Monkey is top dog among animal actors Crystal the monkey poses at the premiere of "The Hangover Part II" at Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood in 2011 (AP photo / Reuters)
Monkey is top dog among animal actors
Lexile

A monkey who's starred in 25 movies over two decades was top dog at the sixth annual Pawscars. It is the animal version of the Oscars. Waving a statue over her head in triumph, a beaming Crystal accepted the "lifetime diva achievement award." The monkey looked every bit the part. She wore a pink, floor-length gown and necklace during the show. It was streamed online.

The Capuchin monkey played a Ben Stiller-slapping, key-stealing primate in "Night at the Museum." The primate also played a drug-dealing monkey in "Hangover Part II." Crystal is "the Angelina Jolie of animal stars," said "NCIS" actress Pauley Perrette. She hosted the show with teen actor Lou Wegner.

Holding her tiny hand, Perrette asked 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 favorite?"

Crystal nodded as her "answer" appears on screen: "Robin did call me his favorite leading lady, but my favorite leading man has to be my trainer Tom Gunderson."

The show honors 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.

Unlike the Oscars, the Pawscars are far more low-key. The hosts announced the awards from armchairs in Perrette's Hollywood guest house, while Crystal perched on a nearby ottoman. Other winners were 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 Animal Was Harmed" tagline to roll in movie credits.

Other Pawscars include:

BEST YOUNG ANIMAL PERFORMER

A trio of pit bull puppies won. The dogs appeared 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 went to Dale. He's 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 honor went to Savannah, who plays a dolphin that dies in "Dolphin Tale 2." 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.

BEST ENSEMBLE

The animals of "Wild" prevailed. They include 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 covered a sleeping Reese Witherspoon. A foot-high barrier surrounding her meant no single frog was lost, Wegner said.

Critical thinking challenge: In "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," why didn't the horses actually jump over fire?

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