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Know Your Talking Animals: A Quick Guide to Cartoon Actors

4 August 2009 Things We Like 28,926 views 49 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” — Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in “Sunset Blvd.”

There was once a time when the actors who provided the voices for animated characters had no faces whatsoever – a time when Alan Reed, Hans Conreid and Eleanor Audley could walk down a street without being mistaken for Fred Flintstone, Snidely Whiplash or Maleficent.

Odds are good that our children won’t know what that means. An increasing number of celebrities – actors with faces — are moving into voice work by the day, pushing the no-faces out of work. Virtually every part in Dreamworks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens” was played by a name actor, to no discernible purpose other than to yank us out of the story: “Yeah, that’s Seth Rogen.”

In an interview with Wikipedia’s David Shankbone, voice actor Billy West derided celebrity voice casting as a dangerous trend.  “…If (celebrity voices) were judged by the same standards (as us voice actors) … they would be pretty piss-poor as voice performers,” said West. “Will Smith does characters that are drawn to look like him and sound like him. I wish I had that luxury. Nobody draws a character that looks like me and sounds like me for me to just step in and be the perfect person for the role.”

Voice actors are of a rare breed. I can’t do what they do any more than Will Smith can. I can’t project sadness, joy, fear, confusion, rage or indifference without using my face. What follows is a nowhere-near inclusive list of some legendary voice actors who did just that. Some have passed on, and some are still working their magic — until a Will Smith or Seth Rogen steps in to replace them, anyway.

This will probably be the first of several such lists, by the by. There’s a lot of faceless faces out there. I’ll get to Seth McFarlane, Patrick Warburton and MC Chris next time, I promise.

Mel Blanc. “The man of a thousand voices” did so much work around Termite Terrace that the elastic-voiced actor who provided the voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the like is sometimes credited with characters he didn’t create. Let’s make it easy: The original voice of Elmer Fudd was Arthur Q. Bryan (though Blanc took it over in the 1970s) and Paul Julian originally made the Road Runner’s “Beep-beep.” That’s about it. Every other character in the Looney Tunes universe originated with Blanc, who was replaced by a half-dozen other voice actors upon his death in 1989.

Daws Butler. Without the late, great Butler’s gift for speaking in tongues, an entire corner of Hanna-Barbara’s cartoon empire simply wouldn’t have existed. His best-known characters include Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Wally Gator and Quick Draw McGraw. Also, he provided the original voice of Cap’ Crunch, and even doubled for Mel Blanc’s Barney Rubble on “The Flintstones.”

Corey Burton. A skilled impressionist, Burton is Disney’s go-to actor for cartoons and theme park work. He voiced Moliere in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” doubles the late Paul Frees in Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion Holiday” and provides “additional voices” in nearly every Disney animated production. Outside of the Mouse House, he voiced Shockwave in the original “Transformers” cartoon and doubles Christopher Lee in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”

Jim Cummings. “Cummings is amazing,” voice actor Gene McGarr once said. “He can do Russians, he can do wolves, and he can do Russian wolves.” Cummings voices Fuzzy Lumpkins on “The Powerpuff Girls,” provided many of the voices on “Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers” and “Darkwing Duck,” and took over Winnie-The-Pooh from the late Sterling Holloway.

Paul Frees. “He used to come to recording sessions with a blonde on each arm and six-shooters in each holster,” said McGarr, “and he’d say ‘The king is here!’  And he meant it.” One look at Frees’ list of characters bears him out: he was the original Pillsbury Doughboy, Boris Badenov in “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Ludwig Von Drake in “The Wonderful World of Disney,” and the voice of many of the pirates in Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” His album of “celebrities” singing 1960s pop hits, “Paul Frees and the Poster People,” is worth tracking down on eBay.

June Foray. The endlessly gifted voice of “Rocky and Bullwinkle’s” Natasha Fatale and Rocky the Flying Squirrel, “Looney Tunes’” Witch Hazel and “DuckTales’” Magica DeSpell has worked steadily since the mid-1940s and is still going full steam at age 91, voicing pixies, little kids and grandmothers for Disney and Warner Brothers.

Maurice LaMarche. If Orson Welles had never existed, LaMarche might have been tempted to invent him. He’s used his Welles imitation, or variations of it, to voice Welles in “Ed Wood” and “The Critic,” and to create the megalomaniacal mouse the Brain in “Animaniacs.” But that’s not his only trick; LaMarche can bend his voice to fit pretty much any character, and has done just that for “Futurama,” “Inspector Gadget” and “The Tick.” He even did a wicked imitation of Alec Baldwin for “Team America: World Police.”

Phil LaMarr. LaMarr began as a “face” actor — he was part of the “Mad TV” cast, and played the ill-fated Marvin in “Pulp Fiction” — but he moved into voice work in the late 1990s, and he’s seldom stepped back before the cameras since. He’s Green Lantern on “Justice League”; he’s Kit Fisto in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”; he’s Samurai Jack. In other words, he’s most everwhere and most everybody.

Tress MacNeille. Like Foray, MacNeille is seemingly tireless. As she moves further along in her career, it’s tough to find an animated production she doesn’t work on. Best known as the adorable, precocious Dot in “Animaniacs,” the plucky Gadget in “Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers” and the conniving, evil “Mom” in “Futurama,” MacNeille has also done extensive work on “The Simpsons,” “Rugrats” and “The Boondocks.”

Tara Strong. A girl’s girl. While Strong’s instrument is sufficiently elastic to play six-year-old girls like Bubbles of “The Powerpuff Girls” and teenaged heartbreakers like “Teen Titans” Raven, she has also made a career of voicing preteen boys, as she does in “Ben 10” and “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” If you’d like to learn to do what she does, she runs a school for voice actors — VoiceStarz — with her husband Craig.

Frank Welker. He may not belong on this list, because part of me believes he can’t possibly be real. His work transcends voice acting and approximates special effects.  Welker has voiced a huge collection of characters — the Nazi monkey in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the Martians in “Mars Attacks” among others — whose personalities might had been very different indeed had Welker not been around to actualize them.  He also created  Jabberjaw, but we’ll not hold that against him.

Billy West. If West had done nothing else but to populate  “Futurama” (he voices Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan, among others) and speak for both Ren and Stimpy from “Ren and Stimpy,” he would have more than earned his place on this list of disembodied immortals – but he’s also worked his mojo on “Justice League Unlimited,” “King of the Hill,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and on Howard Stern’s radio show.

Paul Winchell. The onetime ventriloquist’s gravelly yet playful-sounding instrument gave life to Tigger from Disney’s “Winnie The Pooh,” to several Hanna-Barbara characters (including Dick Dastardly from “Dastardly and Muttley”), and to Mr. Owl from the original Tootsie Roll television ads. He also made a number of live-action appearances, and even had his own variety show for a time.

- Geoff Carter

Be sure to check out part two!

PHOTO BY ROADSIDE GUITARS

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49 Comments »

  1. [...] An overview of cartoon voice actors. [...]

  2. Thanks!

  3. You failed to mention either E. G. Daily or Cree Summer.

  4. Good list, but…

    How could you leave Hank Azaria off the list – he voices nearly the entire Simpsons cast!

    And Mark Hamill – he managed to pull a career from the ashes with his work on Batman and Scooby Doo.

    I know you said the list as incomplete but both of the above deserve mentioning more than Seth McFarlane due to the body of their work, (McFarlane sounds the same in most things he does – Mike Judge would have been a better choice).

  5. All wonderful choices…but no Townsend Coleman? He was the voice of the Tick, a TMNT, Waldo (of Where’s Waldo), one of the Transformers. Can you tell I have a huge girl crush on him?

  6. Hey! You forgot Rob Paulsen. Mr. Nations-of-the-world himself.

  7. What about Kevin Conroy or Keith David! Kevin has voiced animated Batman for over a decade and Keith David as Goliath on Gargoyles alone was amazing. Let’s not also forget that Mark Hamill has made a really good name for himself as the animated crazy villain, his Joker is brilliant!

  8. We must not forget the great Richard Horvitz! He of Zim, Grim & Evil, Angry Beavers and almost literally billions of other projects!

  9. Thanks so much for the suggestions! Part two is coming soon.

  10. Where’s Tom Kenny? From Spongebob to Eduardo from Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends, the man is a voice acting machine!

  11. No list of this nature can possibly be complete without:

    Dee Bradley Baker
    Patrick Warburton
    John DiMaggio

    It’s hard to name a single recurring animated show that hasn’t had at least one of them present.

  12. Don’t forget Thurl Ravenscroft, whose long and illustrious career included voicing Tony the Tiger and singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” for the original “How the Grinch stole Christmas!”

  13. Frank Welker will always be first and foremost the voice of Megatron from the Transformers 80′s cartoon series. It was that voice that made me learn more about voice-overs and animation.

  14. Grey Delisle does some fantastic tv and videogame work as well, as Vicky on the Fairly Odd Parents and Mandy on the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, apart from also being a folksy country singer.

    Kathie Soucie, Kevin Michael Richardson, David Odgen Stiers, and Jennifer Hale are all equally excellent examples of voice actors

    But it’s still a great list overall, and you hit on some of the biggest ones(though Frank Welker was robbed from voicing Megatron in the Transformers movies; thats one of several reasons why I hated those movies(Michael Bay being another reason))

  15. Glad to hear that part two is coming soon, I’ve always loved voice-actors and am so glad to see their unique talents being recognized! I look forward to reading who’s next :)

  16. The Venture Bros. is filled with amazing voice actors – James Urbaniak, (my favorite) Patrick Warburton, and (one of my favorites) Dana Snyder, Also, H. Jon Benjamin and Brandon Small deserve a mention.

  17. I’ve seen a lot of people mention them, but there’s a bunch that should probably be there.

    Dee Bradley Baker-Like Frank Welker, he is an animal man. Every single animal on the stellar “Avatar: the Last Airbender” was voiced by him, and he does it for tons of other shows too. Many of the Locusts, including Skorge, from “Gears of War 2″? Yeah, that was Dee.

    Grey DeLisle-From being Padme on the first “Clone Wars” TV series, to the villainous Azula in “Avatar”. And who can forget the role that she just plays to perfection, Vicky on “Fairly OddParents”.

    Tom Kenny-Spongebob. That would be enough said right there, but he’s got more, like Eduardo from “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” the Mayor in “Powerpuff Girls,” and a brief role as Mumbo in “Teen Titans.” He was also Wheelie and Skids in the recent “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The first of those deserves a nod, the second…well, we don’t talk about that.

    Kevin Michael Richardson- Guys, we need someone with a strong bass voice. How ’bout Kevin? Sure. He’s mostly in small roles, but it’s hard to miss his deep, strong voice. The lead guard from “Kung Fu Panda,” Tyro from “Avatar: the Last Airbender,” one of the Primes in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Trigon in “Teen Titans,” the bad guy Gantu in “Lilo and Stitch.” And everyone of those carries the same deep and powerful voice.

    And how about Sterling “Winnie-the-Pooh/Mr. Stork/Cheshire Cat/so much more” Holloway?

  18. You missed the LEGENDARY Stan Freberg–like Frank Welker, the other “kid in the room” during the golden age of Looney Tunes. He originally voiced Pete Puma (as an example), and anything Friz Freleng did after leaving Warner Brothers. AND he’s still around.

    Otherwise, GREAT LIST!

  19. Tom Kenny is a must. Stephen Jay Blum is also a big one.

  20. several left off
    Alan Oppenheimer has done voices for cartoons & movies was the voice of Falcore in the first 2 neverending story movies worked with filmation provided memorable voices for he-man like skeletor & more.
    Casy Kasem: great voice on radio & the original Robin of cartoons for years plus was the original voice for shaggy on scooby doo.
    Don Messick Dawsbuttler’s right hand man.
    Jim Backus the original mr. Magoo and ad voice fore the only way to fly.
    i could go on.
    there is a book called the Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons by Jeff Lenburg and it would be a good resource for anyone wanting to know more.

  21. Just throwing some love out there for John DiMaggio – woo!

  22. Help me out here, toonheads! Didn’t Frank Welker also do Freddy on Scooby Doo? Am I wrong?

  23. Great list for some great actors. Others have already mentioned them, but I’ll just second Rob Paulsen and Jennifer Hale.

  24. I second Cree Summer.

    Penny – Inspector Gadget
    Elmyra – Tiny Toons
    Susie – Rugrats
    Abby (No.5) Lincoln and her big sister Cree (heh)- Codename:KND
    Max – Batman Beyond
    Nefertiti – Mummies Alive
    Princess Kidagakesh – Atlantis
    Princess Kneesaa – Ewoks
    Princess Kitana – Mortal Kombat
    and many, many more.

  25. I know he’s not as well known, but I think some recognition has to be given to Kirby Morrow. One look at his IMDB page and you see most of what he’s done is voice work. And I’ve heard his voice several times and never knew it was the same guy.

  26. How about the late great Chris Latta – Cobra Commander,Starscream

  27. Chris Latta-Cobra Commander and Starscream. AMAZING.

  28. Don Adams-Inspector Gadget and Tennesee Tuxedo (as well as Maxwell Smart).

  29. Dayton Allen deserves a mention as well. He voiced countless characters in the 60s & 70s, including Deputy Dawg, but is best known for Lancelot Link Secret Chimp (not a cartoon, I know, but close)

  30. “Help me out here, toonheads! Didn’t Frank Welker also do Freddy on Scooby Doo? Am I wrong?”—-K

    K, you are correct on that. Later when they did ‘New Adventures of Scooby Doo’ he was Fred again and Scooby.

  31. Kudos for listing Tara Strong, and to the people who mentioned John DiMaggio, Don Adams, Keith David, Hank Azaria, and Mark Hamil (although the last 4 are fairly well-known and aren’t exactly faceless).

    I’d like to add some of my personal favourites:
    Veronica Taylor (Ash from Pokemon is a girl!)
    Rachael Lillis
    Seth Green
    Elizabeth Daily
    and my #1 absolute favourite Crispin Freeman! I love him! Go Crispin!

    A lot of the current voice actors are getting increasing work doing voices for anime and videogames.

  32. Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson)

    Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson. Kip Kangaroo on “Shirt Tales”. Chuckie Finster on “Rugrats.”)

    Linda Gary (Teela/The Sorceress/Evil-Lyn/Darn Near Every Kid and Female on the 80′s “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”)

    E.G. Daily (Buttercup on “The Powerpuff Girls”. Tommy Pickles on “Rugrats”.)

  33. Not mentioning Frank Welker’s part as Megatron in the original Transformers animated series seems like a wee bit of an oversight… And speaking of Transformers, what about Peter Cullen? Yes, everybody remembers him now as Optimus Prime, but in the early ’80s, it seemed like he was on just about every weekday afternoon and Saturday morning cartoon.

    Also, consider Kevin Conroy for part 2. Sure, he’s really only known for one voice role (Batman), but he owns that role to the point where fans sometimes revolt if somebody else plays the character…

  34. Sadly even some amateur voice actors do a better job than the celebrity ones – go to youtube and find the hysterical “Yu Gi Oh: The Abridged Series,” which one random dude completely redubbed as a parody by himself. It’s incredible how versatile he is. Will Smith, eat yer heart out.

    There are a few celebrities who are also decent or even good voice actors, but I can count them on one hand (like Christian Bale in Howl’s Moving Castle). And the entire expanse of anime voice actors are usually neglected, like the amazing Crispin Freeman, Stan Staley, Wendee Lee and many others.

  35. Great list but these four needed to be on it as well
    Daws Butler
    Stan Freberg
    Casey Kasem
    Thurl Ravenscroft(He’sss Great!!!!)

  36. Excellent list, but you contradict your “primary principle” by mentioning Patrick Warburton and to a lesser extent the late great Paul Winchell. Boomers probably remember Mr. Winchell as being the male version of Shari Lewis with his “dummies” Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. And “Seinfeld” fans recognize the face of “Puddy.” This not to denigrate great voice actors…they deserve our respect and admiration, but don’t knock the famous just because they are famous.

  37. Bea Benaderet.
    While Mel Blanc was doing all the male voices for Warner Brothers, she came in and did most of the female voices. Then, she and Mel went on to be Betty and Barney Rubble.
    Voice acting has never been an all boys club.

  38. Bea Benaderet may have done female voices for Warners, but i recognise a lot of June Foray in there.

    Paul Winchell’s greatest contribution to society may not be his voice work – he was inventor of the first heart-lung machine that made many types of heart surgery possible,

  39. [...] Other People Blog About Voice Actors Too Monkey Goggles blogger Archie McPhee highlights the work of Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Corey Burton, June Foray, Jim Cummings, Paul Frees, [...]

  40. Hello! How can you people forget Charlie Adler, Jeff Bennett, Tony Jay, Crispin Freeman, AND Carlos Alazraqui?

  41. It blows my mind that no one has mentioned the amazing Cam Clarke.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cam_Clarke

    The man rocks. Leonardo from TMNT, anyone?

  42. Thurl Ravenscroft the most egregious omission! He and Paul Frees (“WELCOME, FOOLISH MORTALS!”) *MADE* “The Haunted Mansion” at Disneyland.

  43. Great list… but haven’t heard anyone mention Jess Harnell.
    Not just because he’s a friend of mine but has an amazing body of work that compares with many listed, not only a talented actor, voice actor but musician/songwriter as well.

    Secret Squirrel – 2 Stupid Dogs
    Wakko Warner – Animaniacs
    Sewer Urchin – The Tick
    Jerry – Totally Spies!
    Ronaldo Rump – Biker Mice from Mars
    Captain Hero – Drawn Together
    Donny Rottweiler – The Replacements
    Ironhide – Transformers
    Annoucer – America’s Funniest Videos

    Those are just a few I can think of off the top of my head, but would find it hard to think of a movie/series or video game he hasn’t been involved with in the last 20 years, he IS the James Brown of voice actors.

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0363641/

  44. I actually watched a late 60s movie with Don Knotts and Frank Welker was in it. It was a trip watching him speak and hearing Fred’s voice from Scooby Doo. I’m actually writing this while my girls are in the other room watching Scooby Doo.

  45. I have to put in a mention for Gregg Berger here.

  46. You realize this could be a regular column! So many great voice actors and actresses out there. Here’s my contribution:

    Chris Latta – a tremendous talent who left us too soon. Cobra Commander, Starscream, Wheeljack and several others from Transformers–he was also the first voice of Moe before Hank Azaria got the role.

    Gregg Berger – Grimlock and Skyfire from Transformers, Cornfed on Duckman, Odie from Garfield and Friends…just to name a few.

    Scott McNeil – He’s like the Canadian version of Frank Welker. You don’t see him on camera, but drop him in an anime convention and the guy’s a rock star. He did four roles in one show–Silverbolt, Waspinator, Rattrap and Dinobot from Beast Wars. Rumor has it he argues with himself in different voices…

    And of course, you HAVE to mention Peter Cullen. He’s got to be the only voice actor with such an ardent following that when the producers of the live-action Transformers (briefly) considered George Clooney for the role of Optimus Prime, the uproar was immediate. Rumor has it Clooney started getting death threats! I do know people started showing up at conventions threatening to boycott the movie if Peter Cullen didn’t get the role back, even while the project was in early development. Few actors, face or voice, get that kind of die-hard support.

  47. [...] EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read the first part of Geoff Carter’s homage to cartoon voice actors here. [...]

  48. Just wanted to second what someone said about Freberg – did a lot of work for Warners, and was almost always the 2nd whenever there were a pair of characters. Plus, his immortal work as Baby Bear. And he was very young, too…late teens or early 20s, I think?

    Also, Billy West is great, but Ren and Stimpy creator John Krikfalusi originated the voice, West just did a pale imitation after K. left/was booted from the show.

  49. The voice of Ren, I mean.

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