It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the voice actors used in animated films didn’t tend to be household names. These days it’s common to have not just one or two stars attached to big budget animations, but a whole cast of A-listers.
It’s easy to see why the studios are keen to sign famous names to their projects – it’s great publicity. These films are not just made for children – the parents need to be persuaded to take them to the cinema in the first place, and are far more likely to if their favourite actors are involved.
But what’s in it for the stars? Well, huge fees, for one thing – at the top end of the scale it’s said that Tom Hanks was paid $15 million for Toy Story 3, while Cameron Diaz apparently earned $10 million on Shrek Forever After. That’s a lot of money for what Chris Rock once described as “the easiest job in the world.”
While this statement provoked some controversy, there’s no denying that voice-over work is comparatively quick and straightforward – it doesn’t take the actor away from home for long periods of time, or require intense preparation, like other acting jobs.
There’s another reason why these famous names are attracted to voice-over projects, though. It’s simple – they’re fun. Fun for the actors to be involved in, fun for their fans to watch, and – most importantly for many actors who are parents (especially those usually involved in more adult films) – fun for their own children to enjoy.
The use of famous names to promote animated films can be traced back to the phenomenally successful casting of Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin in 1992. Studios quickly cottoned on to the idea, and began using more and more big stars in their projects – for example 1994’s The Lion King (Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons). The practice of using whole casts of A-listers was firmly established with the Toy Story and Shrek series of films.
Celebrity voices are now intrinsic to big budget animation, and this influences the way films are made. The most obvious example of this is the modelling of animated characters on the looks and mannerisms of their voice actors (Martin Scorsese in Shark Tale, Sylvester Stallone in Antz, Antonio Banderas in Puss in Boots).
But are there any disadvantages to using famous stars in animated films? Well, possibly for lesser-known voice-over talents, who are losing work (although with the rise in video games they do have lots of other options). Possibly for film fans too, on the occasions when the big names fail to deliver – actors who are great on screen are not always great at voice-over.
For the actors, there may be disappointment that their work is not recognised at the Academy Awards. There have been many notable performances over the years (Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo, Bill Nighy in Arthur Christmas), for which the actors have received acclaim – and recognition by America’s animation industry Annie Awards – but no Oscar. Scarlett Johansson won the Best Actress award at the Rome Film Festival last month for her voice over role in the film “Her” and this sparked controversy in the acting world – they couldn’t believe that someone could win an acting award for a film that they didn’t actually ever appear in!
However, many believe that it is surely only a matter of time before there will be an Oscar for Best Voice Actor. Because one thing is absolutely certain – celebrity voice-overs are here to stay.