Friday, August 18, 2006

Big Name Voice Actors

This piece in the LA TIMES holds much wisdom. I've felt exactly the same way for a long time... Chris Kaltenbach has it exactly right. I've never gotten what the deal is with big-name voice actors. Do they add lustre and bucks to the animated feature's box office tally? Here and there, maybe. But Brad Pitt didn't seem to push "Sinbad" over the top, now did he? And of course, Kaltenbach mentions Julia Roberts' magical presence in "Ant Bully." That certainly added twenty million to the bottom line. In the ancient times (twenty-plus years ago), NOBODY thought that getting a top-tier actor was a particularly great way to go. I never heard Woolie Reitherman say: "Hey! Let's get Harrison Ford to play the fox! He's hot, isn't he?" Today, however, getting a Numero Uno star seems to be a top priority. Once in a while it pays off (Mike Myers? Eddie Murphy?), and very occasionally it is genius (Robin Williams playing a blue genie? Worked like a dream). But most of the time, the high-priced talent adds little. (Julia wasn't the only big-foot actor who was on board the lead dirigible known as "Ant Bully.") To my mind, one of the great voice performances in an animated feature is Hans Conried playing Captain Hook. You can't get much better than Conried in that role, and I don't think it's ever been topped. But would Conried get hired for that part today? Doubtful. At the time he was just a great working character actor with a background in radio. Today, Captain Hook would probably go to some high profile A-lister who wouldn't do half as good a job. Maybe someday movie executives will get over their infatuation with casting bankable stars in animated films' voice parts, but I'm not expecting it to happen in MY lifetime. Or the lifetimes of my kids. Film execs are slow learners.


Anonymous said...

If studio executives are going to insist on using celebrities to provide voices for their animated films, at least they could make an effort to hire actors and actresses with distinct voices. Julia Roberts is a fine actress, but her voice doesn't have "texture" or "richness". Look at the remarkable voice talents used in Disney's "The Jungle Book". George Sanders, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot,etc. Every one of those actors had a distinct and rich voice, as did such versatile talents as Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray, Janet Waldo, Paul Frees and so on. Radio provided the animation world with the best voices available.

Anonymous said...

I agree, too--but frankly, this could have (and SHOULD have) been written in the press about 10 years ago, around the time of "Hunchback". That horse ran out of the barn a loooooong time ago.
What's more, how can it be argued that it's such a terrible thing to execs when the fact is that the ONLY attention I see given to real flesh & blood people when an animated film comes out(on ET, Extra, local news, etc.)by the media is interviews with the superstar voices, or shots of them recording? Who saw a lot of Andrew Stanton ir even Lasseter during the "Nemo" push? Clearly that IS, like it or not, the big selling point that the media craves. I totally agree it shouldn't be weighted as heavily as it is, but that's what garners intreest(and publicity).

I second everything the other anonymous said, too.

Anonymous said...

About the only noticeable coverage of an animator I can recall recently was was seeing several segments with Jason Ryan in "making of" stories about "Chicken Little". I bet that wouldn't have happened if he didn't have a detectable accent.

I remember liking the "making of" featurette on the "Emperor's New Groove" DVD because it spent maybe 3 seconds covering the celebrity voices (who were actually pretty good in that one) and the rest of the time showing the real production process.

Warts and all they showed it, even the fact that every gag and notion had to bubble up through everylayer of Disney management to Michael Eisner and back down again.

Anonymous said...

Animators were getting more media attention until 1995, when the Dreamworks split highlighted the bidding war for talent. I suspect it was then that management teams, feeling betrayed by these uppity artists began to shift the focus away from celebrity animators and put us back to anonymous worker-ant status.

The fact about celebs is the big money studio execs won't take your project seriously without a star attached. When we were doing Osmosis Jones at Warners we were a struggling wannabe project along New Gods and Limpett until Will Smith expressed interest in the project. He passed in the end, but that was enough to suddenly move us to the front burner.
Curious George was in development for ten years, Brad Bird did a script, David Silverman did a script. But when Ron Howard said "make it", it got made.

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