“I’ve heard Tom Hanks say in interviews that he feels like some of the voice work he’s done on Toy Story is the most difficult acting of his career,” Pixar’s Pete Docter tells me a couple hours after the movie he directed, Inside Out, is nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay. “When these guys are working, they don’t have the benefit of other actors most of the time, they definitely don’t have sets or props or anything,” he says. “They’re standing in a gray room, and they have to imagine all this and bring it to life in their heads.”
His comment was in response to a question about whether he feels that the work of actors in animated films is underappreciated by critics and audiences. (The short version of his answer was, “Absolutely.”) It’s an easy question to pose this year: Beyond the superb cast of Inside Out, headlined by Amy Poehler, there were also the performances of Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, and Tom Noonan in Anomalisa — like Inside Out, a screenplay and Animated Feature nominee that missed out on the top nod.
“Amy is not only an incredible actor, but she was one of the keys to the writing of the thing, and cracking that character of Joy,” Docter says. “That was a hard one, because if she’s just happy and peppy all the time, you kind of want to smack her. Amy brought a ton to that.”
Of course, it’s not just voice actors who didn’t necessarily get their due today. If Inside Out — Pixar’s best movie in many years — can’t get nominated for Best Picture outright, is the deck stacked against the studio? Does the Academy see that Best Animated Film category and think, that’s where these movies belong?
“I will say, there’s a certain amount of predisposed — what’s the word?” Docter says. “You have it in your head that if it’s animated, it’s more for kids. But we really try to think of these films as films that we want to see. We talk about the important things that emotionally affect us as parents, as human beings. I don’t really think, Oh, I’m making this for an 8 year old. I’m making it for me.”