Monday, January 26, 2009

WHEN CHARACTERS WERE THE STARS


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.

BUT-
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.

19 comments:

Niko Anesti said...

It's so true, and it's sad. Is that really the only way animated movies (and shows, too) can be promoted today? By what celebrities are voicing the main characters? Not to mention, whenever you see any "behind the scenes" stuff from these, it's always just about these actors portraying the roles. You'd be hard pressed to find a decent amount of content about the people who actually animated these films. Eddie Murphy may be the talking donkey. But who made that possible? I'm sure that there are some "unknown" voice actors and actresses who could lend their talents to these characters and do a better job at it, and people would remember the character after seeing it. Not the person who portrayed them.
I've never thought about it this much, but you're definitely right. Thanks for posting.

Molly said...

I'd much rather hear an interesting voice attached to a character than being able to go, "Oh hey, that's Cameron Diaz's voice." Who are the people who go to see animated films based solely on the fact that some big name-actor does the voice work?? I don't get it.

Trevor Thompson said...

Maybe that's why kudos are due to Robin Williams as Genie.

Sure, the movie sucked ( when it wasn't blatanly ripping off Richard Williams' 'The Thief and The Cobbler' ), but if you recall, he didn't want his name being used to sell the film, and because Disney did anyway, he refused to do the sequel. He also raped and killed Eisner's eight year old cockerspaniel, but that's not the issue here.

Also, I think the Muppets deserve to be placed next to SpongeBob in your list, Nico.

They are rarely seen with the muppeteers and are often treated like they are real, appearing on talk shows and the like. In fact, the celebrities that they do get to be in their films actually receive credit after the Muppets. It's emphasized that they are merely the guest stars.

- trevor.

Nico said...

Niko:
There are PLENTY of genius voice actors (Maurice LeMarche, Billy West, Jim Cummings, etc) who provide thousands of the voices and sounds that we all hear every day, but get nowhere near the treatment of a celeb who's vocal chords are only a 1/100th of the flexibility that theirs can span. A true shame!

Molly:
"Who are the people who go to see animated films based solely on the fact that some big name-actor does the voice work??"

Apparently enough people to generate $441 million and make Shrek 2 the 4th highest grossing film of all time. :(

What I don't understand is what even makes a celeb's voice unique enough to use for an ANIMATED character. Molly, pick any random spoiled rich girl we went to high school with and I seriously wouldn't be able to tell the difference between her voice and Cameron Diaz's!

Trevor:
Agreed, I think Robin Williams' Genie is great. And very true about the Muppets, good point.

Ben Forbes said...

I totally agree with you with this. Though, my one exception is my love for Amy Poehler and the Mighty B! I don't think everyone knows her name, so she really isnt selling it as much as say... Brad Pitt is Sinbad or... John Travolta is BOLT! (Which I hate!!!!)

M. R Darbyshire said...

You mean cartoon characters aren't real??!

Sometimes I think the cartoon is an afterthought. It's turned into a vehicle for the writers. FOX is the worst, they just has mouths moving to the script.

Molly--
Nobody really questions whether "ALL STAR CAST" is a good thing, because they've only heard it in positive context. 99% of the criticism of all-star casts is in this little circle of cartoon enthusiasts on the web.

M. R Darbyshire said...

Speaking of names attached to things, here's a snippet of the Animaniacs review, ghost-written by John K., from the old Wild Cartoon Kingdom magazine:

"And why does this guy put his name on everything? Have you seen the billboards for the dinosaur cartoon? Aaaaaargh!!! Gimme a break! Pretty soon we'll be seeing billboards that say "Coming soon...a bucket of puke from Steven Spielberg!" or, "Don't miss the latest dried-out bloody-nose boogers from the man who gave you ET!" Better hide your dog's butt before "Steven" signs his name on it.
"

Wild Cartoon Kingdom - Wikipedia

Niki said...

Tom Kenny, For the longest I've been trying to figure out that man's name! I know kids would probably know him, but they would think of him as patchy the pirate! They would laugh and scream then go about their day. One thing I'm glad about is. at least Amy Poehler doesn't just talk like the other crazies, she does that lisp thing. And at any time of the day I got no clue who she is anyway!

Shawn said...

Jeez, those modern movie ads are atrocious! Let's not give the characters any lives of their own...let's just market this as another "Jim Carrey movie".

When I was a kid, I didn't even know who Mel Blanc was...but I LOVED Bugs Bunny! He just seemed REAL to me. I also loved Daffy Duck, Sylvester, and all the rest...not even knowing it was the same talent. Those characters had such real identities, and I believed in them and loved them. I truly admire Mel Blanc (and other great voice talents from that era) for doing what was appropriate for giving those characters life...not overshadowing them. They did their JOB, and did exactly what they were intended to do....make the characters seem real.

I feel sorry for kids today who have been cheated out of believing the characters are real. They don't get to believe in the "magic" that Bolt is a real cartoon dog, because the studios have to "sell" the movie by marketing to Travolta fans. It makes me sick!

Kali Fontecchio said...

The donkey has more pores and hairs than Eddie Murphy.

Nico said...

Kali: LMAO!!!!!!


for the record, I watched the Horton movie a couple weeks ago and despite the bland voices I really liked it

Trevor Thompson said...

I feel the same way about Horton! It's got a number of flaws, but all in all, I think it's easily the best CGI animated film I've seen yet.

One of my favorite bits is the scene on the bridge. Very well done.

What did you like about it?

- trevor.

Nico said...

any scene with whoville or the Mayor. very cartoony and true to the seuss look

Hryma said...

What gets my goat, and has for a while is why did they have to call that show the Mighty B? Sounds to much like the Mighty Boosh!
There I've finally said it, jeeze that feels good.

Pat McMicheal said...

Nico, It's refreshing to see the old Title screens and Posters with the total absence of "TUDE".
NO crossed arms
NO single raised eyebrow and smirk
NO leaning back with baggy pants.
It would take much more than those features to match the attitude of Bugs Bunny! A true wise-ass.
I don't believe ANY stars voice can replace an un-appealing character.
Think of your favorite toons where they had little-to-NO dialog!

Great Post.

M. R Darbyshire said...

Looney Tunes: Back In Action

NateBear said...

amen.

good luck ever seeing a Donkey tile on the walk of fame.

allen mez said...

Thank you!! Yeah. I feel so much less alone. Although, I'm still sad and cold inside.

Justin said...

I don't know how many times I've had to explain why Shrek sucks to my non-animator-y acquaintances.

Although, I do have two non-animator-y friends who walked out of Shrek the Third. They shouldn't have gone in the first place, but I was proud of them. They are slowly learning.