When I watch the ads for DreamWorks’ new movie ‘Home’, all I can hear is the voice of Sheldon from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ coming out of the little alien. That immediately breaks my suspension of disbelief. In today’s Roundtable, we’ll look at some other really annoying cases of celebrity stunt-casting in animated movies.
In my opinion, I don’t want to know who did the voices in an animated movie. The voices should suit the characters, not draw attention to the actors behind them. DreamWorks is apparently so proud of having gotten Jim Parsons and Rihanna (as if that was a big challenge) that a lot of the marketing for ‘Home’ actually shows the two stars in the recording booth reading their lines. I think that’s terrible. We don’t need to see that. It destroys the illusion of the movie.
M. Enois Duarte
I immediately think of an actor who’s otherwise good in front of the camera but provides terrible voice acting, which is rather odd. About twelve years ago, Brad Pitt voiced the title character in ‘Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas’. As if the movie wasn’t bad enough on its own, Pitt delivered each line with an out-of-place nonchalant demeanor and the same monotone, devil-may-care tone no matter the action in the scene. It just ruins the whole movie.
I didn’t see ‘Bee Movie‘, but I watched TV in 2007 during the months NBC became the key marketing outlet for its former cash cow’s first project in years. Do you remember all the interstitials featuring Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee character? Did they ever make you laugh? Groans were more likely. Just the B-movie puns made me roll my eyes. Then there was Seinfeld’s character. Hearing his voice in live performances is fine, but coming out of that character, it made me resolve to never, ever see the entire movie.
Stunt-casting bugs the hell out of me. For some reason, in the early to mid-2000s, animation studios thought they had to have well-known actors in their casts. This decision makes no sense because adults aren’t going to see a kids’ movie based on its vocal talent and, on the flip side, kids are happy to see anything and typically know nothing about the voice cast. The title most guilty of this is ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. The Furious Five was cast with major actors despite hardly featuring lines. On top of that, some of the actors’ performances are so bland that they should be ashamed to have their names attached. Angelina Jolie is boring and lifeless. Jackie Chan may be known for giving 100% of his effort into his action roles, but he gives nothing to this role. Lucy Liu and David Cross’ performances are also flat. Luckily, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane make up for that.
There are many reasons to hate the movie ‘Shark Tale’, almost too many to get into. However, only one element upsets me so deeply that I still to this day get angry if I see the movie playing on television. That’s the voice casting of Martin Scorsese (including eyebrows) as a gangster fish.
Now, to a certain extent I understand how this happened. Stunt celebrity voice casting in CGI features was at an all time high when ‘Shark Tale’ was made. Scorsese enjoys dabbling in acting when he gets the chance, and one can only assume the dump truck full of cash delivered to Marty’s door far exceeded his usual directing fees. But honestly, the man who dug deep into his soul to deliver urban crime masterpieces like ‘Mean Streets’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’ should not be cheapening those groundbreaking achievements by voicing a cartoon fish that gently mocks his own movies.
It would be one thing if ‘Shark Tale’ was funny or if Scorsese had done a similar role on ‘The Simpsons’ during that show’s prime. But to show up in one of the weakest DreamWorks comedies is just embarrassing. It infuriates me to the extent that I’ll never be able to make it all the way through that movie. Perhaps it’s a hidden masterpiece. I’ll never know. By the time fishy Marty opens his mouth, I’m far too busy screaming out in anguish to pay attention to this stupid movie.
I wanted to say Noah Cyrus in ‘Ponyo‘, but that might be better for the worst credits music in an otherwise good animated film. Instead, I’m going with ‘Ice Age: The Meltdown‘. Granted, while Ray Romano and John Leguizamo sort of outstay the charm of their roles, I found the addition of Queen Latifah in the second movie to be distracting. The rest of the cast is made up of pro comedians and Latifah is at odds with that effect. Of course, the endless sequels, spin-offs and imitations suggest that quality isn’t much of a factor for this kind of child-friendly animated film.
When a foreign animated film is brought to the United States, English language dubbing of the soundtrack is a necessary evil to sell it in this market, especially if the movie is aimed at kids too young to read subtitles. Unfortunately, the studios that distribute these movies frequently load their English dubs with distracting stunt-casting in a misguided attempt to broaden the marketing appeal.
When Billy Bob Thornton was cast in the dub for Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Princess Mononoke‘, he clearly recorded his lines in one take as he was reading them for the very first time. He sounds bored and distracted, with a flat inflection and rushed delivery like he couldn’t wait to get this shitty job over with so he could collect his paycheck and go get drunk afterwards. It’s embarrassing.
Even worse is Billy Crystal in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle‘. The dub for that one was directed by Pixar honcho and slavering Miyazaki fanboy John Lasseter himself, so you’d think he’d have a little respect for the source material. I can’t fathom what he was thinking when he let Crystal play the character (a Japanese fire demon) as a wildly inappropriate and obnoxious New Yawker caricature for no reason at all. “You talkin’ to me?… I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!… Fuhgeddabadah…” So, so bad…
Finally, I can’t let this topic go without mentioning Tom Hanks playing 50 different characters in ‘The Polar Express‘, all of whom sound exactly like Tom Hanks. What is the point of this? The movie is confounding to me. I just don’t understand any of the artistic decisions that director Robert Zemeckis made when choosing to adapt a 32-page picture book into a 100-minute mega-budget animated feature.
Have you ever been distracted by celebrity voices in an animated movie? Tell us about it in the Comments.