pacino-despicableme2 pacino-despicableme2

Once and For All, Al Pacino Proves the Worthlessness of Celebrity Voice Actors

Among the juicier dramas surrounding the production of the megahit Despicable Me 2 is Al Pacino’s sudden departure from the film. Six weeks before the film’s premiere at Annecy, Pacino quit the film as the voice of the antagonist El Macho. Neither side will say what happening, simply citing ‘creative differences.’

At that point, the production was nearly finished and the animation had already been locked. This sent Illumination head Chris Meledandri scrambling to find a replacement, which turned out to be Benjamin Bratt. Since no new animation could be created at that late stage, Bratt re-recorded the dialogue by matching the existing animation, and in true Hollywood fashion, they fixed it all in post.

The controversy serves as a perfect case study for one of the long-running debates in the animation world, which is whether celebrities make any box office impact on the success or failure of an animated feature.

Back in the early-1990s, when Robin Williams provided the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, he earned scale pay for his performance, which was less than $100,000, so it hardly mattered whether celebrities affected the bottomline. But today, celebrities demand lucrative fees for their voices and drive film budgets up by tens of millions of dollars. Owen Wilson took home $2.5 million for Cars 2, Cameron Diaz had a $10 million payday for Shrek Forever After and Tom Hanks earned a reported $15 million for Toy Story 3.

What would happen if you took a celebrity out of one of these films? Would audiences still show up? That’s exactly what happened with Despicable Me 2. The result? It was the fourth-biggest opening ever for an animated feature in the United States.

Those who create animation know the reality: audiences don’t go see animated features because Al Pacino is in it. They go see animated films because they want to be entertained, and the quality of the animation performance and storytelling are far bigger factors than who voices any particular character. The most popular characters in Despicable Me 2, the minions, are voiced by two no-name French actors—Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin. They’re not well known actors because they were the directors of the film.

The celebrity culture of animated features won’t change anytime soon. Studios believe that they derive benefits from having A-listers in films because audiences love celebrities. But there’s no empirical evidence that audiences are attracted to famous voices in the same way that they are attracted to seeing those actors in the flesh.

Still, celebrities do play one hugely important role in the animation process. They pad the egos of fragile animation executives who would otherwise be embarrassed to tell people they produce animation. At Hollywood parties, these execs can tout to their friends that they, too, are working with A-list Hollywood stars. Because after all, who would want to tell their friends that the stars of their hit film is two French dudes* named Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin?

* Correction: Chris Renaud is an American with a French-sounding last name.

  • Funny story – great article!

  • Barrett

    “the minions, are voiced by two no-name French actors—Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin.”


    Ah, the minions are *French*, so that’s why everything they say sounds like gibberish! (I kid, I kid….)

    Seriously, I agree fo the most part that “celebrity voicecasting” has gotten to be out of control, and for the most part, it’s unnecessary. I will say that Steve Carrel brings something particular to him to Gru, and if they recast Gru I’d be pretty upset. But I could really care less when the character is new, and since we’ve never seen El Macho before, it doesn’t matter if he’s voiced by a huge name or just any old skilled actor. I know that Lucy was voiced by a prominent comedienne, for the life of me I ca’t recall her name. She’s not in any shows I watch, but I don’t care, she did a fine job voicing that character! I know some people go out of their way to see a movie if it has certain names, but most k-12 kids don’t give a crap unless it happens to be some kind of teenybopper star.

  • Bravo! Fantastic article!

    This is something that I’ve long argued: celebrity voice talent, when it all comes down to it, really doesn’t matter. Yes, there are a few here and there (e.g. Robin Williams) who really are worth their weight in gold. But then again, with Robin Williams, he was a fantastic comedian and added a lo tof improvised material to Aladdin that made the film better.

    Did I see Rio because Anne Hatheway was in it? No. Did I see The Croods because Russell Crowe voiecd a lead? Absolutely not. I wish a big studio would take a chance with a non A-list voice acting team. I’m pretty sure as long as they had a great story and superb animation, the film would still be a success and they would have saved a lot of money in the process.

    Morgan Stradling – Animation news, reviews, views, and interviews!

  • April

    I agree–I believe quality voice acting is essential to an animated film’s success, but it is not a guarantee that the actor asking for the highest wages can achieve it.

  • Arthur F.

    It’s not just the voice, but the fact the animated characters became slaves to the actor, designed around the actors likeness in a way like caricatures, and so perpetuating the idea that the actor made the life of the character.

  • Roberto Severino

    Great analysis, Amid! Using certain celebrities are fine and good if their inflections and voice delivery actually match the personality of the character, but most of the time, it seems very unnecessary and arbitrary when there are tons of great voice actors that can often do multiple voices like Billy West and Tom Kenny.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Celebrity voice acting is a waste of money, and makes a character far less original. because all I see in my head is that actor, not the CHARACTER.

    • Ant G

      hmm I disagree, I saw Shrek characters for who they were as characters, and this is a movie who almost every major character has a very famous and distinctive celebrity voice. To their credit, despite their celebrity, many famous actors, along with the other production crew, really do a good job bringing life to a character

      • Funkybat

        I think it comes down to the kind of performance they are directed to give. A good voice director also makes a big difference. I was honestly surprised when Nic Cage gave a great performance as a caveman in “The Croods.” Like Mike Myers in Shrek, he became that character. That’s something no amount of visuals can fix. (Although the wrong visuals can hurt, Dr. Tenma in Astroboy looked way too much like Cage.)

        • Ant G

          wow! see I had no idea Nick Cage was in that movie before I never looked up who voiced who! That is a good example as well.

      • mud

        I also saw the Shrek characters for who they were, but that was probably my age at the time. I wasn’t old enough to know Mike Myers et al. and the other roles that made them A-listers. But the adults watching the films, my parents for sure, knew exactly who they were listening to.

    • Beamish Kinowerks

      When it works, though, the results can be amazing. Think John Hurt in THE BLACK CAULDRON or Kathleen Turner in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.

  • Dval

    Hit the nail on the head with that one!!

  • Chris Powell

    Im confused with this Al Pacino Business. Six weeks in, hasnt the voice acting already been done a long time ago? Isnt Voice acting done before Animation?

    • optimist

      Yes, and Amid addresses that in the story. That dialogue was looped, post-dubbed-not really as much of an issue as it would be with live action, although even then it’s done with every US live action film dubbed into french, german, etc. etc.

  • Ant G

    The last paragraph could be true, but pertain not just to Execs. I’m sure animators themselves have at some point said “I worked on the movie with such and such”. And why not, it’s a mindless chit chat starter. And yes the movies can still make a lot of money, but my guess is if they wanted Al Pacino on board, it’s because they envisioned the character as his own characters that he is most known for in his movies. Whatever the creative differences were, it’s more a shame it ended that way than something to boast about and shove money on his face as if that’s what it all comes down to (Well to those with integrity, it doesn’t)

  • Airwreck

    Do the kids care about which famous person does the voices? Most of the time celebrities are horrible voice actors compared to actors who do voice overs for a living — they act with their voices whereas stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rely a lot on their good looks.

  • don’t agree. Most “celebrity” castings are just bad castings and it’s not the celebrity factor that’s the issue. you can’t really argue that tom hanks or billy crystal didn’t bring in and entice an audience. sure the stories are great but aren’t films a collaborative effort? pretty sure those were huge pieces of the puzzle. also, I’d gather you’re more upset w/ the first inclination to cast some celebrity as opposed to who may be right for the part.

    think ur more upset w/ the chris rocks celebrity type castings as opposed the danny devitos celebrity type ones yes?

    for instance:

  • Céu D’Ellia

    Well put

  • Remarkable Kanoodle

    There are celebrity voice actors who, IMO, have had a very positive effect on some animated films and would be difficult to replace. Tom Hanks – Toy Story, Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman in Kung Fu Panda, Owen Wilson and Paul Newman in Cars to name a few. There is also another category, voice actors I would tend to avoid because I find their work and their voices annoying no matter which film they are in. Sarah Silverman and Will Ferrel to name just two.

    • poodle waddle

      Yes, but they can also throw someone off from the full movie experience. Because you’re thinking”Oh, that’s Jack Black” and not the Panda. See? One remembers the celebrity name and NOT the actual character’s name. Celebrity or not, I prefer a voice that fits the character.

    • MaskedManAICN

      I believe the main point was not that they harm movies (unless they are flops), but Despicable Me 2 proves that their absents doesn’t hurt movies either.

      You could argue very well that Toy Story, Cars, and Kung Fu Panda would be just as successful without them- and more profitable then.

  • Mac

    This has more to do with Hollywood producer logic than audiences. Namedropping and optioned rights to existing properties create the sense of commoditization and bankable value. The system won’t make something because you had artists and workstations and render farms and the product.

  • Woody

    Tom Hanks made $15 Million for TS3 because he was the established voice of a guaranteed moneymaking franchise. Try saying “There a snake in my boot!” in any other voice. Every character needs a great voice, but it doesn’t mean that great actors make great voice actors.

  • AmidAmidi

    It’s funny that your argument is, “So what if Pacino was going to be in it or not,” because that’s my argument, too. You say Carell is only important because he was in the first film. True, but if Carell hadn’t been in the original, the film would have still been a likely hit. As Pacino’s case proves, audiences don’t attend films because of celebrity actors.

    • Steve Flack

      If you’re assuming that the first film would have been a hit even if Carrell didn’t do it, then I am assuming that if Pacino did DM2, it would have been an even bigger hit!

      See, we can both assume things.

    • hitface

      i think your celebrity voice actors argument isnt going to work unless all the celebrities drop out of the film. Steve Carrell is a celebrity, Russel Brand is a celebrity, Miranda Cosgrove is a Celebrity, all of which are still in the movie, still attracting their fans to the movie as well. Some people are willing to give movies they’re not sure of a chance if they see the name of an actor whose work they know and like in the credits. And I didnt even know until this article that Al Pacino was going to be in this movie. I dont think he was meant to be a selling point as much as a fun ‘cameo’. You’re welcome to think that celebrity voice actors are unnecessary, but just because you can do without something doesnt mean you always should, but it can also go the other way: just because you can use something doesnt mean you should. I dont want studios to straight up abandon film actors-as-voice actors, but I also wish they wouldnt abuse it. Personally I thought Adam Sandler was kinda super awful in Hotel Transylvania, but I really thought Cee-Lo Green’s voice work as the mummy was great. I just see too many people flat out dissing live action actors in animated roles(and i know you keep saying ‘celebrities’ but majority of the celebrities are film and tv actors)
      You werent the one who wrote that article about the voice actors in 30s cartoons also being on screen actors, saying that also being screen and stage actors was what helped make them such great actors, were you?

    • pingrava

      Carrell is in it because he brought something to the film. Unless you can do a thoroughly unique voice that can take a character to another level (like Louie Prima did In Jungle book) via voice or mannerisms than it’s an absolute waste of money

  • Hey Now

    *hate* the trend

  • Funkybat

    I think the box office take would definitely have been impacted if Despicable Me 2 had a half-dozen “name” stars doing voice acting. While “Epic”s budget wasn’t really epic, it definitely cost more than Despicable Me and part of that was probably due to having folks like Beyonce, Steven Tyler and Colin Farrell performing instead of journeyman/woman voice actors.

    There are a few films where I feel the best voice for the character also happens to be a big-name star. When I first saw Toy Story, by the end I wasn’t listening to Tim Allen or Tom hanks, I was listening to and watching Buzz and Woody. (I’d even say at this point I think of Tim Allen as having “Buzz’s voice.” The best performances transcend the actor. Even the same actor can vary from film to film. Nic Cage was glareingly obvious in Astroboy to the point of distraction. Somehow, he managed to totally transcend the “Nic Cage-iness” of his voice in “The Croods” and you forget it’s him after a bit. (YMMV)

  • Funkybat

    Maybe the Ellens of the world *should start* to have Billy West and Jim Cummings and June Foray on their shows. I’ve seen them speak at Comic-Con and they can hold their own in a comedic Q&A just as well as your big-time movie stars. It’s about time some of these folks started to get more recognition from the audiences they entertain. The only voice actors who ever seem to get major media exposure are the Simpsons and Family Guy casts, and most of the FG cast already had exposure in other shows and films.

  • Funkybat

    It’s very strange. Benjamin Bratt basically had to pull a “Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire” where he watched already-completed animation and did his best to overdub it. For what it’s worth, I’d say it worked fine, El Macho was a fun villain and I didn’t once notice any kind of lip-sync oddities that would have “taken me out of the film.”

    I have never heard of this happening before on an already-finished animated film. I’m surprised that they haven’t sued him for breach of contract, or just told him TS, you recorded it, it’s baked into the film, don’t let the door hit ya. (I’m sure that’s what they would say to anyone not at Pacino’s level of fame and career accomplishment.) I hope the truth about this whole thing eventually gets out via scuttlebutt.

    • MaskedManAICN

      Actually I’ve heard of the reverse happening. ‘Standard’ voice actors have said they have provided the voice for a movie, then a celebrity comes in and copies the performance of the voice actor, gets credit and a million dollar check.

  • jonhanson

    Do most people even know that DM2 has a villain? All the ads are about the minions and maybe Gru and the new lady. If Steve Carrel dropped out and was replaced by someone else then you’d have a point.

    To me talking about “celebrities” under one banner isn’t helpful. Does a celebrity voice help a film? It depends. Toy Story and Monsters Inc wouldn’t be the same without their celebrity actors.

    You’re absolutely right that plugging another celebrity into a crowded cast probably doesn’t make a big difference, but that’s been proven time and time again by flops packed with big names.

    If a celebrity provides a performance that helps makes the film what great then they are worth it. If they don’t then they’re not.

  • Steve Flack: I agree with you here.

  • SMP Belltown

    Hopefully a pirate movie. (From what I hear, he has a sincere fondness for the Fleischer cartoons, so I bet something like an expansion on Betty Boop’s “S.O.S.” would work out well for everyone.)

    • Elana Pritchard

      Wouldn’t that be cool? He sounds like Popeye so it would be a perfect fit. When I’m more established I’m going to hunt him down.

  • Kyle W

    Worse use of a celebrity voice in an animated film I can think of is Miley Cyrus in Bolt. Her acting was bad, and her voice is like nails on a chalkboard.

  • Dianart

    “Still, celebrities do play one hugely important role in the animation process. They pad the egos of fragile animation executives who would otherwise be embarrassed to tell people they produce animation. At Hollywood parties, these execs can tout to their friends that they, too, are working with A-list Hollywood stars.”

    I agree with much of the article, but this is a ridiculous assumption. In my years of working in the industry, I’ve NEVER encountered an animation executive embarrassed of their animation career. If anything, they’re proud of it, especially since animated films regularly trounce live-action ones. You are always trying to stereotype and demonize executives (who aren’t always frequenting “Hollywood parties” and talking about their “celeb friends” as you seem to think) and perpetuate your notion of the victimization of animation as a lesser art. It’s insulting, really, to imply that an animation exec would be embarrassed of their life’s work. This blog’s attitude on the industry has become very narrow-minded and bitter lately. Maybe you should stop trying to stir up controversy and actually attend one of those parties so you could have some sort of evidence for your unwarranted opinions.

    • rolandlaura

      Absolutely agree, Dianart! I’ve worked both live action and animation and in general find animation execs to be much more down-to-earth and “art” oriented than their live action counterparts. I’ve never met an animation exec that was embarrassed to tell people what they do for a living. Animated films are as much, if not more, of a viable film career as live action films. And if live-action execs are only in this for the exposure to A-list Hollywood stars then maybe they need to rethink their career choice.

  • Jeff

    I agree, but on the other hand some actors are great voice actors. John Goodman, Phil Harris, Robin William and Billy Crystal come to mind.

    • Shazbot

      And Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy. They’ve done an excellent job with Shrek and Donkey. I can’t imagine anyone else doing better with those roles.

      BUT I agree with Billy West, that professional voice actors are almost never given the lead roles in animated films, and that kinda sucks. I don’t go to see animated films because some movie actor is doing the voice – I think the last time I cared about that was when Robin Williams did the voice of the Genie in Aladdin. Nowadays, I watch the trailers. If they look good, I’ll see the film, and that’s that.

      • Jeff

        Live action movies suffer from the same mentality. Like in the 70’s when the producers of Superman had to have Marlon Brando play Jor-El and pay him big money. I went to the movie to see Superman, though a fictional character he’s a star in his own right.

  • slowtiger

    I think actors in animation are way overrated, especially when it comes to marketing.

    They should be chosen for a certain voice which fits the character, and they should be able to deliver a good performance. That’s their job. Anything else ist just ballyhoo. “Ohhh, I looove my character!” “Actor X really gives soul to that character.” “It was a great experience to voice this shit” – don’t you hate these actor answers in all the interviews? Why is it that only the voice actors are interviewed? And the way they are announced in the opening credits is a plain lie. It’s not “with” actor X. It’s just “The voice of”. Everything else was already done by the animators.

    (And when animators are interviewed, they never ever show examples of acting. They only boast some technical terms about some new software about hair or the incredible number of controls their character has, but they never show a succession of tests or anything to really showcase their hard work. Meh.)

  • Zibzabzo

    Ben Bratt isn’t a celebrity?

  • bob

    oy… cartoon brew writers need some lessons in argumentation. Al Pacino or no, there are still celebrity voices in the cast, rendering this argument deficient. Just don’t even try to hide your bias with weak points and say your opinion is celebrity voice actors don’t necessarily improve the success of a film for reasons a, b and c. That way, you don’t come off as a bitter, sniveling kid.

    • santi

      Agree. Besides that, celebrity voices are used to go into talk shows an promote the movie, that’s a publicity value you can deny them.

  • Jen Hurler

    I prefer when voice actors (celebrity or otherwise) construct a voice for that specific character. You could tell it Mike Meyers in Shrek, but it wasn’t distracting because he created a character voice with his accent and the way he performed the lines in the booth.

    The same realization occurred when I was watching the dubbed version of Whisper of the Heart (A Ghibli film released in the US by Disney). It featured a number of popular young actors. While the male lead pretty much used his own voice, it was interesting to see in the behind the scenes footage the two main actresses discuss how they altered their voices to suit the characters. Similarly, there’s a great little bit on one the Lord of the Rings extras about how Ian McKellen would alter his voice and posture for Gandalf.

    It’s interesting to speculate who sort of makes these calls during the production. Does the director feel like they can direct the actors? Obviously, I’d like to think that, yes, that is their job. But it’s still an interesting topic. It again reminds me of Shrek–I remember seeing a feature explaining how, when Meyers added the accent, and the animators decided to reanimate the character’s walk-cycle to make him more hunched and gruff. That change was Mike Meyers’s decision, and the production was adapted for it, and for the betterment of the film. …I don’t know about the nuts and bolts of this sort of thing…but it’s all very interesting. I guess as long as an actor ADDS to a character instead of BEING the character, it’s obviously terrible.

    The issue I have is simply how much of the budget tends to go to the actors. Yes, they have a big name, and promote the film, but it is hard to tell how much of that factors into it being an animated film. This article is obviously debating that very point, so it’ll be cool seeing the debate rage on!

  • Alfalfa G

    Paying live action voice talent millions of dollars can negatively impact the budget on the production end of an animated feature film, which is everything onscreen that the audience sees. The practice often translates into less money left in the budget to pay the people who make animation work. In other words, the animators. Movie star animation pay rates were, as this article notes, not always so generous. This rethinking happened a few years ago, when actors (or their agents) suddenly noticed how much money these CG features were grossing and presumably demanded a bigger piece of the pie. It may be that certain wealthier studios opted to pay it just to drive the salaries sky high, making it tougher for less-well financed studios to compete. But once that genie was out of the bottle, the pay rates never returned to the reasonable range. What we have now to some degree resembles golden age radio of the 1930s and 1940s, when actors showed up, read from scripts and were grossly overpaid for their efforts. That business model still worked because, even though the pay was very good by the standards of the day, the radio budgets could easily afford to pay it, even if the radio actors often felt like they were taking money. Today in CG feature animation, the pay grade is nothing short of obscene and no movie star feels the slightest twinge of guilt for taking that kind of loot over the backs of the animators who provide the real reason that the audience comes to see the picture. One should not be penalized economically for having one kind of talent yet lauded economically for having another.

  • Jeff

    I wonder if he still got paid?

    • Tim Hodge

      The likely scenario is, yes, he got paid for the work he completed at whatever rate they agreed to. However, because his name will not appear in the credits, he will not receive residuals when the film goes to DVD/Blueray, PPV, Foreign Release, nor any other release window. He will also not get bonuses when the film hits certain benchmarks (like $100m) as many ‘above the line’ people do. He will also not participate in any ‘back end’ profits, like toys that no longer have his voice on a sound chip. He also will not be in any video game version, which has its own pay and residual structure.
      Of course, this is just a guess.

  • Tim Hodge

    A great voice can add volumes to an animated character’s performance. But the character is not solely dependent on that voice (i.e. Ariel – great voice, but for half the film, she is mute!)

    The question is does an A-list name (or even a popular B-list name) ad value to marketing? In other words, does a name on a poster help sell more tickets?

    Who knows?

    Case in point would be Robin Williams in “Aladdin”. An excellent performance, but in exchange for working for scale, Mr. Williams’ name could not be used in any marketing or promotion. You can’t even find his name in the Making of Aladdin book! And the film set box office records.

    From a business perspective, studio execs want bankable names to fill seats on opening weekend. Then (hopefully) word of mouth will fill seats in the following weeks. Those bankable names are usually stars, but can often be a director (Hitchcock, Spielberg, Jackson, Ron Howard) or even the name of the source material (Harry Potter, Jaws, LoTR, Superman, etc). When millions of dollars are at stake, it’s just a matter of wanting to lower the risk of investment.

    Trouble is, there is no fool-proof formula.

    • Simone

      Huh? That isn’t fair, he deserves the credit.

  • Lnds500

    Kinda pointless article.

    a) We don’t know how much money the film would have made with Pacino in it so you can’t compare. It could have made more.

    b) Celebrities are celebrities for a reason (most of the time anyway). Studios may hunt famous actors for two reasons. Either they are good (Pacino, Williams), or they are popular (Gomez). A good, or even better, a unique actor can help the character, animator and at some times, can take the whole movie on himself/herself (Genie / Williams). It’s perfectly logical if casting directors are expecting seasoned actors to offer a better performance than the average Joe. hence the pay-checks

    I am not against casting unknown actors but the notion that they don’t help a film is.. laughable.

    PS. I am willing to bet that some people went to see Transylvania just cause Gomez was in it.

  • jhalpernkitcat

    There are two celebrities who I think should always be allowed to voice act.
    Tim Curry and Keith David have such awesome voices.

    • Cheese Addict

      Hank Azaria.

      • ILDC

        But those are more like character actors who do equal amounts live-action and voice-over work. Hollywood’s idea of “celebrities” seems to be random names taken from last month’s Entertainment Weekly.

  • Loic

    Chris Renaud isn’t French … just so you know. I thought he was Canadien but his wikipedia page says American.

  • Rebochan

    “Back in the early-1990s, when Robin Williams provided the voice of the Genie in Aladdin,
    he earned scale pay for his performance, which was less than $100,000,
    so it hardly mattered whether celebrities affected the bottomline.”

    Er…yea, he only took scale on very specific conditions, namely that he not be used for marketing purposes. He also took Disney to court over their completely ignoring this and he never worked for scale on their films again – even when he worked on the second direct-to-video Aladdin sequel.

    This is probably the worst example you could have used for celebrities supposedly “not affecting the bottom line.”

  • Lawant

    I think the only relevant part this article missed: Press Junkets. Getting a name to go out and promote the film probably helps more than a no name director (that is not to say those interviews would not be more interesting, but it probably won’t get you on Letterman, which won’t help the movie get into the collective consciousness).

  • Arthur F.

    I’m referring to the actors ending up as suggestive models for the animators, a focus on facial assists for key expressions, usually there in the mouths/teeth and eyes and sometimes the overall atittude, movements while speaking or telling jokes, etc…It’s Eddie Murphy / “Shrek” (who I recall somewhere confirms this idea, maybe in Actors Studio interview), versus “Ice Age” where the voice-actors are celeb distinct but still don’t seem to compel the animators to get them to follow too much in the design. I don’t think it’s a stretch of any imagination to see Monsters Inc that way with the two leads, certainly Billy Crystal. There was even a recent comedy video taking this presumption further:

    with John Goodman and Crystal pretending to show up for the discussion on Monsters II and being shown their characters update, and one was basically a drawing of the actual human Crystal and everyone acted as if it were really gruesomely ugly.

    I agree the business side of it has actors hired to provide human faces for publicity. I don’t see where their combined salaries helped recoup the losses of a bad film, or when the film was good, how did their p.r. appearances help the film get better. For the most part, on acting they mention being for the most part recording alone in a studio somewhere.

    • MargeS

      This is a recent statement by Miranda Cosgrove on making “Despicable Me 2” which states that using her acting for the character is exactly how it works:

      Q; “I see a lot of you in your character. Did they record your face while you were in the booth? How did it work?

      Cosgrove: I know there are different kinds of animation, like some where you actually see the character while you do lines. With this, they film you the entire time you’re in the booth. And then, they take your facial expressions and hand movements, and the animators put it into the characters.”


  • Arthur F.

    I would be curious how much a film recoups in foreign markets that dub the voices. I’ve seen many of the animated films later on tv, while traveling in Europe, and dubbed in German or French. It isn’t going to be the draw of the big name U.S. actors obviously.

  • Arón Keyser

    Although I for the most part agree with this sentiment of actors not being the highlight or what brings in the money into an animated movie, there is a small problem I have some the examples you made for how much money actors have made such as tom hanks and cameron diaz. It’s a different situation because they are already an established character and the movie would suffer recasting for better or for worse. I would only have an issue with that if it was Tom hanks personally, if it were someone like Chris Rock, you could just have someone do an impression, but then they wouldn’t be able to use the name.
    Maybe studios will try and take more chances some time soon and hire unknowns in the future. But as you said, that probably won’t happen any time soon.

  • SarahJesness

    I could be wrong, but I don’t really think that celebrity appearances draw audiences to animated movies. At least with live-action films, you can see the actor in question, but with animation, the celebrity in question could be voicing anything from a schoolgirl, to a mermaid, to a lion. An audience member would really only be able to recognize a celebrity voice actor if s/he had seen that actor in a lot of stuff (or was perhaps a fan)

    I’m not totally against having celebrity voices; it just REALLY depends on what they do with it. I loved Robin Williams as a genie. When I saw the movie “RV” I went on a really long kick of hating the guy, but then I saw “Aladdin” on TV and remembered that he could be funny and I immediately liked him again. Anyway, he worked as the genie because of his performance style. His acting defined the character. The genie was over-the-top and silly, he needed a distinct performance and it’s not something you can get from just any voice actor.

    But now, think about other animated movie characters. Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” is a good character but she doesn’t require a very distinct voice. She’s just a regular girl and there are a number of voice actors that could’ve done her part. (and I simply love the woman that they did pick) There was no need to get some big celebrity for it. Compare with “Shrek” and Cameron Diaz as Fiona. Again, Fiona is a regular girl kind of character. A good voice actress with the right performance could’ve done her perfectly well. That’s not to say Diaz had a bad performance, really, I thought she performed the part well, I’m just saying that she doesn’t have a very distinctive voice or acting style to really justify choosing her over an equally good, but less famous, voice actor.

  • SarahJesness

    That’s true. A morning talk show is more likely to bring on Tom Hanks or Jane Lynch to talk about a new animated movie than Tom Kenny or Tara Strong.

    • ILDC

      I remember Tom Kenny on Late Night.

  • Crystal

    All of those celebrities getting a lot of money is for the sequel–they know the production is more dependent on them (than it was with the first movie). Yeah, I agree that excessive celebrity casting is kind of annoying. I feel like a lot of animated films would save money if they didn’t rely on it–why do sequels need to add celebrities who weren’t in the first movie, if they still can “market” the returning ones?

    The problem is, Amid called voice actors “unbearable” I’d personally love to hear actual voice actors in animated movies, but who DOES he then expect to voice characters in animated films?

  • tara strong

    Thank you for this article Amid, you have no idea how hurtful it can be to journeymen voice actors who skillfully give their hearts and souls, and incredible performances to feature films for scale (under a thousand dollars) and then find they’ve been replaced by an A-list celebrity. The performance should always be the most important part of choosing your actors.

  • Syth

    There’s a HUGE difference between Tom Hank’s Woody in Toy Story 3 and a new villain in a much less popular franchise. Now if you were replacing Steve Carrel, then you might be able to draw a corollary.

  • Simone

    This is a bit of a generalization, I can think of a number of celebrity voice actors that were fantastic for their roles. I can’t imagine anyone other than Ellen Degenerous voicing Dory. It’s about the voice, not who has it.

  • pingrava

    I don’t get it. Years ago I took my kid to see “Charlotte’s Web” and was surprised to find the completely forgettable voice belonged to Julia Roberts.
    What a waste of money.
    IMHO, almost everyone can imitate someone. If a Pacino-esque voice was the order of the day, couldn’t they find some reasonable priced, vocal talent (and I’m sure there’s no shortage in Hollywood or NYC) to imitate Pacino’s voice? I mean – isn’t that what Robin Williams did in Alladin?

  • Sillstaw

    I think a better example is “Brave.” The whole cast is made up of actors better known for side roles than leading parts; arguably the biggest name in the movie is Emma Thompson, who’s mostly done British movies over the last few years.

    It still made over half a billion dollars.

    • ILDC

      Rob Paulsen likes to mention in his podcast Jimmy Neutron made $80 million in the box office despite having no “celebrities” in the lead roles.