Monday, January 26, 2009
A few weeks ago my pal Shawn and I were having one of our serious cartoon discussions (at the best place for cartoon discussions- Lido Pizza!), and we got onto the subject of how studios used to treat their cartoon characters as REAL stars. Think of any animated film or TV show today. Have you noticed how it seems like every character needs to have a celebrity voice? ...And not only that, but that celeb will be treated higher than the character!
Take a look at these title cards from selected classic Hollywood cartoons- it's very clear that although fictitious, the characters were regarded as true stars... as if they were real people!
This below is amazing to me: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a name that, while beloved by millions, belongs to someone that isn't real.
They may have still been run by executives, but these studios sure were smart. They made their characters the faces of their companies!
And of course it helped that the characters themselves were so appealing. Audiences were so endeared by many of them, and you could quite often catch Mickey Mouse or Popeye's name featured at the TOP of theatre marquees, with live action stars like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable listed below. What a time!
Characters would even get their own posters featured around theatres, like the ones below.
Did you notice that NOWHERE on these posters or title cards do they mention the actor or actress who supplies the character's voice? Poor Mel Blanc had to fight for years and years and YEARS to get his name even credited anywhere in a WB cartoon he voiced... and when he finally got his wish, look how far below his name appears!
While they are an important and vital part in the making of a cartoon character, it seems that voice actors in the classic age of Hollywood were treated nowhere near as important as they should have been. Now don't get me wrong, I think all voice actors should get the highest amount of credit and respect for the hard work they do.
What happens when the opposite takes place? What happens when you give a voice actor so much credit that they eclipse the characters themselves? Well, take a look!
So, Jim the Elephant and Steve the Who? Why do these characters have normal man names?
Holy cow, what characters am I looking at?? Help, these huge names are in the way!
This film's art directors actually went out of their way to make their main characters LOOK like their celebrity voice counterparts. Talk about pulling you out of the movie! You see CGI fish, but all you can think about is Jack Black and Angelina Jolie wearing headphones and jumping around in a sound booth.
Hell, let's not even SHOW the characters in this poster! I don't know who or what I'll be watching for the next 90 minutes, but at least I'll be hearing Miley Cyrus' voice at some point during it!!
AMY POEHLER as the Mighty B. Okay, I see a cartoon character there but OMG, it's Amy Poehler as the voice!! She's from SNL, you guys!!!!!!!! This is a big deal.
And finally........... yeah.
I think the only modern cartoon that defies this backwards way of character development is Spongebob. Spongebob is voiced by the hilarious and awesome Tom Kenny (Mr. Show and tons of other great stuff), but he is no way flaunted for it. Viewers see Spongebob, and they think Spongebob. They don't imagine some grown man acting it out. I bet 99% of Spongebob fans wouldn't even know Tom Kenny if they saw him in front of them! So there ya go.
Maybe someday studios will realize that it's not a famous name that makes a beloved character, it's the character itself.