Jan 08 2014

How the Voice Cast of Futurama Defined Your Childhood

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Television

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by Jarrod S. Lipshy

Supergroups can often be a mixed bag. Sometimes you get Audioslave, and sometimes you get Asia. But what if I were to tell you folks that there exists a cartoon show assembled of the greatest voice acting stars from our generation’s childhood – a veritable Highwaymen of comedic talent and bottomless acting ability? That show exists, my friends. It’s name? Futurama.

Futurama‘s on-again-off-again success may be largely because of it’s skilled writers and ambitious creative direction, but the memorable characters are what make the show really stick. The players in Futurama exhibit an enormous range of emotion, from pathos to sheer idiocy, sometimes vacillating between the two within a single episode (“The Why of Fry” comes to mind, actually). The raw talent of this voice cast hinges upon some of the biggest names in voice acting, people who have had major influence in the field from today to as far back as 1969. Glancing through the show’s imdb is like skimming a “who’s who” of contemporary voice actors, and it contains people like…

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Kath Soucie

Plays: Cubert

You May Also Remember Her As: Lola Bunny (Space Jam), Fifi Lafume (Tiny Toon’s Adventures), Phil/Lil/Betty DeVille (Rugrats), Kanga (recent Winnie the Pooh films)

Kath Soucie’s bubbly, child-like voice has been around since 1985 when she played a minor character in the Disney TV show Adventures of the Gummi Bears. Her most-well known roles, however, happened in the mid 90′s when she was on hit shows like Tiny Toon’s Adventures, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and Rugrats, even making it to the big screen as the furry’s wet dream Lola Bunny in the 1996 Looney Tunes film Space Jam. She also played Dexter’s mom in Dexter’s Laboratory. She appears sporadically in many shows lately like Scooby Doo: Mystery Inc. and Transformer’s Rescue Bots.

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Dan Castellaneta

Plays: The Robot Devil

You May Also Remember Him As: Megavolt (Darkwing Duck), Genie (Aladdin tv series and The Return of Jafar), Grandpa Phil (Hey Arnold), Earthworm Jim, Earl (Cow and Chicken)

The man behind Homer Simpson has had a fairly diverse career outside of the show that became a cultural phenomenon. Despite drawing one of the largest salaries ever for a voice actor, he still frequently appeared as cooky, unpredictable characters either as a regular, or sometimes a guest voice on shows like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command and The Batman.

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Tom Kenny

Plays: Abner Doubledeal, Adlai Atkins, The Masked Unit

You May Also Remember Him As: Heffer Wolfe/Really Really Big Man (Rocko’s Modern Life), Spongebob Squarepants, Dog (CatDog), Mayor of Townsville (Powerpuff Girls),

Like Castellaneta, Kenny is an infrequent component to the regular cast of Futurama, but one that still seems to crop up several times per season. Kenny keeps quite busy, and seems to have boundless energy for taking on multiple shows at a time. As one of the younger talents on Futurama, he also has one of the most promising careers ahead of him. Grown up kids-at-heart will also recognize him as the Ice King in Adventure Time.

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Phil LaMarr

Plays: Hermes Conrad, Bubblegum Tate, Preacherbot

You May Also Remember Him As: Samurai Jack, Static/Virgil Hawkins (Static Shock), John Stewart/The Green Lantern (Justice League), Vamp (Metal Gear Solid series)

Another late bloomer, LaMarr graduated from Yale and went on to participate in both esteemed improv groups The Groundlings and The Second City. He was cast on Fox’s MadTV as a relative unknown and began to get voice work soon after. While he may have arrived later in most people’s lives, he still managed to secure prominent roles in hit tv shows like Justice League and Samurai Jack along with hundreds of guest appearances and additional voices. He also portrayed many memorable characters in games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Jak and Daxter, and Final Fantasy XII. Contemporary audiences can also appreciate his hilarious delivery as weatherman Ollie Williams in Family Guy.

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Billy West

Plays: Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Zoidberg, Zapp Brannigan, Richard Nixon’s Head

You May Also Remember Him As: Ren/Stimpy, Doug, Rancid Rabbit (CatDog), Bugs Bunny (Space Jam),

It would be impossible to overstate Billy West’s importance to Futurama. He plays a significant portion of the main cast, and almost always fills in on the incidental voices needed throughout the episode. West waited until his 30′s to pursue a career in voice acting, and became known to radio audiences on The Howard Stern Show in the late 80′s. He vaulted from a relative unknown into playing eponymous characters on big Nickelodeon shows Ren and Stimpy (playing Ren once the creator left the show after the second season) and Doug, as well as playing characters from beloved franchises like Popeye and Bugs Bunny. If that doesn’t get you bragging rights, I don’t know what does.  Adult Swim fans may also recognize Billy West as the white, upper-class oppressor Mr. Klimber from The Oblongs.

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Maurice LaMarche

Plays: Calculon, Kif Kroker, Morbo, Hedonism Bot, Lrr (Ruler of Omicron Persei 8)

You May Also Remember Him As: Egon Spengler (The Real Ghostbusters), Duke Nukem/Verminous Skumm (Captain Planet and the Planeteers), Hugh (Taz-Mania), Dizzy Devil (Tiny Toon’s Adventures), The Brain (Animaniacs), Flem (Cow and Chicken), Pepe Le Pew (Space Jam), Longhorn (Freakazoid!)

Of all the talented voice actors on the show, Maurice LaMarche is the only one to have received an Emmy for his performance. Twice. While I can’t explain the TV Academy’s favoritism, I can attest that LaMarche’s characters often display the most immediate charisma. It takes a lot of effort, after all, to make it in the news monster business.

LaMarche has been doing voices since 1980, and has had his fair share of adult roles in addition to  memorable runs on shows for kids. He has appeared in The Critic, Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law, Duckman, Queer Duck, and Stripperella to name a few. He also does a mean Orson Welles impression; in addition to him providing the inspiration for The Brain’s character, LaMarche has impersonated Welles on many cartoons and even supplied the dubbed voice for his brief appearance in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood (portrayed physically by actor Vincent D’Onofrio). If you want a good laugh, check out the Animaniacs short “Yes, Always”, which is a reenactment of this classic ad recording session where Orson Welles was too belligerent (and possibly under the influence) to comply with the script.

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Tress MacNeille

Plays: Mom, Tinny Tim, Guenter the Chimp, Slurm Queen, Hattie McDoogal (crazy old lady)

You May Also Remember Her As: Babs Bunny (Tiny Toons Adventures), Chip/Gadget (Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers), Charlotte/Angelica’s Mom (Rugrats), Dot (Animaniacs), Fang (Dave the Barbarian), Grandma Gertrude (Hey Arnold!)

Tress MacNeille is the queen of voice actresses. Not since June Foray of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame has there been a person who could handle so many personas coming out of one mouth. MacNeille often portrays expressive prima donnas who emote so hard that they often steal the show from others around them. She also squeezes every iota of humor from each line, and understands that acting is 95% delivery above all else Her contribution to Futurama is unparalleled; a trained ear can recognize her as many of the random voices throughout episodes, especially if they are crotchety old females or people with voices like pure sugar (vis the crutch-mobilized robot Tinny Tim). MacNeille also provides similar support on The Simpsons where she plays characters like Prinipal Skinner’s mom Agnes, bullies Jimbo and Dolph, as well as incidental favorites like the crazy cat lady and the redhaired young redneck girl Brandine.

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Frank Welker

Plays: Nibbler (both animal noises and speaking voice), Seymour the dog

You May Also Remember Him As: Fred (all Scooby Doo series), Rahzar/Tokka (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze), Abu/Rajah/Cave of Wonders (Aladdin), Martians (Mars Attacks!), Jabberjaw, , Stripe (Gremlins), Dr. Claw/Brain/M.A.D. Cat (Inspector Gadget), Kermit/Skeeter (Muppet Babies), Megatron/Soundwave/others (Transformers 1984 series), Wild Bill/Torch/Others (G.I. Joe), Slimer/Ray (The Real Ghostbusters), Beagle Bros (DuckTales), Tom/Jerry (Tom & Jerry Kids), Roger the dog (Bobby’s World), Gogo Dodo/Furball (Tiny Toons Adventures), Niddler (Pirates of Dark Water), Waffles the cat/Chainsaw the dog (Goof Troop), Runt/Ralph the guard (Animaniacs), Mr. Chubbikins the cat (Freakazoid!), many many many others

Even if by some freak occurrence you had never seen an animated film or show in your life, you would still have heard Frank Welker’s voice more times than you could possibly count. This is because the man’s vocal cords are a veritable zoo; he can duplicate nearly any animal noise including but not limited to horses, cats, dogs, dragons, snakes, and especially monkeys. Monkey Shines, Hudson Hawk, Super Mario Bros. (the movie), Cujo, The Santa Clause, Tommy Boy, Congo, Mortal Kombat, Indepenence Day, Anaconda, the 1998 Godzilla, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins amongst countless other films feature Frank Welker doing some sort of animal or creature voice. The odds are, if you’re imitating some critter doing a noise in a movie you saw, you’re also imitating Frank Welker.

On top of this enormous resume, Welker has been portraying the ascot-wearing Fred Jones in nearly every incarnation of Scooby-Doo since it’s inception way back in 1969. That makes Welker’s career astoundingly long-winded. His gravelly-moded voice has also established what evil sounds like after being a veteran of such roles as Dr. Claw and Megatron, to the point where when the 1997 Spawn film needed a voice for the most horrifying creature in Satan’s army, they called Frank Welker.

Welker’s incredible range can be discerned just by realizing that the same voice actor who jibbers and makes adorable noises as Nibbler also provides his booming tenor when speaking and trying to command respect instead of cuddle-wuddles. Because of this diversity and his career’s longevity, Welker is the Kevin Bacon of the voice-acting world in addition to it’s longest-surviving godfather, which means that nearly every professional voice actor has worked with him at some point in their careers. The man is certainly a legend, and proves that when it came to hiring people onto Futurama, they sought nothing but the very best.





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