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