Hollywood has…issues when it comes to animation. The West has treated cartoons as just something for kids for the longest time even when evidence to the contrary existed…like early Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. There are other problems as well, like how celebrities treat animation, which we’ll get into in due course. This isn’t just about animated films being relegated to animation awards and thus putting them out of the running for best picture, but how it affects the roles that regular voice actors are allowed to play between TV and movies.
The Cartoon Cypher was inspired by the recent ragefest that went on after Chris Pratt was announced as the voice of Mario in the upcoming animated Super Mario Bros. movie, but it’s a discussion that’s gone on for the past few decades specifically. Do we need live-action celebrities voicing animated movies and does it hurt the chances for actual voice actors to get dream roles? For that matter is it fair to voice actors that the studios just want a famous face even he or she isn’t shown in the movie…except for the times characters are designed to resemble the famous actor? Below is Cartoon Cypher’s perspective, and then I’ll chime in a few thoughts of my own.
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I don’t really know Chris Pratt’s vocal work but I do understand wanting the guy who has voiced Mario for years to play the part. He wasn’t the first English Mario most of us heard. In the 90s Captain Lou Albano voiced Mario and he did a rather good job. Walker Boone portrayed him in the NBC Saturday morning shows also produced by DiC but he passed away last year. Both were good in the role, though Danny Wells did a better Luigi than Tony Rosato, good as Rosato was. Both have also passed away. I have to wonder if Charles Martinet could make those voices work for a feature length movie since despite having done some longer scenes the voices were mainly designed for shorter beats.
I’m not against a “big name” live-action celebrity doing animation. As much as I love Frank Welker I can think of two roles that were better done by “regular celebrities”. Niddler in Dark Water was voiced by Roddy McDowall and I much prefer his voice over Welker’s in the full series The Pirates Of Dark Water. Galvatron will always sound like Leonard Nimoy to me, which Welker took over for in season three of Transformers. However, both had done voice over work before. Nimoy was a fan of radio dramas and even had his own audio drama troop for a time. Malcom McDowell (no relation to Roddy–note the spelling) has done his fair share of voice work. Vin Diesel was the voice of the Iron Giant while Dwayne Johnson has played some decent voice roles. The difference was how they went into it.
I’ve heard so many of the big name celebs going into a recording booth thinking it was cute or fun or they just did it for their kids (and their own egos) because the kid was a fan of big screen transition like Paw Patrol: The Movie or they’re known for making not-kid-friendly content and wanted to do something their kids could actually see of their work. There’s no real respect for the regular voice actor who does this every day, sometimes playing multiple parts in the same work as well as different productions for different studios. It’s not “quaint” for them, it’s their acting career and they take it as seriously as the live actors do. It’s just they only perform with their voices and have to hope the animation supplies the right physical acting. Meanwhile the press doesn’t cover voice acting unless they’re in something big enough and even then it has to be something like Hank Azaria or Mike Henry agreeing not to play non-white characters anymore. You don’t see Variety interviewing Steven Blum or Frank Welker on the regular, if at all. The press is like the rest of Hollywood in that they look down on animation, especially for kids, unless they can do something subversive with it. The live-action status symbol continues.
It also shows that the studios don’t really have faith in their stories that the marketing team has to push the actors over the story or characters…sometimes with good reason as either or both can suck more eggs than an starving mongoose. When Richard Donner was casting for Superman: The Movie he wanted relative unknowns so that Superman and Lois Lane would feel like those characters, the same reason the movie serials didn’t even credit Kirk Ayan as Superman. You won’t see that nowadays. Putting the focus on already famous actors means other actors have little chance of getting their own shot. Sure, you could make a movie where every character is played by Idris Elba, though you’d be accused of having a man playing a woman’s role since he’d have to be his own love interest and they’d be upset it wasn’t a gay romance. Would that be fair to an actor or actress who would be a better fit for a particular role? Elba playing his own grandma would be weird even for this premise, but I’m still surprised nobody’s tried it, and not just as a comedy skit.
The same is true for the animated movie. Instead of making a story interesting enough that the parent (remember those?) would be okay sitting in the theater with their child to watch a movie they need gimmicks. Granted I can watch Paw Patrol on television and the only reason I didn’t see the movie in theater was all the nonsense going on with me personally and in the outside world at the time (plus a grown man watching a movie based on a preschooler series gets the people more paranoid than me freaking out–yes, they actually exist) so maybe I’m not the standard to judge by. However, was the movie improved by bringing in a Kardashian? (I don’t even know which one and I’m not sure it matters. They’re interchangeable. Like LEGOs. Or the Gabor sisters.) Why can’t you put a voice actor on a talk show? It’s not like there’s one guest per episode usually, and they’re recording it anyway because they have work in the morning. You could bring Billy West in to discuss the next Spongebob movie because I’m sure the average five year old has never heard of David Hasselhoff before and as much as we need that rectified they aren’t watching the talk show anyway. My grandmother took me to The Muppet Movie in the theater when it first came out and it wasn’t to see Charles Durning threaten a puppet.
Voice actors don’t get enough respect as it is, and the celeb voice acting gimmick is just adding to the problem. Celebrities used to voice act because it was fun or to skirt typecasting. Now they just do it for their egos while the studios show yet more lack of faith in their own productions because they need to have ALL the money, not just a decent profit. I have nothing against celebrities doing an animated work if they can do it and are willing to put as much effort into it as the real voice actors, but given some of the ADR voice overs I’ve seen in their movies, never mind their performance in the cartoon…that’s not a long list. The guest actor shouldn’t overshadow the ones who do it on the regular basis. Have your fun, but accept you aren’t the real star in this field. Respect the professionals as much as you’d want to be respected if they came to your side.