Pinocchio Voice Actors Pinocchio Voice Actors

The live-action remake of Disney’s 1940 classic Pinocchio is upon us, and the cast is filled to the brim with big-name actors like Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Despite the level of the talent involved, the iconic voices from the 1940 original are certainly a tough act to follow.

With the release of Disney’s latest hybrid remake, it seems a good time to shine a light on the actors who voiced unforgettable characters in early Disney features. The voices of Snow White, Cruella de Vil, and Captain Hook are burned into so many of our brains, and yet I imagine that most of us have no idea what the actors looked like or what kind of work they did outside of the Disney films.

To start, the voice behind Jiminy Cricket belonged to the great Cliff Edwards, a popular jazz singer in the 1920s who performed under the moniker “Ukulele Ike.” Edwards introduced the hit song “Singin’ in the Rain” and is credited with popularizing the ukulele in the United States. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the cartoon cricket and the real-life Edwards, doing his signature scat-singing in an early live-action color short.

Harry Stockwell, voice of the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a noted Broadway performer who played the leading role in Oklahoma! from 1943 to 1948. Here’s Stockwell belting out a great Arthur Freed song in a classic MGM musical.

Lucille La Verne was a respected stage performer before voicing the Witch in Snow White, her final film role. According to sequence director Bill Cottrell, she made the switch from voicing the coldly collected Queen to the croaky old Witch by taking out her false teeth. Here she is unleashing her “old hag’s cackle” while playing The Vengeance in A Tale of Two Cities, which is downright chilling to watch.

Comedian Roy Atwell voiced the pretentious Doc in Snow White, and animator Frank Thomas copied Atwell’s nervous hand movements for the character. Atwell’s idiosyncratic stammering is truly hilarious in this live-action clip.

Veteran comedian Billy Gilbert, the voice of Sneezy, appeared in hundreds of films alongside comedy greats like Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, and W.C. Fields. Gilbert was a specialist in comically protracted sneezes, and you can see him pull one off in the classic absurdist comedy Million Dollar Legs.

When Austrian actor Christian Rub was cast as the humble Geppetto in Pinocchio, the character was redesigned to more closely resemble him. Much of his dialogue had to be rerecorded for clarity because Rub’s accent was so thick (as Walt Disney said at a meeting, “I can’t understand the old man’s dialogue. Of course, I know what it is, but I don’t think anybody else will understand it”). Here’s Rub playing a Gepetto-like role in an early color short.

Evelyn Venable, a movie actress who appeared alongside Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March, and Shirley Temple, lent motherly warmth to her role as the wise Blue Fairy in Pinocchio. She was also the model for the torch lady in the Columbia Pictures logo. Here she is in action.

Walter Catlett, who voices Honest John in Pinocchio, was a veteran of the vaudeville stage and an expert at playing incompetent blowhards. Katharine Hepburn even credited Catlett with teaching her how to do comedy when they appeared together in the screwball classic Bringing Up Baby, seen below.

Charles Judels, a character actor known for his skills at dialects, played the part of Stromboli in Pinocchio. Bill Tytla’s powerful animation nicely compliments his blustery performance. Here he is doing a Stromboli-esque voice, but with a French accent, in an early talkie.

Frankie Darro, known for playing juvenile tough guys, played young hoodlum Lampwick in Pinocchio. Darro was a tightrope walker in his youth and he pursued a career as a stuntman later in life. Here he is playing a dramatic scene in the depression-era film Wild Boys of the Road.

Edward Brophy, who spoke in high-pitched Brooklynese and frequently played comical gangsters and detectives, was an inspired choice to play Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo. Brophy’s wiseguy knowhow and cheerful likability matched perfectly with Fred Moore’s graceful animation.

Ilene Woods was personally selected by Walt Disney to voice Cinderella after she recorded demo tracks of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and “So This is Love” as a favor for her songwriter pals Mack David and Jerry Livingston. Here she is singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” She suffered from Alzheimer’s in her old age and forgot she ever played Cinderella, but she was comforted by this song and her nurses would play it for her often.

The multi-talented Verna Felton played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, as well as Dumbo’s mother in Dumbo, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Aunt Sara in Lady and the Tramp, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, and numerous other roles in cartoons, radio, and sitcoms. For this clip, a 66-year-old Felton insisted on doing her own stunts, diving headfirst out of a window.

Kathryn Beaumont – voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan – is still with us and turned 84 this year. She appears in this great live-action clip with Bobby Driscoll, voice of Peter Pan, who died tragically young but maintains an eternal youth of a kind through his work. Just hearing their voices is enough to make you grin.

Ed Wynn’s goofy voice and fluttery laugh made him a natural fit for animation, and he was ideally suited for the role of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Wynn was a huge star on vaudeville and radio, and he frequently appeared in live-action Disney movies in his old age. Walt Disney was one of the pall bearers at his funeral.

Bug-eyed, mustachioed Jerry Colonna – voice of the March Hare – was a major source of inspiration to cartoonists in the 1940s (his radio catchphrases “something new has been added” and “isn’t it” show up all over the place in the Looney Tunes shorts). This guy was a real force of comic energy. He may have been wilder as a human being than as a cartoon character.

Sterling Holloway, famous as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, did countless other voices for Disney including Mr. Stork in Dumbo, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Kaa in The Jungle Book, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. His raspy tenor is unmistakable in this live-action clip.

It’s always a delight to see Richard Haydn, who played the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, show up in a classic movie with that dry, nasally delivery of his. He gives a great performance in the brilliant and underrated Ernst Lubitsch comedy Cluny Brown.

Hans Conried, who played Captain Hook in Peter Pan, is best known for his villainous voice roles, but his expressive face and distinctive nose made him a striking presence in live-action films as well. He’s especially memorable as the deranged piano teacher Dr. Terwilliker in Dr. Seuss’ bizarre live-action musical fantasy The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., a deliciously loopy Seussian nightmare that must be seen to be believed.

Ultra-cool jazz singer Peggy Lee is the one crooning “He’s a Tramp” as Peg in Lady and the Tramp. She was deeply involved in the making of the movie, co-writing all of the songs and voicing numerous characters (including Mrs. Darling and the Siamese Cats). She also influenced the direction of the story; Trusty was originally supposed to die, but Peggy Lee begged Walt Disney to spare the character’s life and he finally relented. Here you can see Peggy swinging to a tune that Jessica Rabbit later sang in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Mary Costa, the voice and model for Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, is still kicking at 92 years old. She was even married to Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin, so she’s lived a very cartoony life. After voicing Aurora, she went on to a successful career in opera. Here she is flexing her soprano chops in a TV appearance.

Radio/tv actress Eleanor Audley played not one, but two of the all-time greatest movie villains: Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella. Here she is in the flesh, sporting that same menacing voice.

Although Walt Disney often hired successful character actors for their distinctive voices, the idea of casting big-name celebrities for roles in animated movies didn’t really take hold until the 1990s. Rod Taylor, who played Pongo in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, is a rare example of an A-list movie star who appeared in one of the early Disney films, although his career was just beginning at the time. You can see him here in the sci-fi classic The Time Machine, arguing with Sebastian Cabot… the voice of Bagheera from The Jungle Book! It’s a small world after all.

Few voices are more iconic than Betty Lou Gerson’s raspy villainy as Cruella de Vil. Gerson did a lot of acting on radio soap operas in the 1930s and 1940s, and you can see her in this sitcom clip (on the right) delivering punchlines in a dryly sarcastic tone.

Bandleader Phil Harris is forever tied with Disney, thanks to his voicework as Baloo in The Jungle Book, Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats, and Little John in Robin Hood. Harris improvised much of his dialogue as Baloo because he felt the scripted lines “didn’t feel natural.” If you’ve ever wanted to know what Baloo rapping would sound like, check out this clip.

Oscar winner George Sanders, the British actor famed for his sinister sophistication, was the perfect choice to play Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. Sadly, he committed suicide five years later, leaving behind a note that said, “Dear world, I am leaving because I am bored.” Sanders’ dry delivery brought out the best in animator Milt Kahl, and his Shere Khan is a true masterpiece of subtle cartoon acting.

One of the best ideas in The Jungle Book was casting jazz bandleader and trumpeter Louis Prima as King Louie. The monkeys’ crazy dancing in the “I Wan’na Be Like You” sequence was based on Prima and his band jumping around during their Jungle Book audition on Disney’s soundstage. Prima’s irresistible energy is on display in this clip of him performing with his wife Keely Smith.

You may not know Candy Candido by name, but you’ll know his voice. He played an angry apple tree in The Wizard of Oz and rose to fame for his catchphrase “I’m feelin’ mighty low” on Jimmy Durante’s radio show. He played the Chief in Peter Pan, the Captain of the Guards in Robin Hood, Fidget in The Great Mouse Detective, and various trolls and goons in Sleeping Beauty and The Black Cauldron. As you can see in this live-action clip, the man was a unique talent.

There are countless other talented actors who lent their voices to the classic Disney films, but let’s end on what must be the greatest duet ever filmed.

Pictures at top: Dickie Jones (Pinocchio) and Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket) looking at “Pinocchio” artwork, “Pinocchio”