Among all the raves for Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s been a lot of love for an actor we don’t even see: Bradley Cooper, voice of scene-stealing mutant raccoon Rocket (Vin Diesel’s Groot is great too, but he does utter only four words). Casting is key in all movie roles. And for non-physical parts, relying solely on the actor’s voice to convey everything they can offer the character, maybe even more so. Even a thesp as great as Colin Firth recently got replaced as the voice of Paddington in the upcoming film by new Bond ‘Q’ Ben Whishaw, when the filmmakers realised Firth sounded “too mature” for a young Peruvian bear who ends up in London (curiously arriving with a cut-glass English accent to boot).
So, here’s our take on the movies’ best vocal-only performances. Take a look and share your thoughts and suggestions below. But first, a few guidelines. We ruled out full-blown motion-capture because, by their own proud admission, Andy Serkis and crew want to be seen as actors physically collaborating with the f/x wizards who digitally transform them. We vetoed actors from cartoon shorts (the great Mel Blanc, Walt Disney and co), TV (Mark Hamill’s terrific Joker) and those who’d already originated voices outside or ahead of their movie – so, sorry, no Simpsons, South Park or Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime.
It still leaves an impressive number of great performances; many delivered in an impersonal sound booth, often not even opposite their real co-stars, yet utterly real and, yep, full-bodied. Sometimes, not seeing is believing too.
25. Bruce Willis – ‘Mikey’
Film: Look Who’s Talking (1989)
A baby with Bruce Willis’ voice: it might be lowbrow high-concept, but 1989’s comedy box-office champ paid off big time. Willis, fresh from his Moonlighting TV heyday, evidently has a blast wisecracking from womb to toddlerhood, even if the film and its wretched sequels refused to grow up.
24. Seth MacFarlane – ‘Ted’
Film: Ted (2012)
Seth MacFarlane’s years of voice work on his animated TV shows (Family Guy and co) meant making his big screen debut off-screen wasn’t a shock; the surprise was how effectively he transformed into a sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed teddy bear. Ted is state-of-the-art CG-animation, but it’s McFarlane’s grounded, no-nonsense hilarity that makes him feel real.
23. George Sanders – ‘Shere Khan’
Film: The Jungle Book (1967)
Honouring Hollywood’s tradition for posh English bad guys, Sanders’ impeccable purr gives The Jungle Book’s tiger a languid menace all the more sinister for how bored he seems by his villainy. It’s Sanders all over: apparently minimal effort for maximum impact and, for us, superior to Jeremy Irons’ amped-up copycat Scar in The Lion King.
22. Sean Connery – ‘Draco’
Film: Dragonheart (1996)
Connery’s Scottish brogue was notoriously unwavering, whether he played 007 or an immortal Spaniard, so why change for a fire-breathing dragon? Actually the star’s instantly recognizable voice is a great shortcut to defining Draco’s stature; and, beyond the accent, Connery’s performance resonates with great dignity, pathos and sly humour.
21. Alan Rickman – ‘Marvin the Paranoid Android’
Film: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
“Marvin, you saved our lives!” “I know. Wretched, isn’t it?” Hitchhiker’s doleful Paranoid Android helps balance all the high-energy intergalactic antics. Rickman’s world-weariness is a paradoxical joy, his ability to make glum fun universes away from his signature turns as Harry Potter’s hissing Snape or Die Hard’s silver-tongued Hans Gruber.
20. Christine Cavanaugh – ‘Babe’
Film: Babe (1995)
Adults voicing kids – think The Simpsons – is a voice acting tradition, but originally the Babe team wanted a real child for their heroic young sheep-pig. Cavanaugh, a Rugrats veteran, eventually convinced the filmmakers and rewarded them with fantastic work: sweet but never saccharine, innocent but never dumb. That’ll do, indeed.
19. Charles Fleischer – ‘Roger Rabbit’
Film: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
They rewrote the rulebook with this pioneering live-action/animation hybrid, so why shouldn’t Fleischer wear a full-length rabbit suit on set? His madcap, heartfelt vocal gymnastics helped create an instant animated star, even eclipsing ‘toon legends like Bugs and Mickey – yet Roger Rabbit’s not even Roger Rabbit’s greatest voice (see later)…
18. Brad Bird – ‘Edna Mode’
Film: The Incredibles (2004)
Pixar filmmakers regularly record vocal ‘temp tracks’ as they work on their films. Yet when writer-director Brad Bird recorded The Incredibles’ pint-sized superhero fashionista Edna Mode himself, all clipped critiques and stretched vowels (“Daaahling!”) it was clear he’d just snaffled another job on the film, scene-stealing his very own masterpiece.
17. Antonio Banderas – ‘Puss in Boots’
Film: Shrek 2 (2004)
To join a comedy franchise already featuring Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, you better be the cat’s whiskers. Banderas’ Puss satirises and celebrates his Zorro role and Latin lothario image with an accent as heavy as an Iberian ham. Audiences lapped him up so much, he even got his own spin-off.
16. Brad Dourif – ‘Chucky’
Film: Child’s Play (1988)
The original Child’s Play was played as straight(ish) devil doll horror. Presumably the producers saw just how much glee Brad Dourif was providing for audiences – and presumably himself – and Chucky quickly transformed into a plastic mini-Freddy Kreuger, the villain turned comic anti-hero with cheesy one-liners and Dourif’s deliciously maniacal laugh.
15. Alec Baldwin – ‘The Narrator’
Film: The Royal Tenembaums (2001)
Wes Anderson specialises in storybook worlds. So why not use an actual storyteller to frame your film? Baldwin’s omniscient narrator is some of his best work, his beautifully modulated diction intimate and knowing, yet curiously dispassionate, as if needing a certain distance to illuminate feelings Anderson’s characters simply daren’t voice.
14. Levi Stubbs – ‘Audrey 2’
Film: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Man-eating plant Audrey II was voiced on Broadway and in 1960’s B-movie, but once legendary Motown/Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs cut loose in Frank Oz’s 1986 musical remake, it was all over. Stubbs’ soul-deep baritone blasting through ‘Mean Green Mother From Outer Space’ devours all past and future interpretations for lunch.
13. James Gandolfini – ‘Carol’
Film: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
It’s hard to envisage the late, great Gandolfini without his considerable physical heft, but one of his finest roles exploited his equally expressive voice. His chief Wild Thing, Carol, is alternately fierce and fragile; the monstrous, child-like soul of the movie, it’s a beautifully left-field aria from Tony Soprano.
12. Frank Oz – ‘Yoda’
Film: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Puppet and vocal wizard behind Muppet stars Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, Oz’s 900-year-old Jedi master Yoda arguably became even more iconic. The doddery space gremlin with mangled syntax act is a great bluff when we meet Yoda in Empire, which the revelation of his power only greater makes. Mmmm.
11. Eddie Murphy – ‘Donkey’
Film: Shrek (2001)
Murphy’s career trajectory constantly yo-yos from sublime to ridiculous but his fast-talking, lovable hustler Donkey in this fairytale send-up is definitely a highpoint. Arguably similar to Murphy’s dragon sidekick in Disney’s Mulan, Shrek’s sharper self-awareness suited him, resulting in an almost-unheard of major acting nomination (BAFTA Supporting Actor) for voice-only work.
10. Mercedes McCambridge – ‘Voice of the Demon’
Film: The Exorcist (1973)
Teenage Linda Blair did amazing work in The Exorcist. But when it came to capturing the demonic growl of Pazuzu, director William Friedkin chose to replace Blair’s voice with the guttural stylings of veteran Oscar-winning actress McCambridge. It was a divine intervention. McCambridge put herself through all kinds of rigors – strapped up in restraints, she smoked constantly and drank – to achieve the otherworldly vocal register. Her history of bronchitis even aided the demon’s unnatural breathing. The results are staggering; yet the only possession that’s really taken place is that of a wily old pro harnessing all her craft and dedication.
9. Ellen Degenres – ‘Dory’
Film: Finding Nemo (2003)
Ellen DeGeneres is a woman of many talents – stand-up comedienne, chat show host, TV star – though according to Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton, it was her propensity to change the subject five times when asking a straight question on her talk show that convinced him to cast her as Dory, the big-hearted, not-so-big-brained Blue Tang fish with short-term memory loss. DeGeneres rewarded him with one of the great modern voice performances. Her upbeat naivety, feisty friendship and touching vulnerability make her the standout character in a phenomenal ensemble. No surprise, then, that the upcoming Nemo sequel is called Finding Dory.
8. Peter Behn – ‘Thumper’
Film: Bambi (1942)
Truthfully, this entry could equally go to Cliff Edwards’ Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio; or Edward Brophy’s Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo. Taken together, they and Behn’s Thumper the rabbit established Disney animation’s long-lasting ‘sidekick’ role (right up to Frozen’s Olaf): providing not just comic relief and emotional support to the main characters but often, as with largely-silent leads like Dumbo and Bambi, much of the narrative heavy lifting. A tough gig even for established variety stars like Edwards and Brophy; Behn was just four-years-old. The son of a Hollywood screenwriter, there’s no trace of ‘showbiz’ in a performance remarkable for its complete assurance and natural charm.
7. Tom Hanks & Tim Allen – ‘Woody & Buzz Lighyear’
Film: Toy Story (1995)
You can’t separate them across three genius movies and we won’t here. Pixar’s not-so-secret weapon was to eschew the customary hero/sidekick narrative model for the more balanced buddy story (Mike & Sully; Marlin & Dory; Lightning & Mater). The tension from Woody’s somewhat hysterical need for affection and Buzz’s deluded self-confidence swings generously back and forth between both actors (Hanks the far bigger live-action star is absolutely Allen’s CG-equal), as we watch both characters really grow and change across the series, facing their joys and fears together. It’s not just Pixar’s best, it’s one of the movies’ great double-acts.
6. Phil Harris – ‘Baloo’
Film: The Jungle Book (1967)
Quick, what’s the first Disney clip that springs to your mind? We’d bet a large percentage of people just started humming The Jungle Book’s ‘Bare Necessities’, Baloo the Bear’s guide to easy living, sung with swinging nonchalance by bandleader and actor Phil Harris. Yet Harris’ smooth crooning is only part of his appeal; his laidback spirit and crack comic timing made Baloo a man-cub’s best pal and undoubtedly helped usher in a more modern, relaxed Disney style. They quickly signed him up to similar bohemian roles in The Aristocats and Robin Hood’s Baloo-a-like, Little John, but Harris’ bear necessity is right here.
5. Scarlett Johansson – ‘Samantha’
Film: Her (2013)
People nowadays have intense relationships with their technology; whether they’d actually become infatuated with their computer is something else. Which makes Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Joaquin Phoenix’s Operating System all the more amazing – because you absolutely believe not just in their affair, but that Phoenix would fall for Johansson’s Samantha. She’s smart, curious, funny, warm, sexy… everything you want a lover to be, except that she’s not flesh and blood. Still, Johansson is easily as lifelike as in her best onscreen performances. In a more realistic world, such inspired work would be deemed Oscar-worthy, not lost in virtual translation.
4. Robin Williams – ‘The Genie’
Film: Aladdin (1992)
It’s not that animation never used famous actors for voices; but after Williams’ pinballing vocal wizardry, the industry’s wish was clear: A-list all the way (compare pre- and post-Aladdin Disney films – Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King – for star power). This overlooked just how perfectly Williams’ manic improv matched the mercurial Genie, yet he also gives more than just a comic monologue; it’s a real performance, freewheeling stream-of-consciousness humour anchored by genuine heart. A game-changer, then, and inadvertently to blame for later, needlessly star-filled animation (Shark Tale, anyone?). But, by then, the genie was quite literally out of the bottle.
3. Kathleen Turner – Jessica Rabbit
Film: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
“I’m not bad – I’m just drawn that way.” Well, not just drawn, actually. Toying with Turner’s husky tones, as well as her incendiary, man-eating movie debut in Body Heat, Roger Rabbit’s Technicolor-film noir sets up the impossibly curvaceous Jessica as the most fatale of femmes – then cheerfully subverts the image to show her as a fun-loving free spirit and devoted wife. It’s hard to imagine any other actress capable of sultry old-time glamour and (post-)modern comic chops (also credit actress Amy Irving for Jessica’s seductive singing), but Turner makes it look effortless; and Jessica still hands-down the sexiest-ever cartoon creation.
2. James Earl Jones – ‘Darth Vader’
Film: Star Wars (1977)
Darth Vader is recognised as one of the all-time great movie villains for many reasons: his imposing, pitch-black stature (courtesy of bodybuilder-turned-actor David Prowse); his nifty, full-Force psychic throttlings; yet above all, it’s down to Jones’ extraordinary voice, a melodious bass of rich timbre and classically trained inflections, perfect for a one-man intergalactic WMD (or even defining global TV news channels). Every kid has copied Vader’s exaggerated, rasping breaths, but note too, the understatement and cool conviction of dynamite lines like “I am your father.” Though he never set foot on a Star Wars set, Jones is Vader. “I’m just special effects,” he once modestly shrugged. Take away “effects” and he’s bang on.
1. Douglas Rain – ‘HAL’
Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Trust Stanley Kubrick to make a film about mankind’s evolution, only to upstage his human protagonists by making the most memorable character a computer that’s mostly visualized as little more than a glowing red dot. HAL-9000 is an enigmatic presence in one of cinema’s most mysterious creations and it’s almost entirely due to Rain, a little-known Canadian theatre actor who Kubrick had heard narrate a sci-fi documentary. His soothing, detached directives somehow make HAL reassuring and terrifying at the same time. And Rain’s controlled panic and rendition of ‘Daisy’ as HAL is decommissioned is one of the most bizarrely chilling and moving “death scenes” ever filmed. Quite simply, it’s the monolith of voice-only acting.
To see the original article at IGN.com, click here: