Voice Actors for Animated Films

Voice Acting and Actors: How important are they for the success of an animated film? Can you think of instances where the voice acting made a big difference? I think the particular actors doing the voices in “Toy Story” were imp. in its success, as well as “The Simpsons” as far as TV goes. I think the voices are esp. imp. for the kind of animation seen in the Wallace and Grommit films. The mouth movements are so weird, but the voice work helps me get past that. Does anyone know how actors doing voices get paid, vis-à-vis how they would get paid for a “regular” acting role? Any other thoughts on the subject?

I hear voice actors get paid less than their fellow live actors. I think the quality of voice acting and story is more important than whether or not they are “A-list celebrities” doing the voices but that is just my opinion.

Well, I can give you a movie where the voice acting didn’t make one bit of difference: Titan A.E.. Not a great movie, but it was laoded with stars doing the voices. But, IIRC< they didn’t advertise it as such, trying to reply on the actual merits of tyhe fim (HA!) to bring people in. If they had told everyone that had Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, John Leguizamo, Janeane Garafalo, Nathan Lane, and Ron Perlman, it might have actually made money.

Although the casting of big name celebrities in animated voice roles may not be a recent phenomenon, the marketing of them is. Whereas there was a time that the most suitable voice might be cast for a role, now a lot of casting seems gimmick-based. Dreamworks went to great pains to market Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas as “starring” Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but nobody cared and the film bombed. Did people go to see Shark Tale because it was a Will Smith movie? Or simply because they thought it might be a good kiddie film? There’s no way to really be sure, and the only reliable gauge is a negative one; when people don’t show, then they know that the A-list name meant zilchola.

The Lion King made more money than any Matthew Broderick live action film ever will. But was Broderick all that important to its success? Couldn’t Simba have been played by anyone? Certainly, Nathan Lane and Jeremy Irons seem much more important contributors on a voice level. Other recent animated roles that seemed purely name-driven (because the voices and/or performances lacked any real distinction): Cameron Diaz in Shrek, Mel Gibson in Chicken Run, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sandra Bullock in The Prince of Egypt, Matt Damon in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Titan A.E., Angelina Jolie in Shark Tale, Ewan McGregor in Robots, Bruce Willis in Rugrats Go Wild!, and Meg Ryan and John Cusack in Anastasia. The only real reason to cast these people is because they’re all generally considered popular actors in live-action films, so you can brag about their participation (at only a fraction of their normal asking price) on your TV ads and one-sheet posters.

Who are considered the best voice actors/actresses in the business?

Yeah, but to provide one counter-example, think of Robin Williams as the Genie. He made Aladdin. Dan Castellenata (Homer Simpson!!) did the role in the TV series and in the follow-up direct-to-video movie, in the latter case because Disney violated the terms of the contract. But they made up with Williams and he did the Genie for the third Aladdin movie. They made a BIG deal of this in the advertising. So, yes, on occasion, the performer can make a very big difference.

Mel Blanc was the best voice actor ever. Period. He did the voices of almost all of the old WB characters. Buggs, Daffy, Porky. Elmer Fudd, etc…Take a look at his rap sheet.

Currently, there are a few big stars. Billy West is certainly up there. He was Stimpy (and also Ren when the original voice of Ren quit, or died or something), Fry from Futurama (as well as Zapp Brannigan, Zoidberg, the Professor, and others,) he is the current WB “go to” guy (he is the new Bugs, and others.)

Frank Welker is also great. You need an animal voice, you go to Frank. He did Nibbler (as well as almost every other animal) on Futurama, and was Freddy on Scooby-Doo.

Phil la Mar and Maurice LaMarch are also big in the voice over biz.

And most of the actors from The Simpsons, especially Dan Casttellenata, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria.

To expand on bouv’s list - Jess Harnell; Cam Clarke; Rob Paulsen; Tress MacNeille; Tara Strong. Just to name a few.

How soon they forget – other great voice actors of the past are the still-living June Foray(Rocky, Witch Hazel), the omnipresent Paul Frees (Boris Badenov, Ludwig von Drake, Meiowrice in “Gay Purree”, lotsa other cartoon roles, and lotsa random voice work including Spartacus and the voices in the American editions of Godzilla, Rodan, and others), and the underappreciated Daws Butler, voice of MGM cartoons and lotsa Hanna Barbera cartoons (Huckleberry Hound, Elroy from “The Jetsons”)

Working now? Here’s my top four, but there are a couple dozen serious talents doing animation work these days.

  1. Frank Welker
  2. Maurice LaMarche
  3. Cree Summer
  4. Grey DeLisle

A good voice actor who’s working regularly can command double or triple SAG scale. Once you get into movie star terroritory, however, it’s whatever they can negotiate.

Mark Hamill is pretty darn good.

Generally, I find it annoying that they cast celebs in animated roles SIMPLY to have star power. (Hamill is cast because he is good, not because he was Luke Skywalker).

In fact, when I can distinctly recognize the voice as a famous person, it takes me out of the moment.

Which is weird. If I hear Robert DeNiro as an animated character, I think “that’s Robert DeNiro’s voice!” Yet, if I watch a movie with Robert DeNiro, which I can hear him AND see him, I believe he is that character…

I don’t think Harry Shearer gets enough credit as a voice actor. He didn’t by me for years, getting eclipsed by Hank Azaria mostly because Azaria is better known for his live action roles than Shearer. However, most of the best non-family members in the Simpsons are voiced by Shearer: Principal Skinner, Mr Burns AND Smithers, Flanders and Kent Brockman to name a few.

I also don’t think Dan Castellaneta gets enough mainstream credit for his various voices. He’ll be forever famous as Homer but he voices loads more of the townspeople - Groundskeeper Willie, Barney, Sideshow Mel plus more - than I think he gets credit for.

Hamill was doing cartoon voices before he was Luke Skywalker – check his bio on IMDB


Billy West - who is about as big as anyone in the voiceover business, I guess - was interviewed by The Onion a few months ago, and he talked about what an irritating experience the premiere of Space Jam was for him. He was Bugs and Elmer in the movie, but he says that he and the other Looney Tunes voice actors weren’t allowed into the real premiere so there would be more room for big Hollywood names who weren’t involved with the movie. The voice actors were sent to a smaller screening.

What I’ve wondered about are early Disney movies, like Bambi and Dumbo, which were made before animation became a big business. Did Disney just hire regular actors to do the voice parts?

Oddly enough, Donnie Dunagan, who did the voice of Young Bambi, grew up to become a US Marine Corps drill instructor!

Who else think it would be great to try and start the rumor that the voice of Bambi grew up to be R. Lee Ermy?

Pinocchio’s Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Frankie Darro, Charles Judels, and Walter Catlett had each been in dozens of films prior to 1940. Ditto character actors Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Lucille La Verne (the Queen), Edward Brophy (Timothy Q. Mouse), Sterling Holloway (the Stork), and Hardie Albright (Bambi).

Some were part of Disney’s stable of voice actors from the short subjects. Pinto Colvig (Sleepy/Grumpy) was Goofy many times, as well as one of the 3 little pigs.

That was a great interview, and this passage from it sums up very well why most animated movies today are such bland, glossy crap:

No post yet for the late, great Paul Winchell (Tigger, Gargamel, Dick Dastardly)? :eek: Not to mention Thurl Ravenscroft. How good was he? GR-R-R-R-EAT!!

Pinto Colvig was a real classic. Not only was he Goofy and other random characters in Disney (The Grasshopper in the short “Grasshopper and the Ants”), but after a falling-out with Disney he went to Fleischer studios to do voices (Gabby in Gulliver’s Travels and a series of shorts at Fleischer). Then he made the most successful children’s voice record, “Bozo’s Circus”, which initiated a series of Bozo records and eventually the entore Bozo franchise. Pinto was a former circus clown, and Bozo was his invention, loooong before Harmon or anyone else, and he was the first to play him on TV.

He got back together with Disney and continued to do Goofy until his death.