Mar 7, 2005

Voice Actors Need Love Too

After looking at last week's Oscar (TM) ceremonies, I had a revelation.

There ought to be Best Voice Actor and Actress awards handed out. Seriously, animation directors and writers do get their moment in the spotlight in those overblown egotrips (I happened to like this year's ceremony, contrary to what the snooty critics may have thought of it). The thing is that in every single animated film, as much work as the animators, designers, scriptwriters, and artists do, the film really comes to life courtesy of the voice artists behind the mikes.

About a couple of years before his untimely death, Phil Hartman (a great voice artist in his own right whose final performance was in Kiki's Delivery Service) hosted a behind-the-scenes segment of How The Grinch Stole Christmas celebrating what Boris Karloff's voice did for the character. Mr. Hartman impersonated several famous celebrity voices reading the script in the role of The Grinch. He proved that the voice does matter.

Imagine if, say, Gilbert Gotfried and Robin Williams's roles in Disney's Aladdin (Iago and The Genie, respectively) were reversed. I wouldn't say it would necessarily be a bad thing (Mr. Williams' Iago would have been maniacal, ala Rainbow Randall from Death To Smoochy and Mr. Gotfried's Genie would be a lot louder, but comical nonetheless), but it wouldn't be the same, and it probably wouldn't have been successful. If Disney had casted someone like Reginald VelJohnson as The Lion King's Mustafa instead of James Earl Jones or Steve Martin as Jafar instead of Jeremy Irons, it would just be wrong (although that Jafar casting could work). If guys like Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan, June Foray, Clarence Nash, Pinto Coving, Daws Butler, and all the other animation voice artists that paved the way for today's artists (the ones in Hollywood that a lot of us grew up with and the ones in Vancouver who seem to be doing ALL the voices) weren't there, who knows what kind of cartoons would have come out?

I think that there were plenty of voice artists that did Oscar-caliber work this year, from JoAnne Lumbley (Fairy Godmother from Shrek 2) and Brad Bird (the costumemaker from The Incredibles) to Nathan Lane (Scott from Teacher's Pet) and Jim Cummings (Pooh and Tigger, The Piglet Movie). Voice artists are recognized by the television industy with both Daytime and Primetime Emmys, so why doesn't the motion picture academy do likewise with animated films? Heck, Shrek 2, one of the three films that was up for Best Animated Feature, made just as much in the box office as all five Best Picture nominees combined, and yet animated films will never be nominated for Best Picture again. The only reason why Beauty and the Beast was nominated is because they didn't have a Best Animated Picture category, and in all honesty, the film industry still sees the animation industry as a stepchild.