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The Best Voice-Overs in Animated Films

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Intro

Although voice-over performances are often overlooked compared to live-action, they do make or break an animated film. The best voiceovers have the power to make audiences believe in a character and the emotional journey they must traverse. It is about time voice actors are given the credit they deserve, so let’s take a look at the best voice-overs in animated films, the incredible talents behind each performance, and what makes each voice so unique.

Eartha Kitt – The Emperor’s New Groove

Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove is the story of Kuzco, an emperor who is turned into a llama by his suspicious employee, Yzma. While the film is full of incredible vocal performances from David Spade, John Goodman, and Patrick Warburton, Eartha Kitt undoubtedly steals the show.

Yzma is the main antagonist in the film and is voiced by Kitt. She hatches a plan to take Kuzco’s place on the throne and become empress. Through her villainous tactics, loyal follower, and sorcery wisdom, she successfully turns Kuzco into a llama before things start to go wrong.

This was one of Kitt’s most well-known roles as an actor. Her voice is particularly memorable for its quirky and raspy characteristics, creating a genuinely unique and instantly recognizable sound. As Yzma, her performance perfectly embodies the sound of a villain while injecting huge amounts of fun and comedy into the role. For this reason, Yzma became as iconic as Kitt herself.

Chiara Mastroianni – Persepolis

Persepolis is the story of Marjane Satrapi and the struggles she faced before, during, and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Marjane initially wrote this story as an autobiography before adapting the work to an animated film along with co-director Vincent Paronnaud.

Chiara Mastroianni is the voice of Marjane in both the original French and English versions of the film. Her performance perfectly guides the audience through this first-person emotional account of growing up in Iran, the dramatic political and social changes post-revolution, and her attempt to settle overseas.

The emotion and tones of Mastroianni’s voice-over perfectly adapt to the trials that Marjane must face during the film, whether confidently schooling her teachers on the inequality of her uniform or begging for forgiveness when caught appreciating elements of western culture. Emotional versatility (in two different languages) is what makes this voice performance so incredible.

Mark Hamill – Batman: The Killing Joke

Based on the graphic novel, the film adaption of Batman: The Killing Joke follows the Joker, Batman’s arch nemesis, and his plan to turn Commissioner Gordon insane. The film’s production was originally halted before Mark Hamill confirmed his interest in reprising his role as the joker. The fanbase then began a successful campaign to relaunch production.

While many know Hamill as Luke Skywalker, he is also one of the biggest names in the world of voice acting. He has portrayed Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gargoyle in The Incredible Hulk, Klaw in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Maximus in Fantastic Four.

For the Joker, Hamill used his extensive comic book knowledge and understanding of the character to create his now iconic laugh and voice. His vocal tones and characteristics strike the perfect balance of maniacal and comedic to best represent this scary but ultimately fun villain.

James Earl Jones – The Lion King

The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion cub next in line to the throne after his father, Mufasa. Unfortunately, his evil uncle has his sights set on ascending the throne himself.

This film is packed full of incredible voice-over performances, but it’s the work of James Earl Jones that most likely rings through your head when you think about the film. Jones gives a voice to Mufasa, the wise and experienced lion king who must teach his son how to be a leader, even from beyond the grave.

James Earl Jones’ exceptionally deep and powerful voice perfectly aligns with the heroic father figure and his role in the story. His vocal tones carry the same authority as the character, mixed with the nurturing love of being a parent. Jones has the perfect voice to offer Simba this guidance, and it’s difficult to imagine Mufasa with a different voice actor.

Robin Williams – Aladdin

Aladdin is the story of a poor street urchin who falls for a princess in the city of Agrabah. Although Princess Jasmine is arranged to be married, Aladdin finds a magical lamp containing a genie who offers to grant him three wishes.

Robin Williams, legendary actor and comic genius, provides the genie’s voice. As with many roles he took throughout his incredible career, Williams relied on a considerable amount of improv to create the now iconic genie. His voice is incredibly recognizable with his long list of acting credits in successful films, such as Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jumanji.

William’s performance as the genie is hyperactive and exceptionally funny, creating the perfect comic relief side character for Aladdin. The genie is one of the best examples of William’s work, allowing him to go off-script, add his own inflections, and he even finished recording with 16 hours of unscripted material.

Jennifer Jason Leigh – Anomalisa

Anomalisa is the story of Michael Stone, a customer service and relations author who ironically struggles with his own human interaction and lust for life. On a business trip to the Fregoli hotel, he meets Lisa and quickly falls for her, finding the potential to change his mundane existence in an explicitly human turn of events.

The incredible voice of Lisa is brought to us by Jennifer Jason Leigh, while the talented David Thewlis provides the voice of Michael, and the voice of every other character in the film is Tom Noonan. This is likely due to the Fregoli delusion, like the name of the hotel they are staying in, where one believes that different people are all the same person in disguise.

Jennifer’s vocal performance particularly stands out for its characterization of an individual who feels invisible and unworthy, followed by her newfound liberation. While most characters sound as unenthusiastic as Michael feels about them, Lisa’s voice is full of life and wonder from his own perspective. This film is the perfect example of how voice-over can be used as an artistic tool in storytelling.

Anika Noni Rose – The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog was the last 2D animated film made by Disney before they decided to only work with 3D animation. A retelling of the classic story, this film follows Tiana, a hardworking dreamer who kisses a frog that turns out to be a prince. Unfortunately, rather than Prince Naveen becoming human again, Tiana instead becomes a frog too.

Anika Noni Rose gives Tiana a surprisingly realistic portrayal with a wistful and soft voice. This sweet performance perfectly contrasts with the film’s intense antagonistic and comedic roles to create a genuinely relatable Disney Princess. Anika’s incredible performance might be among the most underrated on this list and within the Disney universe itself.

She isn’t just known for her acting but also her singing ability. Her most prominent film roles have been in Dreamgirls and Everything, Everything, but she is also no stranger to voice acting, with performances as Catwoman in Injustice and Kuasa in Vixen.

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Mary and Max

Mary and Max is the charming story of two unlikely pen pals. Mary is an eight-year-old girl living in Melbourne, Australia, who is disregarded by her parents. While Max is a forty-four-year-old obese man in New York living with Asperger’s.

Their correspondence spans 20 years of struggles and support for each other’s eccentricities. Phillip Seymour Hoffman provided the voice of Max in the film, and his phenomenal performance is one of the key reasons it is beloved by fans. Max’s voice is raspy and emotionally heavy, perfectly aligning with the character’s depression and loneliness.

Interestingly, Hoffman actually dubbed his part in the film rather than providing the initial voice-over. His recording replaced that of the director, and as he put it himself: “it wasn’t about them making the character like me, it was about me helping inform the character they created.” This was one of Hoffman’s lesser-known and certainly overlooked successes in his exceptional career.

Pat Carroll – The Little Mermaid

Most people will likely be familiar with the plot of The Little Mermaid. Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid, and daughter of King Triton, makes a deal with a devilish sea witch for the opportunity to walk on land and meet a handsome prince.

Ursula is the sea witch in question, who was portrayed by the incredible voice actor Pat Carroll. Like many captivating villains, she provides eccentric characteristics to her voice for the role. Her performance is multi-layered, manipulative and nasty, but also comical and endearing. Thanks to Carroll’s vocal performance, Ursula is no one-dimensional villain, but a character many believe is actually misunderstood.

Carroll is also a Disney veteran, playing Morgana in The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, KooKoo in Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Old Lady Crowley in Tangled: The Series. After her performance as Ursula, it’s no wonder why Disney continued working with this exceptional talent throughout the years.

Vincent Price – The Great Mouse Detective

If you are looking for the most villainous voice, look no further than Vincent Price. He is known for his work in the live-action horror genre, such as Dragonwyck (1946), House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958), and House on Haunted Hill (1959).

However, Price is also no stranger to voicing cartoon villains too. One of his best vocal performances is in The Great Mouse Detective, where he uses his experience to portray Professor Ratigan in his devilish pursuit to control Mousedom.

Price’s deep and often eccentric voice-over in the film creates an iconic antagonist, providing plenty of evil antics and wicked schemes. If you’re the kind of viewer who always routes for the villain, Price makes being bad sound all the more exciting.

Outro

Voice-over is the key ingredient of animated film. The voice has the role of personifying your favorite characters and guiding you through the story. These talented leaders in the industry have all played their part in showing how immersive and meaningful an incredible performance can be. Casting the perfect voice actor can be difficult, but these characters were clearly given the best of the best.

Author: Dylan De Koning

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