What actors are REALLY responsible for the success of an animated film?

In another thread we were discussing Nicole Kidman’s box office success. Someone offered her turn in Happy Feet as evidence of her ability to draw movie goers. I argue that very few people should get credit for an animated film’s box office success. Even if they are good, I think it takes a special performance to really translate into extra box office coin. Heck, I didn’t even know NK was in Happy Feet.

Here are a few people I believe were so good that they made the movie an even more successful box office smash.


Robin Williams in Aladdin. He was incredible in this role. This was the first of the animated films that people described as having “something for even the parents.” That something was Robin Williams. I seem to recall him being so popular in the role that some suggested an Oscar nomination (no cite. Vague memory.) His performance changed the genre and drew big cash (for the time).

Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in Shrek 1-3. I exclude Cameron Diaz, et. al because I don’t think her role was unique. I think any of a dozen other actresses could have pulled off the voice chores. Myers and Murphy, however, were lightning in a bottle.


Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in Toy Story 1&2- I’m not sure. They were really good. Plus, their names being attached added legitimacy to an untested style of animation. Plus, they were great. But I am not sure they were irreplaceable.

Williams, Myers, and Murphy could not have been replaced and still produced the same film.

Anyone else?

I don’t think that there are a whole lot of big names that really make a role and a lot of voice casting is done to try to take advantage of a star’s name power. Would Chicken Little be any worse (or better) if Zach Braff wasn’t Little? I dunno.

That being said, there are exceptions like you mention. Another one I can say is the Incredibles. Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter are perfectly cast. Jason Lee plays a great Syndrome, too I think.

Voice acting is often best done by voice acting pros, but who’s going to see a movie headlining Jim Cummings or Townsand Coleman?

I think the whole cast of The Incredibles was a success because they weren’t enormous celebrities. Totally agree with the fantastic cast being partially responsible for its success.

I think Happy Feet was a hit in spite of the celebrity cast.

While I feel Jack Black was a unique voice in Kung Fu Panda, the rest of the cast could’ve been played by almost any celebrity and been just as good.

I agree. The Incredibles may have been just as good with a different cast of voices, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the same.

Robert Goulet, Judy Garland, Red Buttons, and (believe it or not) the under-appreciated Paul Frees for Gay Purr-ee! (the first cartoon-movie I know of that touted its voice actors)
Jim Backus for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. And all the other Magoo cartoons, for that matter.

Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich in Beowulf.

Oh, wait, you said successful. Never mind.

Looking at the list of the top 50 animation movies at IMDB, I’m not seeing very many that have famous people as the stars at all, at least the English language ones. Not sure about the japanese. However, there was one that I noticed that probably did get more viewers because of the fame of one of its stars:

Mickey Mouse in Fantasia.

Even though I couldn’t name the voice actors the characters in the original Jungle Book would not be the same if they had different voices. Baloo, Kaa, King Louie, etc.

Beowulf is an awesome movie, you’re just prejudiced against the Swiss.

There’s sort of two questions going at cross purposes, here. One is, “How much of a cartoon’s success is due to voice acting?” and the other is, “How much of a cartoon’s success is due to the celebrity draw of it’s cast?” For the first question, I’d say that it’s very important. For the second, I’d say it’s often a distraction, not a draw. Craig Nelson was perfectly cast as Mr. Incredible, for example. He sounded just right for the part, and was able to communicate a lot of emotion just through tone of voice. Obviously, there’s a lot of other stuff at work in The Incredibles, a lot of it more important than the voices, but I think the voice acting definitly added a great deal to the overall success of the picture.

On the other hand, does anyone really give a shit that Robert DeNiro did the voice of a shark in Shark Tale? That’s just stunt casting. The point isn’t to give a believable voice to that character, the point is to make everyone say, “Hey! That’s Robert DeNiro!” Generally the sign of a second-rate movie.

I don’t know that Tim Allen’s name has ever leant anything legitimacy. Particularly in 1995, when he was mostly known as a stand-up comic with a particularly grating catchphrase who’d done one movie, the inexplicably successful The Santa Clause. Even Tom Hanks had only recently graduated from dumb sex comedies to major box office draw. He had a couple of big hits under his belt (including Forrest Gump from the previous year) and was just starting to attract attention as a serious dramatic actor with Philadelphia, but he was still mostly famous for starring in light comedies like Big and Sleepless in Seattle.

The Oscar winning short “The Critic” owes everything to Mel Brook’s voiceover. Brooks was an unknown at the time, so he wasn’t trading on his name, but take him away, and the film doesn’t work at all.

Ellen Degeneres in “Finding Nemo” was perfection.

I don’t know how successful it was, but I can’t imagine Antz without Woody Allen.

I think the voices in The Emperor’s New Groove, David Spade, Eartha Kitt, and Patrick Warburton, were irreplaceable. Anybody else in those roles would’ve made it a completely different movie. Though the rest of the cast (John Goodman, Wendie Malick) weren’t bad, they didn’t bring anything unique to the roles.

However, at the time Louis Prima and Phil Harris were both famous band leaders. They had exactly the sort of star power that could get adults interested in seeing a kids’ movie. King Louie’s rendition of “I Wan’na Be Like You” is a straight-up parody of Prima’s nightclub act and was just as delicious and multilayered to audiences in its day as Robin William’s genii was 25 years later.

I think you forget how big (no pun intended) these guys were at the time. Tom Hanks was coming off back-to-back Best Actor Oscars; and Tim Allen starred in one of the hottest shows on TV (for which he was nominated for an Emmy and won several People’s Choice awards).
I’m inclined to agree with the OP’s assertions.

Of course, in the case of movies made from TV shows (The Simpsons, South Park) it was essential to have the same voice actors as on the show.

I think the important thing for Happy Feet too was casting people who could sing as well. Jackman did a great job of that (is there anything he CAN’T do??)

I would say number one in this should be Aladdin. The entire cast of that movie was perfect, and Williams just made it so much better

For all Pixar films, the answer is the same…

John Ratzenberg.

Phil Harris, Louie Prima, Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holoway. All around a great movie, but Phil and Louie steal it with their singing and voice work. My favorite of the classic Disney animation movies.

I don’t think so. Both Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid had huge adult fanbases as well.

I think going from real voice actors to celebrities is one of the worst things ever to happen to animation. Possibly worse than going almost exclusively computer animated. I can’t imagine going to see an ANIMATED movie because of the REAL PERSON who lends their (almost always unmodified) voice to one of the characters. You can argue about it until you’re blue in the face, and I’m sure it makes perfect sense to some of you, but to me, it’s absurd. Apparently it works, though, because they keep doing it.