Sometimes you know who you’re listening to. For a handful of actors – Sam Elliott, Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones in particular – their voice is their trademark, unmistakable and a nice little earner when they don’t feel like being in front of the camera. But sometimes you don’t. Recent years have seen a growing trend for big names providing the voices in major animations, but can we tell? The Lego Movie 2, released in cinemas on Friday, is packed with them – Chris Pratt on double duty, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill (who’s also in the third How To Train Your Dragon) and Ralph Fiennes, Jason Momoa and Bruce Willis are there as well, but there’s no prizes for recognising them. If you see the film, you’ll know why…
Here’s six top actors whose voices may have passed you by…..
The award winning actress, best known for boiling bunnies and playing Cruella Devil, has voiced animated versions of herself on TV in the likes of Family Guy and put in an appearance in Springfield as Mona Simpson. But on the big screen, she stepped behind the microphone for Disney’s Tarzan in 1999. She played Kala, the ape “mother” of the king of the jungle, and her soft, sympathetic tones made her a good choice for the role. But did anybody in the audience immediately know who they were listening to at the time? We have a sneaky suspicion not ….
The oceans and fish tanks of Finding Nemo (2003), and its sequel Finding Dory (2016), were packed with celebrity voices. Leading the shoal was the one we all knew about and, indeed, could recognise and that was Ellen DeGeneres as the voice of the blue tang with short term memory problems. But the others? Who, for instance, was behind Gill, the physically scarred and emotionally damaged leader of the Tank Gang? None other than Willem Dafoe, whose distinctive looks have loaned themselves to a vast range of characters but whose tally of voice acting projects is little more than a handful. His husky tones were well suited to the character, but who knew?
We all know him as the voice of Groot from the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies and some would regard this as his best performance ever. After all, who else could give so much meaning to three little words, especially when translated by a CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper? But long before he became Riddick, Xander Cage or Dom Torreto, Diesel was the voice of The Iron Giant (1999). He had to wait 15 years before graduating to using Groot’s solitary phrase: to re-create Ted Hughes’ metal man, he specialized in single words, with a bit of computer enhancement. Although he’d just had his breakout role in Saving Private Ryan (1998), there was some time to go before he became a familiar face on cinema screens, so hardly anybody would have recognised those deep tones.
The Braveheart actor made his first venture into animation when he was at his peak, voicing the heroic John Smith in Disney’s Pocahontas (1995). Whether anybody noticed at the time is open to question and they were even less likely to recognise the voice of a certain up-coming young actor called Christian Bale. Gibson had the mandatory guest appearance in The Simpsons but his other piece of voice acting was the one he’s most remembered for – Rocky, the flying rooster, in Aardman Animations’ Chicken Run (2000). Such was his star power that this time round everybody knew it was him well before the film was released.
Blessed with husky, velvety tones, Johansson is one person on this list with an instantly recognisable voice. Not that it always shows. Remember her punk rocker in Sing (2016)? Yes, that really was her, but her voice was toned down to the extent that you’d never have guessed. The film was a classic instance of a top notch cast with voices that you’d have been hard pressed to identify. If you hadn’t known Matthew McConaughey was playing the koala bear, would you have guessed? Probably not. The distinctive Johansson was impossible to miss as Kaa, the snake in Disney’s The Jungle Book (2016), but it was three years earlier when she single-handedly re-opened the debate about a voice acting category at the Oscars by giving life to a computer operating system in Her (2013). It was knock-out stuff.
One of the most photographed faces in the world, Jolie also possesses a sultry voice. But it’s not one that you would immediately associate with her. As Tigress in all three Kung Fu Panda films, her voice had the necessary feline qualities, but who would have known it was her? Just after she hung up her Lara Croft kit for good, she’d played a fish in Shark Tale (2004), although that time there was a clue as to who was providing the voice as her character looked remarkably like her. It’s a trend animators have increasingly followed of late – just think John Cena in Ferdinand (2017). Why not let your audience know who they’re listening to, after all?
The Lego Movie 2 is released in cinemas on Friday, 8 February 2019.