Posts Tagged ‘animation’

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.


Unknown-5Arthur and the Invisibles is a whimsical kid’s movie that blends live action with animation. It’s a story about a young boy (Freddie Highmore from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) with a vivid imagination left to live on a Connecticut farm with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) while his parents search for work in the big city. The boy passes his time reading his missing grandfather’s diaries and daydreaming about the older man’s adventures in deepest Africa with two tribes—one giant, one small, known as the Minimoys.

When an evil real estate developer tries to foreclose on his grandmother’s land Arthur hatches a plan to use his grandfather’s papers and maps to uncover treasure buried on the property. With just 48 hours before bulldozers raze the house Arthur follows his grandfather’s instructions, shrinks himself to microscopic size and enters the world of the Minimoys to search for the treasure.

Here the movie gains some steam. Insects are as big as airplanes and one Rastafarian Minimoy sounds an awful lot like Snoop Dogg. Arthur, now equipped with a shock of white hair that makes him look more like Billy Idol than a superhero falls for a princess voiced by Madonna, does battle with a bad guy whose name no one dares utter and finds out why his grandfather mysteriously disappeared.

While it’s a relief to find a computer-animated movie that isn’t about talking animals on a quest to get home / back to Africa or fractured fairy tales Arthur and the Invisibles only delivers up to a point. A little over-long at 2 hours, the movie is exciting during its chase and action scenes but borrows a little too heavily from familiar fare like The Wizard of Oz and even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids to feel completely fresh.