This month will bring about the 88th Academy Awards. Starting in 1928, this prestigious award ceremony has given recognition to those who worked on some of history's greatest films, acknowledging both those in the scenes, and those behind. Every year, the Academy chooses films that they believe deserve nominations for each category and later decide who should win.
Over the years, the Oscars have covered countless categories. Some of the most well known categories have been Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture, and Best Costume Design. Some of the more obscure, lesser known Oscars (some of which have been discontinued) include Best Dance Direction, Best Assistant Director, Best Title Writing, and Best Foreign Film.
Though the Oscars have covered numerous fields of the film industry, there is one particular area of expertise that the Oscars have failed to recognize — trained animals!
Almost every film includes an animal somewhere during the production, whether to add effect (like the grasshopppers in The Shawshank Redemption), or to actually play a legitimate part in the film (like the pigs in Babe). Though the added effects animals don't require much training, the acting animals do. Training animals is a difficult process, especially if you are trying to get them to act.
Crystal the Monkey
One of the most famous trained animals in film today is Crystal the Monkey. Crystal has been in numerous films, and is most recognizable for her role as Dexter in the Night at the Museum franchise. You may also recognize her as the drug dealing monkey who appeared consistently throughout The Hangover: Part II.
She has also appeared in the TV series Community in 5 different episodes, in the movie Zookeeper, in We Bought a Zoo, and in numerous other films. Both Crystal and her trainers work very hard to maintain the reality of Crystal's characters and it has come as a surprise to me that she has received no recognition at the Oscars yet.
Higgins the Dog
Though he has passed away, another well known animal actor is Higgins the dog. Higgins is best known for playing the titular role in the film Benji in 1974, one year before his death. He was professionally trained all of his life to act, and countless hours were put into improving his acting abilities. This would explain why Higgins was the highest paid animal actor in history.
In addition to Benji, Higgins also starred in the film Mooch Goes to Hollywood, appeared in two episodes of Green Acres and one episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, and played a rather large role in 183 episodes of Petticoat Junction. This dog had quite a career, and so did his trainers. Surely he deserved some acknowledgement at the 1975 Academy Awards.
Golden Cloud / 'Trigger' the Horse
Though many films — especially period films — include trained horses, there is likely no horse with more film experience than that of Golden Cloud, later named Trigger. Golden Cloud started his acting career in 1938 when he was only 3 years old and did not really slow down until around 1959 when he was 25 years old. His career from there included guest appearances on talk shows.
Golden Cloud took on nearly 100 acting roles during his lifetime, the most notable being the leading horse in 100 episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. Golden Cloud was very well trained and knew countless tricks, including standing on his back legs and untying Roy Rogers's hands! That is one talented horse, and a very talented training team. Why this horse and his team never received any Oscar recognition for his work in films we will never know.
There have been countless other animals who played significant roles in films, like Toto from The Wizard of Oz, Jack the Monkey from Pirates of the Caribbean, Old Yeller in Old Yeller, the Bart the Bear in The Edge, and all 48 pigs used to play Babe in Babe.
Hollywood is full of animals and animal training teams who really do deserve some recognition from the Academy for how much they contribute to film. They put in just as many hours, if not more, as the make-up artists and sound mixers, so why don't they get any credit?
Though some modern day films like The Revenant and The Jungle Book include animals created from CGI, there are still countless ones that use real animals. A rather recent example is the film Max which came out last year. The story followed a trained Marine dog stationed out in Afghanistan, played by Carlos the Belgian Malinois.
Actors, crew members and trainers on the set of Max described Carlos as a true star who really held the movie together with his incredible training and acting abilities. Director Boaz Yakin spoke to USA Today and had this to say about Carlos on the set of the film:
"Carlos would do everything right in rehearsal. But when we'd start shooting, he'd do something else. It could drive you nuts. But a lot of times, the things Carlos did wrong were so interesting they got in the movie."
The director also spoke about a particular scene from the film where Carlos / Max has a major panic attack on the set (intentionally) from a fireworks display. Yakin said that Max managed to show a large amount of acted emotion during this particular scene and described it as the high-point of Carlos's acting. Having a dog move around is one thing, but having it show emotion through acting is something completely different.
Watch the trailer for Max below if you haven't already. Carlos's acting is astounding and really adds a lot to the film. The trailer includes the emotional firework scene I mentioned above. Seriously, watch it and witness what an amazing job the training team did with Carlos.
The fact that Carlos and his team did not receive any nominations kills me. After 88 years, the Academy has ignored hundreds of fantastic animal actors and their teams. How much longer will this field be ignored?
Trained animals like Carlos and Crystal deserve some recognition for their work in the film industry, before they are forgotten like Higgins and Golden Cloud. Not only do these animals and teams deserve recognition, but it would also be one of those Oscar categories people would be at the edge of their seat for. If there can be an Oscar for who can come up with the best movie title, then these fantastic animal trainers deserve one too.