Weekend Roundtable: Best Celebrity Animation Voice Casting

All of the major Hollywood studios love to hire notable celebrities to do voices in their big, expensive animated movies. Far too often, this stunt-casting is more distracting than effective. Sometimes, however, the right voice can be a perfect fit for a character, as in some of this week’s Roundtable picks.

Deirdre Crimmins

Though nearly every voice actor in ‘The Lego Movie‘ is excellent, I have always loved Charlie Day’s performance as Benny. There’s just something amazing about his enthusiasm for spaceships and his ability to convey that excitement through his voice performance. Spotting all of the movie’s voice cameos is fun enough, but long after the film was over, I spent much more time reminiscing about how happy I was when Benny got to build his ship than I did about any of those other one-liners. Day’s lack of inhibition and childlike eagerness is infectious.

Jason Gorber

At the time, Vin Diesel was hardly a celebrity, per se, but his voice in ‘The Iron Giant‘ did provide enjoyment, knowing him previously only as that gravel-voiced guy in Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

But surely the best use of A-list stars in animated films comes from Wes Anderson. Look to ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ and ‘Isle of Dogs’ for sublime performances by the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and so many others. Both films have their detractors, but for this fan they’re an unadulterated delight and a pure manifestation of Anderson’s gift for cinematic whimsy.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

It’s an obvious choice, I know, but it’s really not possible to lavish enough praise onto Robin Williams’ performance in ‘Aladdin‘. Even though his Genie lands a lot less screen time than you may remember, Williams’ manic energy can’t help that oversized, blue fella from stealing every last scene he’s in. Williams’ rapid-fire line delivery and heavy improvisation certainly offered Disney’s animators countless opportunities for inspired visuals. The seismic impact of that performance can’t be overstated, influencing the senses of humor for so many of the animated movies that would follow and making celebrity voice casting a standard practice.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

Sometimes hearing a voice that’s too recognizable can detract from my enjoyment of an animated film, but there are a few celebrities who have voiced characters in such a unique and distinctive way as to make them inseparable from their roles. Robin Williams’ manic performance and impeccable timing made his Genie steal the show in ‘Aladdin’. And who can imagine the tubby martial arts expert panda Po Ping voiced by anyone other than Jack Black in the ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ series?

Steve Carell’s ridiculously accented Gru in the ‘Despicable Me‘ movies may be a bit over the top, but his nuanced performance does have the intended effect of allowing us to empathize with a bad guy.

Perhaps my favorite celebrity animated voice is Mike Myers as ‘Shrek‘. The actor’s Scottish relatives helped inspire his accent, and it had been used to great effect previously in ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits (“If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”) and in ‘So I Married an Axe Murderer’. Doing Shrek with a Scottish accent humanizes the beast and gives the character layers. (Yes, kind of like an onion.)

Josh Zyber

Deirdre and I were on similar tracks this week, but headed for different characters. Will Arnett’s take on the Dark Knight was deservedly the breakout character from ‘The Lego Movie’, leading to his own dedicated spinoff feature a few years later. His gruff, hoarse-voiced parody of Christian Bale is hilarious, delivered with impeccable comedic timing. I laughed my ass off from start to finish during ‘The Lego Batman Movie‘, and Arnett’s performance was a big part of that. He may actually be my favorite movie Batman.

Your Turn

What are your favorite examples of celebrities voicing characters in animated movies? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. njscorpio

    I know this is more about movies, but my first thought was Mark Hamill as the Joker on Batman the Animated Series. If not for his amazing performance, I would consider Mark to be one of those stars that never moved beyond their breakout role. But with the voice acting role, he defined the post-Nicholson Joker. I’d say that his stint as the Joker was equally as important and significant as his role as Luke.

  2. Thinking of recent releases, Willam Dafoe knocked it out of the park in Isle of Dogs. There’s a part where he tells the sad story of a friend’s tragic fate. Partway through the story, he chokes on his words and turns the talking into a low and slow howl. The transition is fluid and highly impactful. I didn’t much care for Isle of Dogs, but I’ll watch it at least one more time just to get to that scene again.

  3. Bolo

    Although not a movie, I’d say Phil Hartman’s recurring roles on ‘The Simpsons’ were one of the highlights back when I’d catch the show many decades ago. He brought such zest to Lionel Hutz and such smarm to Troy McClure that any scene they were in just came alive.

  4. Csm101

    Russell Brand’s voice work as Dr. Nefario in the Despicable Me movies was impressive. I didn’t even recognize him.

  5. Bill

    Most of the time I prefer unknowns because big name stars’ voices are unusually so recognizable that they take you out of movie. However I will make an exception for Ellen Degeneres as Dory.

  6. Opinionhaver

    Bradley Cooper as Rocket is not only an excellent performance on its own, but the casting was so far against his type to that point that it’s even more impressive.

  7. William Henley

    Tacking on to what Chris said, pretty much the entire cast of Shrek is priceless – Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow. Great performances, every single one. And in the sequels, adding in Antonio Banderas – brilliant!

    In American Dad, I LOVE Patrick Stewart as Avery Bullock. What makes this great is that the voice acting is SO bad – every single time, it sounds as if Stewart is drunk out of his mind they just record him saying random stuff and write the show around it. Brilliant writing or brilliant voice acting or horrible voice acting (depending on your point of view), I laugh myself silly every single time.

    Dakota Fanning as the voice of Lilo in Lilo and Stitch 2 was a surprise. She was, at the time, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, and they get her to voice a direct-to-video sequel? I was actually surprised when I found out she was the voice, because my first thought was “wow, they got the same person to do the sequel that did the first movie” because the voices sounded so similar, but nope, two different voice actors, and the voice actor for the direct-to-video sequel was better known. What????

    This may be stretching it on what you would call animated content, but the voice of Jonathan Taylor Thomas voicing Sora in the Kingdom Hearts franchise was genius. I just cannot imagine the character working so well if it had of been voiced by anyone else.

    This leads me to… Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. Man, was that character written for him! Possibly the only Pixar casting that was better than this was Larry The Cable Guy as Mater.

  8. EM

    In an animated franchise replete with talented celebrity voices, one standout is Toy Story 2’s Kelsey Grammer as Stinky Pete. Not only do Grammer’s mellifluence and suavity make for pleasant listening in its own right, but they quite amusingly contrast with the character’s (fictive) public image.

  9. David Weishahn

    I thought Bruce Campbell was perfectly cast as the Mayor In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and as Fugax in The Ant Bully.

  10. It is inconceivable that no one has mentioned Wallace Shawn as Rex in the Toy Story franchise. Utterly perfect casting.
    Sarah Silverman in Wreck-It Ralph was another great one. Jack McBrayer in that film was also great.
    Richard Kind as Bing Bong in Inside Out was absolutely devastating. I choke up just thinking about him.

    • Oh, man, Richard Kind in ‘Inside Out’. If ever there was a case to be made for ‘voice actors deserve Best Actor Oscar nominations too’.

  11. Dave M

    Phil Hartmann as Gigi in Kiki’s Delivery Service. It was a great choice because it was so different from the anime voice (which normally I prefer).

  12. James Garner, Leonard Nimoy and Michael J. Fox in ‘Atlantis – The Lost Empire’, celeb voice casting done right. On the DVD, you can see the lead animators’ excitement when talking about the roles. Rourke’s lead animator even says his mother is a big fan of James Garner, and can’t believe her son is “directing” his character and working with him. King Nedakh’s lead animator does a great impression of Leonard Nimoy’s 10,000 years old voice.

    Joseph-Gordon Levitt in ‘Treasure Planet’, back when he was transitioning from child star to acclaimed adult actor. Great stuff, a believable Jim Hawkins.

    Glenn Shadix knocked it out of the park with his delicious hammy Mayor in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. ‘TERRRRRRRIBLE NEWS EVERYONE!!!!!’

  13. Nestor

    I’ll say that I agree with just about every post on here.

    My pick is James Woods as Hades in the movie Hercules. It was such an unorthodox performance but it just worked.

    Honorable mentions:
    Nick Kroll as Gunter
    Anna Kendrick as Poppy
    John Ratzenberg as Yeti
    Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski
    Josh Gad as Olaf

  14. James

    My pick for most underrated celebrity performance in animation is Eartha Kitt in The Emperor’s New Groove. The nuances in that performance are brilliant.

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