Facebook Twitter

Adding star power one voice at a time In Focus by Richard Crouse November 07, 2008

Mad2_heroWould you spend money to see an animated movie starring Nicole Jaffe and Henry Corden? Probably not, because you’ve never heard of either of them.

Oh, but you’ve heard them.

Jaffe voiced Velma on Scooby Doo, while Corden vocalized for Fred Flintstone. Their voices are familiar, but not well-known enough for the producers of big budget cartoons like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, opening in theatres this weekend.

“If they were doing a half-hour Flintstone show today, they’d still go with me,” said Corden in 1999, “but for a motion picture, even an animated one, they’d go with a celebrity to play Fred, because they need to sell the picture.”

Big-name actors who made their bones in live action have become the norm in modern animation.

Madagascar redux features everyone from Ben Stiller to Jada Pinkett Smith. Somewhere Nicole Jaffe is standing in a bank line waiting to cash her unemployment cheque.

In the old days, Disney frequently used celebrity voices to augment their cartoons — remember Sebastian Cabot in The Jungle Book? — but the trend kicked into overdrive when Robin Williams’s hyperkinetic jabbering stole the show in Aladdin.

It was a tour de force performance and Williams’s star power helped push the box office past $200,000,000, an animated film first.

Marquee actors like voice work for the same reason I like doing my radio show — the hours are good and you don’t have to shave.

Marlon Brando was so taken with the easy money of voice acting he suggested doing the role of Superman’s Jor-El in voice-over, with his onscreen character portrayed as a glowing, levitating green bagel. That one didn’t pan out but he took further audio-only roles, including his final gig performing an old lady voice in the unreleased Big Bug Man.

Other star turns haven’t been so ignoble. Jeremy Irons was positively Shakespearean as The Lion King’s Scar and Orson Welles thrilled a generation of tweens as the voice of planet-gobbler Unicron in Transformers: The Movie.

But too often the big names offer little other than recognizable voices, and that can work against the part they’re playing.

Can you hear James Earl Jones as Mufasa without thinking of Darth Vader? Me neither.

It boils down to bucks —David Schwimmer’s Melman the Giraffe will put more bums in seats than Henry Corden. It’s not about talent, it’s about money. “I hate it but I understand it,” Corden said.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.