Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Toon-arama: My favorite voices

by tryanmax

I’m going to admit it up front, this article is meant to generate controversy. I fully expect arguing and name-calling in the comments section. But that’s okay, because this article is all about what I like, and if I leave out any of your favorites, it’s up to you to defend their honor. Because here is a list of MY favorite voice-over artists.

I’ll start with the best, the legendary Mel Blanc. Blanc is famous for his 60+ year career voicing literally hundreds of popular and beloved characters. His most well-known work was for Warner Bros., creating distinct voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and virtually the entire Looney Toons stable. Blanc’s talent was for creative voices that were on their own just as distinct as any other aspect of the characters. Other notable Blanc voices include Barney Rubble, Cosmo Spacely (The Jetsons), Speed Buggy, Woody Woodpecker, and Toucan Sam.

It’s an injustice that June Foray is nowhere near as well-known as Mel Blanc. While her work is not as iconic, it is certainly no less diverse. For Warner Bros., Foray provided the voices of Granny and Witch Hazel, as well as every incidental female character during her years with the studio. However, she is probably better known for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show as Rocket J. Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick, and many minor roles. She also performed in many Rankin/Bass TV specials, most notably as Karen in Frosty the Snowman. Additional popular roles include Ursula on George of the Jungle, Cindy Lou Who (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and the voice of the original Chatty Cathy doll, as well as the evil Talky Tina of The Twilight Zone.
If Mel Blanc set the standard, there are several who follow his example. Foremost in my mind is Billy West. West’s vocal versatility is absolutely incredible. He voices four widely different leads on Futurama—Fry, Prof. Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Branigan. Before that, he proved his chops voicing Nicktoons’ titular Doug and Ren and Stimpy (both of ‘em). Futurama takes most of West’s attention, but he has found time to do voice matches for Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, Shaggy (Scooby Doo), Popeye, and more.

Keeping pace with West is Dan Castellaneta, whom you may be forgiven for mistaking for the entire population of Springfield on The Simpsons. Homer Simpson is, of course, his main role, but he also produces a full range of characters from the gravel-voiced Krusty the Clown to the squeaky pimple-faced teenager. His talent isn’t just for voices, either. Castellaneta is known for great improvisation leading to many of the show’s most quotable lines, including Homer’s famous “D’oh!”

Tara Strong, what exactly can I say except to provide a partial list of her work? Hello Kitty (title character), Bubbles (Powerpuff Girls), Dil Pickles (Rugrats), Timmy Turner (Fairly Odd Parents), Princess Clara and Toot Braunstein (Drawn Together), Raven (Teen Titans), Batgirl (various), Terrance (Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends), Ben Tennyson (Ben 10), Melody (Ariel's daughter, The Little Mermaid II). She also has an extensive videogame resume, most notably Rikku of Final Fantasy. In other words, she’s damn good.
While the amazing versatility of the above-named actors commands much respect, there is something to be said for those who are simply born with the gift of voice. Arguably, these men and women are one-trick ponies. But how does that critique stand when the trick is performed so well?

Sterling Holloway lent his unique raspy tenor voice to the narration of several Disney animated productions—my personal favorite being that for Mickey and the Beanstalk—but it was as the beloved bear, Winnie the Pooh, that he is probably best remembered. An interesting bit of trivia, Holloway auditioned for the role of Garfield, but lost to Lorenzo Music.

The voice of Garfield the cat, in many people’s opinion including my own, is Lorenzo Music. His low, sardonic tone perfectly suited the mischievous yet lazy feline. He is also fondly remembered as Carlton, the unseen doorman from Rhoda. He also voiced Peter Venkman from The Real Ghostbusters before Bill Murray complained and put an end to Music’s portrayal of their shared character. Ironically, Murray would go on to voice Garfield in the live-action/CGI films.

Few voices are more perfectly, deliciously menacing than that of Elenor Audley, the voice of Sleeping Beauty villainess, Maleficent and also Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine. Her vocal style switched effortlessly from cool and threatening to booming and fierce. Though her resume is brief, Audley helped create arguably the most iconic Disney villains and the legacy thereof.
Every child of the 80s and 90s remembers the trauma of learning that the original bad boy, Bart Simpson was in actuality a girl. Though Nancy Cartwright had already proven her chops on shows like My Little Pony and Richie Rich, her breakout role was with The Simpsons. Originally auditioning for Lisa, she quickly gravitated to Bart, capturing perfectly the adorable mischievousness of the iconic elementary-school hooligan.

Christine Cavanaugh may not be a true one-trick pony, but she stuck to a particular vocal type. She mainly did nasaly, nerdy characters, such as Chuckie Finster (Rugrats) and Dexter (Dexter’s Laboratory), though my personal favorite was the rambunctious Gosalyn Mallard from Disney’s Darkwing Duck. Her biggest claim to fame, however, was voicing the titular pig in the movie Babe.

Finally, I want to give honorable mention to Walt Disney. To cartoon fanatics, he is rightly loved for a whole host of reasons. Thus his stint as the original voice of Mickey Mouse often gets overlooked as a reason. In all honesty, it wasn’t all that great; just a grown man squeaking in falsetto. But the act perfectly captures the audacity of the man.

35 comments:

Rustbelt said...

(as Soundwave) Lazerbeak: Eject. Operation: Argue-and-Name-Call.

Ahem...WHERE IS FRANK WELKER?????!!!!!!! (And Peter Cullen, for that matter.)

Now, I have to call it a day for the time being and work most of tomorrow, but I'll be back in the evening to continue this rant. So, just to add fuel to the fire, I guess what I'm saying is....

(as Megatron) Why do you throw your credibility away so needlessly?*

*-if you've seen the '86 movie, I think you know the appropriate response :)

Backthrow said...

Mel Blanc

Paul Frees - imdb only lists a 'mere' 339 acting credits (many of the credits are generic catch-alls), but if you actually itemized every cartoon voice, dubbing performance, film and tv narration, tv commercial characters and voiceovers, radio work, looping of other actors' select lines, and narration for film trailers he's done, he'd likely emerge as the most prolific and versatile voice actor of them all. Probably best known as the voice of Boris Badenov on BULLWINKLE and Disney's Ludwig Von Drake, but you've heard him more (in things pre-1988, since he died in 1986) than you can possibly imagine.

June Foray

Billy Bletcher - king of the deep voice; Disney's Peg-Leg Pete, the Big Bad Wolf... many Looney Tune heavies, including Lawyer Goodwill/Mr. Hyde in THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING PIG, The Wolf in LITTLE RED RIDING RABBIT, Steve Brody in BOWERY BUGS and Papa Bear in Chuck Jones' 'Three Bears' cartoons. Also did cartoon voice work at MGM and appeared or voiced bits in the classic Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts in the 1930s.

Daws Butler - Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Wally Gator and a jillion other Hanna-Barbera characters, lots of work at Jay Ward Productions, prior to that had done oodles of voices at WB, MGM, UPA, Lantz, etc.

Gary Owens - the voice of both Space Ghost and Roger Ramjet, as well as the announcer on LAUGH-IN and a ton of other shows, both animated and live-action.

Kent Rogers - the original voice of Beaky Buzzard, adept at many celebrity impressions, did cartoon voice work at WB, MGM (Tex Avery cartoons) and Walter Lantz (on early Woody Woodpecker cartoons) and had a promising career ahead of him, but died in WWII, an airplane accident during training exercises... he was only 20 years old.

Corinne Orr - The voice of female and little kid character dubbing in anime and Japanese monster movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Best known for voicing Trixie, Spritle and Mom on SPEED RACER.

Harry Shearer - where would THE SIMPSONS be without Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principle Skinner, Kent Brockman, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy, Otto Man, McBain and a host of others?

AndrewPrice said...

Nice list, tryanmax! I truly long for the days when voice specialists like these did cartoons. These days it's pointless stars I don't care about. In fact, pretty much the only two times that's worked for me of late were Wreck-It Ralph and Despicable Me. Normally though, I can't get into the cartoons because I see the actors.

AndrewPrice said...

Oh, and let me add Alan Tudyk, who is becoming one of my favorite voice actors because you never know it's him until you see the credits. He's really top notch.

Kit said...

I would add Mark Hamill for his performance as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, Arkham Asylum, and Arkham City.

Andrew, Alan Tudyk is great too

Anthony said...

Off topic, but important.

HR Giger has died. That guy was a living legend. Countless movies, videogames and novels (he didn't pioneer the concept of body horror, but he did a lot to popularize it) drew inspiration from him.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/13/hr-giger-dead-alien-artist_n_5314408.html

BERLIN (AP) — Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed the creature in Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror classic "Alien," has died at age 74 from injuries suffered in a fall, his museum said Tuesday.

Sandra Mivelaz, administrator of the H.R. Giger museum in Gruyeres, western Switzerland, told The Associated Press that Giger died in a hospital on Monday.

Giger's works, often showing macabre scenes of humans and machines fused into hellish hybrids, influenced a generation of movie directors and inspired an enduring fashion for "biomechanical" tattoos.

Jason said...

Someone needs to add in Jim Cummings! He’s the current voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, and a TON of Disney characters. He was Darkwing Duck, Don Karnage, Pete (from Goof Troop), El Captain (from Ducktales), and jumps in to voice a whole bunch of supporting ones like on House of Mouse, etc. The man’s got 400 roles to his name. I especially like his Dr. Robotnik from Sonic SatAm. Now that was a cool villain.

While I’m on the subject of Disney, Kathryn Beaumont shined as Alice and Wendy. She provided the right mix of spunk, curiosity, intelligence, and occasional childishness. In fact, I think Alice and Wendy were the first major Disney female characters to break from the princess mold.

This voice will be mostly known to anime fans, but Steve Blum is one of the best from that field. He’s done tough guys, loose cannons, rogues, slimy villains, secretive bureaucrats, and the voice of the robot TOM, the Toonami host.

Lorenzo Music was so iconic as Garfield that the new voice actor doing him for the CG-animated Garfield show is basically doing an impression of him.

tryanmax said...

Rustbelt, thanks for kicking off the controversy! Frank Welker crossed my mind, but I decided to keep my list short to get the comments rolling. I picked my personal favorite five (five men, five women), so when you get back, rant away!

tryanmax said...

Backthrow, nice list. Honestly, I didn't even think about Frees, but he's right up there with Blanc and West. I have a lot of respect for the versatile vocalist.

Bletcher puts me in mind of Thurl Ravenscroft (aka Tony the Tiger) but I agree, Bletcher was king of the deep voice.

Rogers could've been someone great. Great credits for such a short career.

I could've probably included the entire cast of The Simpsons. A lot of talent on that show.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, Part of the reason I wanted to do this list is to show that voice specialists aren't gone. In fact, if you want to waste an afternoon, go to YouTube and look up some of the current voice artists at ComiCon. They do this thing where they read famous scripts "as" various cartoon characters. It's a riot and the fans really dig it. Too bad Disney et al got the idea that you need celebs to put butts in the seats. IDK anyone who saw a cartoon b/c so-and-so was in it.

That said, Steve Carell could've been a dedicated voice actor and so could have John C Reilley (albeit as a one-note vocalist.) Tudyk is one to watch.

tryanmax said...

That is probably Hamill's greatest performance. Go to YouTube and look up Hamill reading the monologue from "The Killing Joke." Chilling.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, Giger was certainly inspired. He's a very often imitated artist. On it's own, I can't say his work is exactly my cup of tea, but many sci-fi films would look barren stripped of his contributions.

tryanmax said...

Jason, I have a lot of love for Cummings. In fact, he was the second voice artist I was aware of after Mel Blanc. But as I told Rustbelt, I put a limit on myself so you guys would chip in.

Kathryn Beaumont was an exceptional voice actress for being so young at the time. Amazing, too, that she could reprise the role some 40-odd years later for the Kingdom Hearts games.

PDBronco said...

For "old school", I agree with Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, and Paul Frees. I'd add Stan Freberg, who did a number of voices in the Warner Bros. cartoons (mostly uncredited) and is probably best know as Pete Puma. A number of us also know him for his comedy albums, song satires, commercials, and the last national radio comedy program on CBS Radio.

For "new school", I think we should add Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and the great Maurice LaMarche.

And should we add Pixar's "lucky charm", John Ratzenberger?

ScottDS said...

I'm surprised it took this many comments before someone mentioned Maurice LaMarche. His Orson Welles pretty much beats anyone else's. (He dubbed VIncent D'Onofrio in Ed Wood.) And we'll always have this. :-)

He also took over for Inspector Gadget in later spinoffs and specials after Don Adams was no longer able to do it. And he even showed up as a live-action Inspector Gadget in an episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. (There's a call back for the 80s kids!)

In Futurama, he was Kif, Morbo, and Calculon, among many others. And lest we forget, he was The Brain.

P.S. Billy West only voiced Stimpy at first. I think he took over for Ren after show creator John K. was given the axe (or he left, I don't remember).

KRS said...

No love for Adam West?

I was about to do a rip on him as Mayor West on Family Guy, but I looked up his IMDb listing and, Holy Voiceover, Batman, this guy's done a lot of work!

Among his credits: Young Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants; himself on Fairly OddParents; Batman on the Simpsons; Dog Zero on Secret Files of the SpyDogs (???); Spruce Wayne Caped Crusader on Animaniacs; The Galloping Gazelle on Goosebumps; and Hercules on Shazam!

He's like William Shatner on LSD.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I'm glad they aren't gone, but I'm unhappy about them being replaced in so many movies these days. I find the celebrity thing a turn off rather than a reason to turn out.

Agreed on Carell. He could easily be a voice guy. On Reilly, believe it or not, but I never really liked him before in anything until Wreck-It Ralph.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. The Kingdom Hearts games are awesome!

tryanmax said...

PD Bronco, add whoever you like! Good call on LaMarche!

tryanmax said...

Scott, Futurama is another show with a cast packed with talent.

RE: Ren & Stimpy, I took some liberties with the timeline for consistency. I don't think there will be serious repercussions.

Hold on, Doc Brown is at my door...

tryanmax said...

KRS, Adam West has certainly managed to cash in on his gift for camp!

tryanmax said...

Andrew, totally agreed. It's downright shameful that real voice talent has been relegated to TV. Unless you consider that is where most of the good content is these days.

Reilly's voice has always been a draw to me. Part of the reason for his on-screen success, I believe, is that his voice is so perfectly matched to his (no disrespect) schlubby appearance. But if that weren't the case, he could still voice schlubby characters day and night.

KRS said...

Regarding trained voice over actors versus celebrities, when Rustbelt criticized this practice on another thread, I said I had made my peace with it - if I had been honest, I should have said, "Given up on it."

Some of these actors and actresses can do it well, like Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo. A few others, like Patrick Stewart, have such distinct voices that they can't help but take you right out of the story.

And I think that's the real problem with celebrity voices. If the voice is very recognizable, it can pull you out of the animation fantasy completely, your mind registering images of the real world and a real person. If the voice is not recognizable, it doesn't interfere. If the actor has real voice talent, s/he can use it to draw you into the fantasy further.

My best visual example for this effect is the Reverend Jim and Assistant DA Fielding as Klingons. STIII had completely redesigned the Klingons into a really intimidating form, but blew it all away when Rev Jim opened his mouth.

I kept expecting to see baby powder blow out of Kruge's butt!

Tohokari-Steel said...

What? No Jim Cummings? The guy took over as the voice of Pooh and Tigger, doing great jobs for both. The guy's work kept popping up all over my childhood.

I also submit Hank Azaria, the guy provides a ton of varied voices for Simpsons side-characters, ranging from the hilariously sarcastic Comic Book Guy to the more nonchalant Carl Carlson (YES, that's the character's full name) to the grossly incompetent and corrupt Chief Wiggum.

tryanmax said...

KRS, Perfect example! Though I rather liked the Rev. Jim as a Klingon. LOL

tryanmax said...

Tohokari, Jason named Cummings up in the thread. Cummings is a great talent, no doubt. I just limited myself to my tops so you guys could chime in. And like I told Backthrow, I could probably include the entire Simpsons cast.

Tennessee Jed said...

Mel Blanc is, as you point out legendary. It is fascinating to me, though, that there is a gallery of greats. This is not immediately obvious to me since I really haven't gotten emersed in the whole 'toon' scene. I certainly recognize some of the voices associated with iconic characters for sure.

djskit said...

Its a sad commentary on mondern Hollywood that all the big name animated features feel the need to have some "big name star" voice the main charachter. Some are good - like Reilly - but often pull down otherwise fine movies. I really enjoyed "Despicable Me" but Carrell as the lead voice? Not so much.
Most of the fine voice talent working is relegated to TV or supporting roles.

tryanmax said...

TJed, it is amazing how many of these unseen performers are actually household names. Though I wonder what it is that the ladies are missing that not as many are known? Is it that traditionally they don't voice leads? Do they not tackle as many characters? Tara Strong is pretty versatile and well-known, but it seems like we are presently in the first generation of (quasi)famous female voice artists.

tryanmax said...

djskit, completely agreed. Like I said to Andrew, the only saving grace is that TV is where the better content generally lives nowadays. But I'd like to go to a Disney feature that boasts no celebrity voices once again.

Rustbelt said...

Speaking of H.R. Giger, I remember a documentary on him from the 'Alien' quadrilogy DVD set. I believe one of the men who become a producer for 'Alien' met Giger in Paris at (what else?) a cafe. During the conversation, the producer said Giger offered him some heroin. After a polite decline, the producer asked Giger why he used the drug. Giger responded, "because my mind scares me."

Rustbelt said...

OK, back to the topic at hand...

Welker's filmography is too long to type. So, here's a list. Hm...is there anything he HASN'T been in over the last 30 years? Interestingly, he used the same voice for Dr. Claw and Soundwave- with the latter being washed through a vocoder.

And here's a few others I thought of:

-Chris Latta- Starscream (Transformers), Cobra Commander (G.I. Joe), Decompose (Inhumanoids), and the original Moe (The Simpsons). Allegedly, one of his fellow TF cast members (Cullen?) said that Starscream was gradually written out because the producers got tired of bailing Latta out of jail.

-And let's not forget the lovely ladies hired not just for voice acting, but for their singing voices as well- Jodie Benson, Paige O'Hara, and Mary Costa.. a.k.a. Princesses Ariel, Belle, and Aurora. Ah, for the days when vocalists truly were hired for vocal abilities rather than celebrity name recognition.
In fact, I recently watched the 'Making of' for 'Sleeping Beauty.' In it, Costa- a professionally trained opera singer- said that Walt told her, "you have a warm, warm voice, and it expresses love from your heart. Also, your voice is naturally placed, that you can use your singing voice as an extension of speech...He said, I want you to drop all of the colors and things that you feel about Briar Rose (Aurora) into your vocal palette, and I want you to paint with your voice."

-And if puppet shows count, then Trace Beaulieu/Bill Corbett as Crow T. Robot, J. Elvis Weinstein/Tom Murphy as Tom Servo, and Patrick Brantseg as Gypsy. (I'm intentionally leaving Jim Mallon off the list for all the trouble and interference he seems to have caused over the years.)

-Richard Boone as Smaug and Brother Theordore as Gollum in the animated version of 'the Hobbit.' Eat your heart out, Peter Jackson.

-And how about the entire cast of 'The Secret of NIMH?' Elizabeth Hartman (Mrs. Brisby), Derek Jacobi (Nicodemus), Dom DeLuise (Jeremy), and Paul Shenar (Jenner), IMO, make for one of the most distinctive groups of voice actors ever.

Dave Olson said...

I got to this post late, as I seem to have spent the last three days straight working. Anyway, I'm disappointed that there's no mention of Bea Benaderet, who did the original voice of Granny in the classic WB cartoons. She also did Witch Hazel and the owner of Claude and Frisky (in which Frisky Puppy causes Claude Cat to repeatedly hang from the ceiling with his claws), but Granny is her best known role. Sometimes she was voiced by June Foray, but I never liked her as Granny. She was a cold bitch with Foray, and a tough broad with Benaderet, if that difference makes any sense.

Way, way WAY off topic but since it was mentioned in a comment above: Maybe it's just because I was never a watcher of "Taxi", but IMHO Christoper Lloyd gave the performance of the Trek franchise as Kruge. He set the template for all the bumpy-heads that followed. (I know that Mark Lenard was the first of the redesigned Klingons, but he got wiped out by V'Ger in the first three minutes of The (e)Motion(less) Picture, so he didn't really add much to the lore.) He was as tough, nasty, and intimidating as you'd expect a Klingon to be. And in keeping with this article's topic, his voice was a great part of his character: "Then I hope pain is something you enjoy." Gives me chills, and I don't think of Reverend Jim, Doc Brown, or the nut he played in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest either.

KRS said...

Dave - I mostly agree with your assessment, but I think you're helping to make my point. Christopher Lloyd has a very distinct voice and it never changes in anything he does. If you watched Taxi, then Kruge is channelling Reverend Jim every time he opens his mouth.

But, since you didn't see Taxi, Kruge is an awesomely scary Klingon (and really, taken alone, he is).

Worse, his first officer is Assistant DA Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) from Night Court, who also happens to have a baby face. The Klingons are a bunch of comedians! These were bad casting decisions because the TV shows were popular and a large body of the audience recognized the actors under the makeup immediately and it deflated the story for us.

I credit actors that play one role type well because you know they will deliver when used properly. But if an actor like Lloyd, known best for Reverend Jim, Dr. Emmett Brown, Uncle Fester and Al the Boss Angel, is cast as a villian, it ought to be a comedy like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and his name really should be something like Judge Doom.

Sadly, the quote, "Then I hope pain is something you enjoy," only makes me roll my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Great choices, everyone!

I'd like to give a shout-out to those voice actors (who also had regular on-screen gigs) who really had little variety to how they read their roles, and are pretty much instantly identifiable as a result, but are still talented and entertaining (and are pretty iconic in their roles):

Hans Conried (Snidely Whiplash, Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan)
Don Adams (Inspector Gadget)
Casey Kasem (Shaggy, 70's Batman's Robin)
Jon Lovitz (The Critic, multiple guest characters on The Simpsons)

And of course, the late great Phil Hartman (multiple recurring guest characters on The Simpsons), who lives on in Captain Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, voiced by the aforementioned Billy West.

I'm sure there are more that don't come to mind right now...

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