Open Forum Friday: Do Animated Movies Really Need Big Name Voice Actors?


There once was a time when voice acting was something that A-list Hollywood actors would rarely ever waste their talent on. Whenever you needed someone to provide a voice for an animated movie, you would go to someone who specialized in such things, because let’s face it, they were cheaper and probably much more versatile too. But things have been slowly changing ever since the ’90s, with Robin Williams having a prominent role in Aladdin, and then blockbuster CG films like Toy Story and Antz featuring star-studded casts (the latter of which even modeled its characters to subtly resemble its stars). Nowadays it’s pretty much a given that any feature-length animated CG movie will secure big name talent in order to better their chances for box office success. But is this actually a good thing?

One of the concerns here is that the A-list actors are taking away jobs from the real voice actors — people who don’t get paid nearly as much and who, in some cases, are already struggling to make a living. But there’s also a question of whether or not the big name actors are actually providing a better performance. In a lot of cases I think the answer is no. Voice acting is an art form with its own subtle differences, and just because you can act on screen doesn’t necessarily mean you can give a decent vocal performance. For proof of this, just look at the despicable studio practice of having voice actors read for a role, only to give the recording to a Hollywood actor to use as a guide for their own performance. Pixar seems to be one of the few animation studios that still tries to cast a part based on the actual voice work rather than star power. What do you think? Do A-list actors help or hurt animated movies? Are you more likely to see an animated movie if one of your favourite stars provides a voice for it? Is voice acting itself in danger of becoming a lost art form? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

  • Mike

    I think that A-List actors help sell tickets but after that they can help or hurt, it depends on the performances. It’s impossible to say they’re all the same. For example, Patton Oswalt is amazing in Rattatouille but Cameron Diaz is terrible in Shrek.

  • Kasper

    Diaz is beyond terrible, and even worse is more or less the entire cast of madagascar. Thank god I usually watch my animated films dubbed to Danish, I find them (though often star-studded) to be of a much higher quality than the English versions in general.

  • swarez

    There didn’t seem to be a problem attracting people to the theater some decades ago without the help of an A list talent. I’ve never felt it was necessary to have some Hollywood star in the cast, usually it detracts from the film because you have that actor’s image in your mind and it makes you not buy in to the character. But that of course depends on how the actor uses his voice and on his performance.

  • fatbologna

    I agree with swarez. I immediately associate the actor with the character when watching a star-studded animated film. I definitely DON’T think of Kevin Conroy when watching an animated Batman flick. I think well established voice actors have worked VERY hard to be where they are and are generally just better when it comes to this kind of thing. They can become a character rather than just being an animated version of themselves. Disney never really used famous actors in their films up until the 90s and they were better for it. How many people watched Aladdin and didn’t picture Robin Williams and Gilbert Godfried?

  • Doug

    A1) Yes, big name actors are needed for animated movies for exactly the same way big name actors are “needed” for non-animated movies: They improve ticket sales.

    A2) The more recognizable the voice, the more distracting it is while you’re watching the movie. Just like non-animated movies.

    So I don’t think there’s any difference between animated and non-animated movies where stars are concerned.

  • Tomas

    As with acting, use the person who will be best for that role, not “just because….”.

  • Similarly, really talented doctors are taking away jobs from drunk guys with hacksaws who operate out of garages. These old-school doctors — like voice actors – don’t get paid nearly as much as these other doctors and, in some cases, are already struggling to make a living.

    It’s just unfair.

  • Falsk

    Yeah, this is one’a my biggest pet peeves. Because you see movie trailers for these films and there’s a good couple of seconds at the end dedicated to throwing all the names at you hoping the audience will go, “Ooh, well if Will Arnett’s in this, I’m down!” Come on.

    Gimme K.T. Vogt any day. I like going back to old films (I just watched “Peter Pan” a few weeks ago) and just watching the film instead of thinking, “Gee, is that…?” But if big names sell tickets, well this is what we get, then.

  • jaime

    It’s very vey very simple FUCK NO! I’ve been saying this for year’s.

  • Henrik

    Shut-Up Ed, do you really think that big name=talent? With doctors, look and charisma doesn’t mean as much as with actors.

  • Goon

    you get who fits, and if they’re big, they’re big. Tom Hanks voiced Pixar’s first major outing and he was the right choice.

  • Marc

    The short answer is No! I believe that this is a hold over from the Disney films from the early 90’s and it seems that everyone else followed suit. Basically executives were like, hey lets sign “Cameron Diaz” instead of a trained voice actor to play the part of the princess. It’s nothing more than a name to promote on the TV spots and trailers.

    Can you imagine how much better the quality of these films would be if they put more resources into the story and visuals instead of paying “A big actor” 10 million plus.

    Don’t get me wrong there are a number of Stars who have done a great job “see Pixar films” but I for one think that it’s overrated and isn’t really necessary.

  • swarez

    Pixar seems to be picking the right voices, whether they are huge stars or not, aside from Kevin Spacey I don’t remember anyone “famous” in A Bugs Life. They rely on story and visuals first and foremost and finding the right voice instead of the right name is more important to them, like Graig T Nelson and Helen Hunt in The Incredibles. Ratatouille and Wall-E had no major stars in them and they were huge, but I think it’s more due to the Pixar label than anything else.

    And, what about all the other animated films with big name stars that have absolutely bombed at the box office? The marketing machine probably has more power than who’s name is on the poster.

  • Niklas

    I don’t get why people care if Will Smith is doing the voice in an animated movie? You don’t see him anyway. I personally like animated movies without a-list actors better.

    Madagscar is a great example of a movie that I think would be a lot better if it had better voice cast.

  • no they don’t

  • Big Hungry

    It is all about name dropping at its best or worst.

  • The practice of getting “big name” actors probably doesn’t help their bottom line as much as they think. I’d be willing to bet the movies are more profitable w/o big names (because they would cost half as much and sell to the same pack of families anyway).

    I do think that having live-action actors actually does work out to the benefit of a lot of anime though. The Miyazaki films would be hurt by the cheesy and over-the-top performances that voice actors typically provide. Sure, the now legendary VHS-only dub of AKIRA was fun; but probably a lot more people would have taken AKIRA more seriously if a cast of real actors (big or little names) were behind the mike.

    Like Big Hungry, I think the directors/producers like working with big names so that they can name drop and feel more legitimate.

  • Pixar seems to be picking the right voices, whether they are huge stars or not, aside from Kevin Spacey I don’t remember anyone “famous” in A Bugs Life.

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Madeline Kahn and Phyllis Diller say “Hi.” And that doesn’t even include the rest of the cast, all of whom have pretty recognizable voices. Hell, Hayden Panettiere was even in that freaking movie.

  • stevie_baby

    If it’s a fitting voice role, then sure. I think Robin Williams was a great Genie, just as Tim Allen was great as buzz Lightyear. I don’t however think that 90% of the castings recently are appropriate. Miley Cyrus etc is obviously shameless cash-in.

  • Robin

    I still think it’s wierd people will go and see a film just because of a name. The director, the screenplay and yes the trailer all persuade me more than the actual actors. Don’t care. Just don’t give one. Just actors. Eff them. And I’ve never liked a voice actor I’ve met.

  • As great as the classic (and current) voice actors are, I don’t see any reason animation producers shouldn’t turn to live actors with name recognition if they think they’ll a) help the box office, and especially b) deliver a **performance** beyond what what a Tom Kenny or Billy West – who can do great voice characterizations – can provide. Name value aside, does anybody really think Kenny and West could have delivered as emotionally powerful performances as Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman provided for their characters in “Kung Fu Panda”?

    Disney may not have used name performers for their voices, but he kept going back to the same P

  • As great as the classic (and current) voice actors are, I don’t see any reason animation producers shouldn’t turn to live actors with name recognition if they think they’ll a) help the box office, and especially b) deliver a **performance** beyond what what a Tom Kenny or Billy West – who can do great voice characterizations – can provide. Name value aside, does anybody really think Kenny and West could have delivered as emotionally powerful performances as Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman provided for their characters in “Kung Fu Panda”?

    Disney may not have used name performers for their voices, but he kept going back to the same Phil Harris / Sterling Hollway / Pat Buttram well over and over – as much a crutch in its own way as turning to stars to voice the lead characters.

  • Duke Togo

    IMO, many of the big names doing animated aren’t all that great, they either seem to be phoning it in or are just being their normal persona IE Chris Rock, he’s funny as a comedian, but he only plays himself when he voices animation.

    Transformers fans raised a ruckus to get Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime in the Transformers movies, without this small concession the hardcore fans may have snubbed the movie and only seen it once instead of five times.

    Frankly I think kids make the choices and they really aren’t aware of celebs doing the VO, though they can tell when the voices are different, I said to myself as a kid, WTF is wrong with the Smufs’ voices in their animated movie, they sounded nothing like the TV show.

    Some of the problem is that regular voice actors usually don’t or can’t promote themselves, they won’t be asked to guest on Conan or Letterman. Sure some have a hardcore following like Cullen and Frank Welker, but the mainstream audiences would great them like the ‘Chocoalte Rain’ guy performing on Jimmy Kimmel. Cullen did voice a CGI optimus prime reading Letterman’s top ten list.

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  • Jenni

    Children won’t notice but I guess they’re looking
    for incentive for parents to choose this cartoon
    movie over another. People often choose what they
    know and trust- so maybe it’s not necessary or even
    the best choice to use a celebrity… but I think it
    works to a certain degree.

    Most of the time I don’t mind that a celebrity is doing the voice but often it takes me out of the moment so I would rather not recognize the voice. Ray Romano in Ice Age is an example. I like him but I feel constantly reminded of his real image.

  • Renexola

    I really don’t think it’s necessary. There are plenty of talented voice actors out there with the range to convey all the necessary emotions.

    For example, my boyfriend and I were watching Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure the other day and were thrilled to hear Jeff Bennett as Tramp. He was excellent. He had the appropriate emotional range and he was convincing as the character.

    I think a big problem is that when a lot of people think voice actors they think “silly Saturday morning cartoon shows.” But if they sat down and watched some of the more dark and emotional scenes, they would realize that it’s more than just silly voices. I can’t count the number of times I have cried while watching various animated series. I also can’t count the number of times I’ve watched an animated movie with an A-List actor and thought “Man, this would be so much better if __*insert voice actor’s name here*__ were doing this role.”

    Another major pet peeve of mine is when they cast famous Hollywood actors for the major roles and established voice actors for the minor roles. Example: Bolt. Grey Delisle would have made a MUCH better Penny than Miley Cyrus. Instead, she got cast as Penny’s mother. I looked forward to hearing her voice more than Miley’s.

    I do have to admit though, Pixar does do a good job of casting. I had no idea that it was Owen Wilson voicing Lightning McQueen until I read the credits. I do wish they would tap into the voice actor pool a little more, though.

    The worst part is that the excuse “Well, it sells tickets” is poor. Anyone remember Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas? It starred Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Joseph Fiennes. It bombed at the box-office. Oh, and among the SUPPORTING cast: Jim Cummings and Frank Welker. Yes, Frank Welker. A.K.A. the man who was referred to as a “voice acting god” by Billy West.

    Bottom line, A-list celeb voices doesn’t guarantee ticket sales. Casting directors need to look for talent in actors rather than popularity. That’s not to say that some celebrities aren’t good voice actors, it’s just that there is plenty of voice talent out there already. If push comes to shove, there should at least be a balance; hire one A-list actor and have the rest of the characters played by established voice actors. That way they get the ticket sales they want without ignoring the amazing talent that otherwise goes unnoticed by the general public.

    Just my [long] two cents.

  • vipul

    i want work in animation movie as a voice acter.

  • moo

    I much prefer the quality of work from real voice actors…Billy West Dan Castellnata to hearing jim carrey. What would Finding Nemo be like if Albert Brooks wasn’t voicing Marlin?

  • Tom

    I believe that if a movie(cartoon)has all the feeling, heart, and soul that the writer(s) put into it, Then the actual voice behind the character makes no difference. When my wife and I watch movies with our 3 year old daughter, we love to see who played the lesser known character rolls. Its nice to hear a voice really make a movie and not be able to place that voice somewhere else. My daughter doesnt care who was the voice of Woody(Tom Hanks), Mr. potato head (Don Rickles), or Hamm the Piggy Bank (John Ratzenburger). She likes the Movies. She dosent even know who these people are yet. Don’t get me wrong these actors usualy do an incredible job, but most parents just want their kids to have good, appropriate, fun, and if the screen actor/actress is right for it they should have it but don’t overlook the masters of voice that have been making and will continue to make us laugh for decades. We take our kids to see movies they like not because of who is in the film, but for the time we get to spend with our kids.

  • Sadly, I really have to agree with Billy West that using A-Listers for animated movies is a terrible trend. There are many great voice actors who have been at their craft for many years, but have remained annonymous–mostly because of the early Disney attitude of not listing said talent.
    And, by the time the (now very much adult)fans discover the voice to their favorite character(s), said actor is usually on their last legs, or have been in obscurity so long, that seeing a 83-year-old woman come on a talk show (say, DAVID LETTERMAN in 1987)mentioning–and PROVING–that she was SNOW WHITE and BETTY BOOP!–it hurts because they have been kept hidden.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but when Peter Fernandez passed almost 2 weeks prior to this posting, this fan’s heart was broken, mainly because I was raised as a life-long anime fan because of his work. And to this day, I have more respect for true voice actors (Bang-Zoom/New Generation Pictures fantastic stable, and ADV Films/Funimation’s in-house crew comes to mind), than I do for an A-Lister looking to add a animated film to their resume.
    It also hurts that most of the animated product hitting the multiplex is of the juvenile/comedic nature. Or, if it’s “mature”, its of the Saturday Morning “Battle/Superhero” variety.
    An animated slice-of-life dramedy would NEVER even warrant A-List “talent”–or US Animation Studios–attention, let alone make it to the multiplex. Which kinda breaks my heart as a fan, because a “Crispin Freeman/Wendee Lee” dramatic paring would be more believable than, let’s say, a “Tom Cruise/Halle Barry” pairing in the same animated dramedy.
    Last but not least, it’s also not the fault of the actors, but of directors who have the “Hey!! It’s a Cartoon!!” mindset.

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