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Oscars tragedy: Voters will have to snub Johnny Depp in 'Rango'

March 7, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Poor Johnny Depp. It's bad enough that one of Hollywood's hottest superstars is still Oscarless after three past defeats: "Sweeney Todd" (2007), "Finding Neverland" (2004) and "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003). Now it looks like "Rango" is such a financial and critical success that it may be an Oscar contender for best animated feature next year, but Depp himself can't be nominated.

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That's because the Oscars don't have what the Emmys do: a separate category for voice-over performances. Isn't it time the Academy Awards created one? (Let's hear everybody's voices pipe in here, please: Yes!)

The TV academy has been recognizing the contributions of vocal talents since 1992. Until 2008, the winner of lead voice-over performance was chosen by a jury, which meant there wasn’t a list of nominees. Two years ago, the Emmys revamped the category to include a list of six contenders.

Dan Castellaneta ("The Simpsons") was the first winner under these new rules in 2009. At last year's ceremony, Anne Hathaway won her first Emmy for a guest stint on "The Simpsons," which has claimed 14 of these awards over the years. (It's unlikely that Hathaway will get any kind of award recognition for her recent work on the Oscarcast -- she and James Franco "won" our online poll as the worst hosts of the Academy Awards in the last two decades.)

Had the Oscars followed suit in 1992 and created a voice-over category, the likes of Tom Hanks ("Toy Story"), Mike Myers ("Shrek"), Paul Newman ("Cars"), Anika Noni Rose ("The Princess and the Frog") and Ed Asner ("Up") all could have been rewarded for their remarkable work.

Animation is one of the most successful genres of filmmaking. Pixar has never had a film take in less than $150 million domestically, and last year's "Toy Story 3" was the top-grossing movie of 2010, animated or otherwise, with a domestic haul of $415 million.

A common complaint from casual Oscars viewers is that there are too many technical awards and not enough performance ones. Of the two dozen competitive categories, only four Oscars go to actors and actresses. One more category featuring familiar faces could both downplay this rap and goose up ratings, which were down about 10% this year over last.

It's time for the academy to realize the potential of this untapped goldmine. Leading off the first lead voice-over race could be Johnny Depp. Other nominees this year could include two-time Oscar champs Dustin Hoffman ("Kung Fu Panda 2") and Maggie Smith ("Gnomeo & Juliet"). Double Academy Award winner Michael Caine could even compete against himself -- he's in both "Gnomeo & Juliet" and "Cars 2."

One-time Oscar contender Joan Cusack features in "Mars Needs Moms!" Hathaway is in "Rio." Other vocal talents on display include Bill Nighy ("Rango"), Owen Wilson ("Cars 2"), Jonathan Winters ("The Smurfs") and Antonio Banderas ("Puss in Boots").

-- Tom O'Neil

Photos: "Rango," left, Johnny Depp at "Rango" premiere. Credits: Paramount, left, Getty Images