A monkey who's starred in 25 movies over two decades was top dog at the sixth annual Pawscars, the animal version of the Oscars. Waving a statue over her head in triumph, a beaming Crystal accepts the "lifetime diva achievement award" looking every bit the part in a pink, floor-length gown and necklace during the show streaming online Wednesday.
The Capuchin monkey, who played a Ben Stiller-slapping, key-stealing primate in "Night at the Museum" and a drug-dealing monkey in "Hangover Part II," is "the Angelina Jolie of animal stars," said "NCIS" actress Pauley Perrette, who is hosting the show with teen actor Lou Wegner.
Holding her tiny hand, Perrette asks the prolific primate: "So Crystal, you have starred with some of the top leading men of all times — Bradley Cooper, Ben Stiller, Matt Damon, Robin Williams — did you have a favourite?"
Crystal nods and chitters as her "answer" appears on screen: "Robin did call me his favourite leading lady, but my favourite leading man has to be my trainer Tom Gunderson."
The show airs four days before the Academy Awards and honours other animal actors in categories such as best puppy under pressure and best supporting equine.
As pets become more important parts of everyday life, including on film and TV, animal award shows have grown in popularity. Pets already took the limelight at the World Dog Awards, the Puppy Bowl and Kitten Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, and the Westminster dog show.
Like the Oscars, the Pawscars wrap up awards season but are far more low-key. The hosts announce the awards from armchairs in Perrette's Hollywood guest house, while Crystal perches on a nearby ottoman. Other winners are sent an official Pawscars certificate and special treat.
Praise for animals on set doesn't come without detractors: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says live animals don't belong in film and TV work. The American Humane Association, the group hosting the Pawscars, has a 75-year-old program that ensures the safety of animal actors and gives its approval by allowing the familiar "No Animals Were Harmed" tagline to roll in movie credits.
Other Pawscars include:
BEST YOUNG ANIMAL PERFORMER
A trio of pit bull puppies won for their work in the late James Gandolfini's last film, "The Drop." It took T, Puppers, Ice and a makeup artist to bring to life Rocco, a dog that appears in the mob drama. Puppies grow so fast that the film needed three and non-toxic makeup to make them match.
BEST SUPPORTING EQUINE
The award goes to Dale, a horse in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" who carries the apes' leader. It looks like the apes ride bareback, thanks to special-effects markers on the saddles that are removed in post-production, Perrette said. In scenes where the horses appear to be jumping over fire, they are actually jumping over a foot-high bar with flickering lights.
BEST AQUATIC PERFORMANCE
The honour goes to Savannah, who plays a dolphin that dies in "Dolphin Tale 2," but she avoided having to learn a death scene thanks to animatronics. As for the other marine life, the American Humane Association made sure no animal worked more than an hour without a break.
The animals of "Wild" prevail: Muffet the horse, Dharma the fox, Fred the rattlesnake, Tess the dog, Sport the rabbit and Taiga the llama. In the film about a woman's solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, 40 frogs cover a sleeping Reese Witherspoon, but a foot-high barrier surrounding her meant no single frog was lost, Wegner said.