer so Mickey put on a pair of glasses with black frames. After the winner was announced, the camera cut back to Mickey who stood there smiling and applauding.
I have personally seen all of these appearances but there is one that I would love to see that I don’t know even still exists. The 30th Annual Academy Awards were presented on Wednesday, March 26, 1958 and held entirely for the first time at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.
The hosts for the evening were Bob Hope, Rosalind Russell, David Niven, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and, yes, Donald Duck, who hosted a seven minute history of the movies. Did this feature new Disney animation or re-dubbed existing footage? This still needs to be researched.
Are there other appearances I’ve overlooked? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!