An awful thing happened during my childhood. Following the success of The Lion King and Toy Story, animation studios erroneously began to think that casting nothing but celebrity voices was an okay thing to do.
Unfortunately, without a good casting director, incredibly poor choices are made. Worse yet, without a good voice director, we get awful performances that either fall flat or miss the mark by millions of miles. The result was a stream of hit-or-miss films bogged down by screen actors who had no experience in voice acting, and who were not being guided through the proper techniques.
Screen actors have the benefit of facial expressions, body movements, and general on-camera presence. Without all of these tools at their disposal, many A-list, well-recognized actors will inevitably flounder, especially without a rigorous director to show them the ropes.
John K., creator of Ren and Stimpy put it best by saying that good cartoon character voice acting involves having a good ear for sounds. Different inflections and creative ways of reading lines are necessary to “fill” the character within the animation.
Neglecting this element of craft makes a David Schwimmer character sound just like David Schwimmer, and allows someone as talented as Scarlett Johansson to sound devoid of emotion, especially when compared to her animation. You can tell this is not her fault when she gets some legitimate motivation to work with.
The bottom line is that becoming a character without makeup, costumes, or blocking can be difficult for many screen actors to handle. I get the feeling that most directors feel like making their celebrity actors go through too many takes will be a waste of their time, fat paychecks be damned.
In fact, some actors are just getting paid to be themselves or, worst of all, just have their names appear on the poster. Chris Rock’s smug as f*** Oscar presentation a couple of years back embodies how many screen actors are barely scratching the surface of what it takes to be a voice actor. He clearly has no clue that he’s being let off easy because Dreamworks thinks we want to hear the same character every single time.
So, to cut this rant short, there are a few shining examples that run contrary to this trend. Here are my favorites: Continue Reading »