Weekend Roundtable: Worst Celebrity Animation Voice Acting

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.

Mike Attebery

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.

Luke Hickman

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.

Philip Brown

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.

Brian Hoss

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.

Josh Zyber

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.

23 comments

  1. Chris B

    Anna Paquin in Steamboy. She was cast as a young male hero and wasn’t convincing in the least. I think she also attempted some sort of shitty Cockney accent to and hoo boy, it was embarassing at times. Other than that the movie is amazing…and nobody ever talks about it. See it if you get the chance.

      • Chris B

        I’m actually hoping for a blu-ray release eventually. Sometimes I feel like for most North American audiences, the world of anime begins and ends with Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki. Their output is impressive and undeniably creative, but not my brand of java. There’s lots of good movies if people are willing to dig a little bit deeper…

  2. The first two I’m going to mention aren’t animated movies but the characters are animated. I love Laurence Fishburne and I even like his voice a lot, but I hated him as The Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel. Every time he spoke, images of him in a sound booth would pop in my head. I don’t know why it’s so distracting, but it just doesn’t gel with me. Maybe his voice is just too recognizable. Another actor who I very much admire but put in some stiff voice work was Rachel Weisz as the blue dragon in Eragon. I guess she was supposed to telepathically communicate with the boy, but whenever she spoke, it didn’t feel natural. It sounded like she was reading. I would enjoy Hotel Transylvania a lot more if some one other than Adam Sandler would’ve voiced Count Dracula.

    • C.C.

      Same with the Transformers movies!! OPTIMUS may be in a fight with tons of robots in downtown Chicago- but he ALWAYS sounds like he is kickin’ it in a soundbooth in Culver City!!

  3. HennyB

    Emily Blunt is a fantastic actress, but she was so unbelievably bland in a lot of her voice work, like in that Simpsons episode, Gnomeo and Juliet, and The Wind Rises. I just never understood how she could give such bad vocal performances.

  4. James

    A movie that could’ve suffered from this but surprisingly didn’t (at least for me) was Over the Hedge. Most of the characters are unnecessarily voiced by big or recognizable names, but they actually deliver pretty good performances. William Shatner and Avril Lavigne being a father daughter pair sounds terrible on paper, but they both manage to be pretty sincere. It probably helped that the movie was the audio/visual equivalent of popcorn and never got too serious or deep.

  5. As Josh stated, normally I don’t want to know, and don’t much care, but will cite some contrary positive examples.

    Recognizing Kelly MacDonald in BRAVE increased my enjoyment of the picture. Nathan Fillion in WONDER WOMAN.

  6. Dan Castellaneta is a wonderful voice actor, and the man of thousand voices, so why does his Genie sound so off in ‘The Return of Jafar’? You’d think he’d be able to nail a Robin Williams imitation. Makes me wonder: maybe Disney actually forbade him to sound too much like Williams, fearing he (Robin) would sue – they were on bad terms back then. Something similar happened before: Tom Waits was asked to do a radio commercial, but declined. A soundalike was used, and Waits successfully sued.

  7. Guy

    Not a theatrical release, but I really couldn’t get with Peter Weller’s performance in the adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns. On paper, he seems like a great choice for an over-the-hill, tightly-coiled Bruce Wayne with a death wish, but it sounded like he was bored out of his gourd in the recording booth. He portrayed Bruce’s initial resignation with a dull monotone and the moments that needed a seething, bubbling fury with the same monotone. It just didn’t work for me.

  8. photogdave

    Agree with Guy 100%. Actually all the voice acting in The Dark Knight Returns was terrible. I don’t think the director knew how to direct.
    My vote will be Judd Nelson in Transformers The Movie. He really could have done better but was probably high the whole time.

  9. Sean Connery in DragonHeart did not work for me. His unique voice only brings images of *his* face, not the dragon’s.

    And this one … don’t get me wrong, I love Chris Rock, but as a Zebra (Madagascar) not so much.

    Mike Myers as Shrek. Mike Myers as Mike Myers, bleh.

    James Earl Jones as Mufasa in The Lion King… meh

    When we have the topic of the opposite… Jeremy Irons makes a great Scar (Lion King,) James Woods as Hades (Hercules), Eddy Murphy as Donkey (Shrek) and Tom Hanks works well as Woody (Toy Story.)

    • Chris B

      I agree with you on Shrek, it just sounded like Myers doing a silly, half-hearted Scottish accent…didn’t work at all IMHO.

    • Bill

      The producers of Dragonheart modelled the dragon on Sean Connery. That similarity wasn’t a coincidence. It was inherent to the story.

  10. Bill

    Who better than James Earl Jones for Mufasa? Sheesh!

    I agree with Jeremy Irons great performance for Scar but unfortunately every time I heard him speak in The Borgias, Scar popped into my mind. Very distracting. Both characters sound exactly the same. Scar could have been his “audition” for the Borgias’ role.

  11. William Henley

    The first one that comes to mind is not necessarially bad, its just, well, odd. So with the first and third Lilo and Stitch movie, which was released theatrically, they cast Daveigh Chase as the voice of Lilo. In fact, she also voiced Lilo in the television series. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is the casting in Lilo and Stitch 2 and the video game Disney’s Magical World, where Lilo is played by…. Dakota Fanning. Now, the voice acting is just fine, but, with Lilo and Stitch 2 being a direct-to-video release, and considering it came out in 2005 when Dakota Fanning was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, the decision seems, well, odd. My only thought as to why Disney did this is that 2005 was also the release of the dub of My Neighbor Totoro, and maybe Disney got her to voice on a single-contract deal.

    As far as bad voice acting, the movie Antz is one of the worst offenders. Sylvester Stallone’s voice is so well known, it really detracts from the character of Weaver. Jennifer Lopez’s delivery of lines for Azteca is horrible. Dan Aykroyd’s voice for Chip also sounds like, well, Dan Aykroyd. As much as I love this movie, the casting choices really draws me out of the movie.

    Prince of Egypt (huh, yet another Dreamwork movie). So for the most part, the casting for the major characters work for me, but Patrick Stewart as Seti really draws me out of the movie. In fact, he uses the same voice he used for Gurney in Dune. The casting of Steve Martain and Martain Short as the jesters completely takes away from the movie.

    Strangely, I don’t have this issue with Shrek. I mean, it is so obvious that you have Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow as the major characters, but for some odd reason, it really works here.

    Phil Hartman as Jiji in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Horrible performance. Sounds like he just walked into the booth and did one-take on his lines.

    Mel Gibson as John Smith in Pocahontas.

    When the show started, Katey Sagal as Lela in Futurama really bugged me, but the character grew on me. When the show started, all I could see was Peggy Bundy, but she’s a pretty darn good voice actress, and so I got to where I really liked her doing the voice.

    • William Henley

      bad edit on my part – the first Lilo and Stitch movie was released theatrically, the third one was direct to video. I know that, I just badly edited my comment before posting

  12. I’m not sure I really have a person that really stood out to me as bad, most of the time I knew exactly who was playing what before I saw the movie, so those things never really impacted me, but I really look for the ones that I dont know about or end up watching something I forgot about who was voicing who. A stand out though for me would be Alan Tudyk, already amazing as Wash on Firefly/Serenity, he has done so many voices you probably have no clue he was doing them, going from voicing Sonny in “I Robot” to doing The Duke in Frozen, King Candy in Wreck it Ralph and even doing Superman in the latest Justice League: War…..you almost never know its him, all of those voices are completely unique and sound nothing like he does in real life 🙂

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