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Voice acting often fails to get its due. When performers successfully tackle challenging voice parts, audiences pay them little to no mind. That is, of course, unless we’re talking about established movie stars lending their voices to film.
The world of cinema is more often than not an unfair one. The trend of the last 15 years had favored established actors with marketable names rathern than actors who specialize in the voice. While you're likely to know that Will Ferrell voiced the lead in Megamind, you probably have no idea that Paige O’Hara shined in Beauty and the Beast. Still, it’s not a good practice to ignore or condemn every voice effort from an A-list star. Some of them are quite enjoyable if not incredible.
Myriad stars – including established comedic leads Adam Sandler and Kevin James and acclaimed character actor Steve Buscemi – lend their voice talents to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania. With the animated comedy arriving this weekend, here are the top 10 voice performances from big-name actors.
10. Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots in Shrek 2
He’s not shabby in the spinoff Puss in Boots either, but let’s stick with Shrek 2. There’s something so shrewdly self-aware about what Banderas does here. He keeps the smolder in his voice, but he manipulates it in such ways that you can’t help but laugh at the fact that it’s coming from a cat – one with a sword and a pair of boots, no less.
9. Mike Myers as Shrek in Shrek
Myers’ voice is completely unrecognizable in the 2001 animated comedy, but that’s not what makes his work so outstanding. It’s that he twists his voice into a grotesque cacophony that aligns perfectly with the appearance of the character. He additionally gets points for balancing natural chemistry with the brash voice work of Eddie Murphy and delicate efforts of Cameron Diaz.
8. Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story
It was a close call between the Emmy Award-nominated Home Improvement star and two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, but Allen’s voice efforts shine more brightly than those of his A-list co-star. While the character of Woody gets the bigger character arc, Toy Story depends on Buzz’s character arc just as much. The pull-string cowboy toy’s arc proves to be far more conventional and thus easier for Hanks to navigate. The space ranger toy, though, depends on subtle, almost unperceivable changes in Allen’s vocal delivery for the character to work.
7. Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona in Shrek
It’s sometimes easy to forget the versatility of the underrated Diaz, but putting such range into perspective – how slightly it might accomplish that – is her work in Shrek. She doesn’t get the big-laugh lines like co-stars Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy, but she feels right at home with the character of Princess Fiona. She additionally brings out the drama and even some comedy now and again, and as silly as it might sound, I’m not sure the major plot twist involving the character would have worked as well with someone else voicing her.
6. Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek
Characters attributed with painfully obvious names usually aren’t important to a film’s narrative, but an exception can be found in the Shrek series’ Donkey. Not only is he integral to the story, but he’s also a hyperactive and outgoing creation. Still, it’s Murphy’s voice portrayal that sets Donkey apart from the typical screen buddy, as he helps make Shrek an even funnier venture. Known best for his flamboyant work, the actor doesn’t tone it down in Shrek, and Donkey’s all the better for it. Murphy pulled off a rare feat with his work in the film, earning a competitive BAFTA nomination for his efforts.
5. John Travolta as Bolt in Bolt
Although a respectable and accomplished actor, Travolta’s work as the dopily innocent title character in Bolt easily sits as one of his best aspects of his recent career (let’s just forget that Old Dogs ever happened). The majority of the actor’s filmography sees him tackling hardened characters, but his performance in Bolt reflects the tenderness and heart of a strong-willed yet not often altogether character. He gives Bolt the genuine sentiment one might expect from dogs if they were actually capable of speech.
4. Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast
The multi-talented actress’s most famous screen efforts come in The Manchurian Candidate and television’s Murder, She Wrote, and though her characters in both films come from opposite sides of the personality spectrum, neither one is passive in nature. The same can be said for her voice role as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, but she takes a backseat to the more flamboyant work of Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers. She fits the stereotype of the nurturing mother, but Lansbury’s distinct voice gives the character more heart and makes her feel like an actual nurturing mother, not the cliché we often come to find in films – specifically animated ones.
3. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo
Most know DeGeneres for her daytime talk show, but she made waves in television and film acting earlier in her career. She conquered the small screen – and broke barriers – with the comedy Ellen, but it was more difficult for her to crack the silver screen. Still, DeGeneres took the role of the optimistic yet easily forgetful fish Dory in Finding Nemo to great heights. In the Disney/Pixar classic, she eschews her typical brand of humor and gets into this character’s head. Given her bouts of short-term memory loss, you'd think there wouldn’t be much of an actual character in store, but DeGeneres proves such a notion wrong by accentuating Dory’s eccentricities and emotional highs and lows.
2. James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars
Initially, this entry feels like cheating, but it’s worth noting that Jones lent only his voice to the portrayal of Darth Vader. While I mean no disrespect to David Prowse’s donning of the Darth Vader suit in the (initial) Star Wars trilogy, it’s the echo of Jones’ voice and the terror he instills in his voice work that made the man once known as Anakin Skywalker such an incredible screen villain. It’s also the reason many squirmed when the character’s origins were traced in the most recent live-action Star Wars installments.
1. James Earl Jones as Mufasa in The Lion King
Okay. You saw this coming, but there’s a good reason that the tremendous vocal strength Jones lent to the character of Mufasa tops this list. For everything that Jones puts into his aforementioned work as Darth Vader, he takes a sharp turn in the opposite direction for this one. Animated monarchs don’t often convey any sense of presence or power, but thanks to Jones’ voice efforts, Mufasa provides both. Sure, The Lion King is a movie about Simba’s journey, but Jones’ booming voice commands the film whenever Mufasa pervades the scene. He leaves an indelible impression as the powerful yet loving Mufasa and sends the body into chills when the character appears in the clouds.