In recent years, Pixar’s animated films have gotten some A-list celebrities to be the voices behind their characters. Who could forget Tom Hanks and Tim Allen’s voices in Toy Story as Woody and Buzz Lightyear respectively? Or Billy Crystal and John Goodman’s lead roles in Monsters Inc. as Sully and Mike? While the rule of thumb that great writing is the key to a film’s success, sometimes a greater voice behind the writing in an animated feature can create everlasting memorable characters.
While Disney’s feature-length animation history dates back to the late 1930s, this post will specify more directly on voices of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, during most of the “Disney Renaissance.” To me, one of the first films that successfully combined A-list actors into a successful film is 1988’s “Oliver and Company.” One of the leading characters in the film is a dog named Dodger, voiced by legendary musician Billy Joel. Songs have been a part of Disney films since day one, but I think the inclusion of a singer in an acting role raises the bar to successful music in film.
Another film combining successful actors into a Disney animated feature was The Rescuers Down Under in 1990. It may seem surprising to hear, but some of the actors in the film include famous names as Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, John Candy, and George S. Scott. In 1991, Beauty and the Beast consisted of such famous actors as Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts).
To me, the quintessential film that combined top-of-the-line celebrities into a phenomenal success at the box office was “The Lion King.” If a live-action movie in the mid-1990s consisted of a cast with such members as Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaime, Rowan Atkinson, and Whoopi Goldberg, it could probably be considered as Best Picture of the year at the Oscars; yet it only received awards for Tim Rice and Elton John’s music.
Writing may create an animated feature, but the voice of the real-life people behind the characters bring the film to life, and hopefully films of the future will be as memorable with their characters as those of the past.