Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #787: Sometimes Even I Can Be An Idiot

ILDC asked...

Can you still answer my question about celebrity voice casting?

Oops, sorry about that. I could offer an excuse because I've been battling a cold for the last few days, but I'm also an idiot for losing track of your question about celebrities doing the voices in cartoons.

Well, I think it's a mixed bag, it's got good points and bad points for both TV and film.

When I was a kid there was Frank Welker and about 12 other actors, and the occasional radio DJ, doing practically all the voices on all the animated shows we'd watch on Saturday mornings. This tended to make all the shows sound the same. Once in a while a celebrity would do a "special" voice appearance in a feature film, but doing it on TV, on a regular basis was pretty much unheard of.

That changed thanks to the work of voice casting guru Andrea Romano. She worked on the development of Batman: The Animated Series and knew that show stood out visually, and wanted the voice casting to stand out as well. Her strategy was brilliant, instead of trying to get some big movie star to do a cameo appearance, she worked in the middle, targeting well known character actors with distinctive voices, as well as vocal range. I mean before her, who would have imagined Mark Hamill being not only the voice of The Joker, but the definitive animated voice of the The Joker.

She really didn't have much trouble attracting talent, just picking and choosing which talent to use with which character. This is because voice acting work is some of the sweetest work in Hollywood. No make-up, no costumes, no stunts, no waiting to set up cameras and lights, and you can do it in a pair of sweat pants and that T-shirt with the coffee stain on the front right next to rip, and get paid good money for it. Also, Batman had a hellacious amount of street cred, thanks to the monster success of the Tim Burton movies.

Pretty soon everyone in animation was doing it on television, and it became almost mandatory in feature films after Disney hit it monster big with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen headlining Toy Story.

Now let's look at the pros and cons of this development:


1. Animated shows get that added boost with viewers that comes from people hearing a familiar voice, even when it's not a big celebrity.

2. Actors in the mid-to lower range of the fame game have a way to earn easy money quick between on-screen gigs.


1. Cost. This is especially true in animated feature films, which have become very dependent on getting voices from A-List celebrities. If they're going to lend their voices to what could be the next Toy Story or Shrek franchise, they're going to want some sort of compensation commensurate to their fame, the expected box office revenue, and possibly a little something-something from the merchandising cash. Television is not so bad, because most are following the Romano "character actor" model instead of pushing for the big name celebrity.

2. Work. With more on-screen character actors doing animation, there is less work for the professional "voice artist" who normally does nothing but vocal work, especially in feature films. Now this is compensated to a large extent by the explosion in animated programs on network, cable, and syndicated television, so it's probably not as bad as one might think.

I hope that answers your question, and I'm sorry for losing it earlier.


  1. In my original post, I mainly didn't get why cast Whoopi Goldberg as an octopus minion with maybe three lines. And Pixar usually doesn't bill actors.

  2. Pixar doesn't really need to bill actors, because the kids don't read the credits, and the parents will have already been told by the media covering the film's release.

    As for Whoopi Goldberg, I don't remember which movie she played an octopus, but it was probably done because it was relatively easy to pull off, and it got them a "name" actor for the media to gush over.

  3. Why do other animated films often feel the need to bill actors?

  4. I listened to all the futurama and simpsons commentaries on the DVD sets and sometimes the professional voice guys really do feel miffed that studios will just hire flavor of the day actors to be in the animated movie without any thought for the hard work guys like Maurice Lamarche, Tress Macneille, Billy West put into their memorable characters.

  5. Okay, I see where Shrek kind of pushes the model the wrong direction. Big name actors where anyone with an expressive voice and good chops could have done any of the parts.

    I just watched Pigeons from Hell on Karloff's Thriller. Good horror done cheap. It shows what a minimalist budget can do with a good story.

    Voice acting is a little like that, good talent can shine without looking like Brad Pitt. I have been wondering why the new Conan tanked and thinking maybe it should have been done like Spartacus or Rome on cable. REH wrote stories that would work well with small budgets and even could be animated. I wonder....

    BTW I finally broke down and got a Google ID.

    Forks WA

  6. "Flavor of the day actors" is right. What exactly did George Lopez, Katy Perry, and Anton Yelchin have in common before The Smurfs? These days, casting a regular voice actor to voice act in a movie seems like an event, even in a minor role. At least Tom Kane seems to be on his way to becoming the next Don LaFontaine.

  7. What do they have in common? Maybe they all want to watch Katy Perry's 'fun cans'.

  8. Dirty McDingus Sez:
    Mark Hamill already Did the voice of the Joker well before 'Batman: the animated Series' within the aborted tv show called 'The Flash'.
    When I first watched that animated show, it became rather odd that I was hearing a familiar voice of The Trickster coming out of that madman to soon remember that character from the live action show in the episode called "The Trickster"!