Living in an animated shadow: the obscurity of celebrity voice actors

February 5, 2017 — by Austin Wang and Alex Yang

Celebrity actors becoming more prolific in the voice acting industry

    While Steve Urkel’s iconic line “Did I do that?” in the hit ABC sitcom “Family Matters” draws an instant recognition of Jaleel White’s unique voice, most people do not know that White’s voice also gave life to iconic video game character Sonic the Hedgehog in the “Sonic” franchise’s animated game, series and fan film.

    In fact, an increasing number of celebrities are starting to jump onto the voice acting money train, portraying movie and TV show characters from several large franchises. From videogames to animated films, famous celebrities have appeared in many of some of the most well-known works of animated art.

    Take, for example, stage actor and two-time Tony Award winning actor Matthew Broderick, who is best known for playing titular character Ferris Bueller in the 1986 teen film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that he also voiced Adam Flayman, one of the main characters in the 2007  DreamWorks Animation film “Bee Movie.” In fact, “Bee Movie” has a surprisingly wide variety of voice actors, ranging from comedian Chris Rock to Patrick Warburton from “Seinfield.”

    Moreover, many other animated film characters also have famous live-action actors behind the scenes voicing them.

For example, most movie fanatics remember the late Carrie Fisher’s role as Princess Leia from the “Star Wars” franchise. But, surprising to even her most devoted fans, her last television appearance was as Peter’s boss Angela on “Family Guy.”

The celebrity voice-acting trend is not limited to just minor actors early in their careers. A-list celebrities like Bruce Willis, Robert DeNiro and Angelina Jolie have all worked as voice actors in the past decade.

Disney Pixar Animation Studios has always been in the habit of hiring celebrities to perform voice acting for their animated characters. In the 1990s, most Disney movies such as “Aladdin” relied on dedicated voice acting professionals like comedian Robin Williams, who can perform a whirlwind of impressions and accents, but now it is much more difficult to find any Disney animated movie or series without a celebrity voice actor. For example, the 2016 movie “Moana” employed the baritone voice of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Even the less popular animated films often draft star-studded casts. For example, DreamWorks Animations’ 2011 film “Puss in Boots” starred “Hangover” trilogy actor Zach Galifianakis, co-star of “George Lopez” actress Constance Marie and the director of “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro.

As celebrities like Tom Hanks rake in $15 million for voice acting as Woody in “Toy Story 3,” it's not hard to see why so many celebrities are eager to join the lucrative voice acting industry.

The downside of this trend is that replacing professional voice actors with celebrities often detracts from the movie’s quality. For example, junior Kevin Handoko, an avid fan of animated films, believes that animated films like “Spirited Away” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which do not have celebrity voice actors, are clearly demonstrate why animated films are not just for kids and can have great depth with emotional voice acting.

“Charlie Sheen in [Threshold Entertainment’s 2012 film] ‘Foodfight’ was absolutely terrible,” Handoko said. “He didn’t put enough emotion into his performance. It didn’t sound like he was playing a character; he was playing Charlie Sheen. Clearly, he was supposed to be a dog detective.”

Furthermore, Handoko said that audiences don’t typically watch animated movies based on which celebrity is voice acting; he recalled how he had trouble recognizing celebrities in famous films, such as Eddie Murphy as the voice of Donkey in “Shrek.”

Although seeing one’s favorite celebrity in an animated movie may be amusing, having a high quality and genuinely dedicated voice acting should ultimately be valued over having a star-studded cast that might bring a few avid fans to the box office on release day.

4 views this week