Hollywood’s Voice Actor Problem
Off of the top of your head right now, I want you to think of an actor. Any actor, any movie, any decade. Now that’s a pretty easy question to answer. Right now, I can think of people like Ryan Reynolds, Angelina Jolie, Adam Sandler … the list goes on. Now take that same question and put a spin on it. Off the top of your head, think of any prominent voice actor in movies. Not video games, not TV shows, movies. What did you come up with? Obviously the big one is Mel Blanc who famously voiced Bugs Bunny, but did you think of anyone else? If you did, that’s great, but I believe that the average person cannot. Why is this? As more and more animated movies come out, it would make sense that these voice actors, who need I remind you, put so much effort into their respective roles, would become more mainstream. But that is not what happens, and it’s reflective of an industry-wide problem. As it stands today, Hollywood puts far too much “star power” into their animated ventures. This is a very lucrative industry, and it used to belong to people who built their career around it, but it’s becoming more and more of a place for Hollywood to shove their stars into for marketing purposes.
Wikipedia defines “star power” as a synonym for “bankable star,” which in essence, is defined, according to E-News Online as “an actor able to be capable of guaranteeing box-office success simply by showing up in a movie.” This is essentially what is happening with mainstream Hollywood animated pictures. It wasn’t always this way though. The trend of casting mainstream celebrities into animated roles can be traced back to one man, Robin Williams, and his role in 1992’s Aladdin, as the famous Genie.
Aladdin was a smash hit for Disney and part of that likely came from them marketing the movie and its merchandise. Seeing a famous comedian like Robin Williams in this movie likely turned some heads, heads of people that may not have gone originally. The point is, this movie marked the beginning of a fundamental shift in Hollywood towards big-name voices appearing in animated movies. Tom Hanks in Toy Story, Kristin Bell in Frozen, Alec Baldwin in The Boss Baby. The list can go on.
While to the average person this may not seem like a big deal, it is an undeniable problem when it comes to individual voice actors who are looking for their big break in Hollywood. Could you imagine how it must feel to put your heart and soul into your job as a voice actor, only for someone like Will Smith to come in and sweep that position from under your feet, purely because the studio wanted his name on the poster? It would be crushing.
Now let me be clear, I don’t have an issue with big name Hollywood actors and actresses having involvement in these animated pictures. The aforementioned Williams was an inspired choice for an eccentric character like the Genie, Tim Allen and Tom Hanks are great in Toy Story, and c’mon, you can’t have a character like Shrek without Mike Meyer’s voice. My point is that if there is no room for these home-grown, genuinely talented people to enter the industry, we could be hearing the same 40 or so voices in the same movies over and over and over again.
Another reason I’m writing this is because I’m seeing yet another disturbing trend in the industry: replacing established voice actors. I’m not talking about taking the role from a no-name voice actor, I’m talking about established voice actors, who may have been playing these characters for life, being replaced by big name A-listers.
2020’s Scoob! was a 3D animated picture about Scooby and the gang going on yet another adventure. All seemed well to most people; the idea of a 3D animated Scooby-Doo film seemed like a good idea. Then the voice cast was released. Out of the five main characters that everyone knows, Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Fred, only one of the established voice actors would be returning, which would be Frank Welker as the title character. Matthew Lilard, Grey DeLisle, Kate Micucci and even Frank Welker himself, all the established voice actors for the rest of the gang, were replaced by, you guessed it, Hollywood actors. Zac Efron, Gina Rodriguez, Amanda Seyfried and Will Forte have replaced them, and they were by no means bad, but that’s not the point. It’s almost disrespectful to replace these voice actors who have been playing these iconic roles for years. I mean, Frank Welker has played Fred since 1969! I believe the only reason that Frank was brought in to play Scooby was because his voice is simply too iconic to be changed.
Above, I said that I don’t have an issue with Hollywood A-listers being brought in for certain roles in animated films, and I stand by that point. However, replacing iconic voices with a name that will bring in more people for pure profit, does put a bad taste in my mouth. There needs to be a middle ground for Hollywood. Have more faith in no-names. Hollywood certainly has no issue casting new and upcoming actors for movies, hoping that they can strike gold and find “the next big thing.” Why not do this for voice actors? It’s the same idea. Hollywood needs to understand that animation is not a lesser form of entertainment. It’s not an industry that can survive with half-baked attempts to rake in cash with starpower alone.
Replacing iconic voices is a practice that definitely needs to end. It’s disrespectful to the men and women who have spent their lives dedicated to one character, and it angers the public as well. Many people were turned off from seeing Scoob! after finding out that most of the cast had been replaced. Casting celebrities should still go on, however, to a much lesser extent. I don’t mind hearing Ben Affleck or Tom Holland’s voice in an animated film, but don’t make me hear them in every animated film. On the bright side, I do believe that Hollywood will fix this issue; as fresh blood enters the industry, these old habits will die. But understanding the importance of the animated film industry and treating it with the respect it deserves is instrumental for the growth of this small, but important, section of Hollywood.
* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license