Arts and Entertainment

The Faces or the Voices?

With the increasingly large amount of incomprehensible castings of high-profile actors in voice roles, why are voice actors getting replaced?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Celeste Hoo

In a recent appearance on the 2 Bears, 1 Cave podcast, Quentin Tarantino, director of classics like Pulp Fiction (1994) and Inglourious Basterds (2009), told host Tom Segura that the concept of a movie star is falling out of the modern-day movie industry, calling it the “Marvel-ization of Hollywood.” Modern movie consumers stopped caring about their favorite actors and actresses, but instead look for the franchise characters within: “You have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters, but they’re not movie stars,” said Tarantino. When watching a trailer, viewers see Captain America before Chris Evans; Thor before Chris Hemsworth; Edward Cullen before Robert Pattinson.

Logically, this phenomenon becoming the norm should enable new and lesser-known actors to break into the mainstream: if the character takes precedence over its actor, the actor’s preexisting fame becomes less relevant. The genre of animated films especially benefits from this trend. With movie stars no longer having to attract audiences for profit, a film can gain success on its own merits, with its story and artistic detail.

However, that is not the case right now. The trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie was released a few weeks ago, and the movie features beloved childhood characters like Princess Peach, Bowser, and Luigi. But instead of using acclaimed voice actors, they cast celebrities like Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Charlie Day, and… Chris Pratt as Mario?

Movie stars have always played voice characters, but the stars themselves were never the main attraction. The beginning of the shift in this business can be estimated to have started with the casting of the late Robin Williams in Aladdin (1992). Williams, unsurprisingly, gave such a charismatic performance in the movie, creating a feeling that was not just the character of genie on the silver screen but Williams himself. The producers and directors caught onto this spark as they directly modeled the lines and characteristics of Genie using Williams as their inspiration and—for a large part of the movie promotion—focused on marketing his performance. After this release, executives and producers alike began realizing that centering Hollywood actors and actresses in marketing campaigns can launch animated films to stardom. Just looking at the next animated feature film releases in Disney’s catalog, there is a visible increase of high-profile names in casts—from Johnathon Taylor Thomas and James Earl Jones in The Lion King (2019) to Tom Hanks’s newfound stardom in Toy Story (1995).

In the current era, modern-day “stars,” are plastered all over animation projects; it’s hard to find an animation project without a high-profile name attached to it. And make no mistake, this is not done in silence. Almost every trailer with a high-profile celebrity features the name of a celebrity in flashy bold letters to grab the attention of viewers. The aforementioned Chris Pratt as Mario comes to mind. Mario, a small mustached man with a heavy Italian accent, will be played by Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation.

One of the most prominent occurrences—and failures—of having celebrities voice act is the film Shark Tale (2004). The movie racked up a star-studded cast, including the names of Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorcese, Jack Black, and Angelina Jolie. With all of them being phenomenal actors in their own right, this movie should’ve been an award-winning classic on paper. However, it ended up supplying mediocre plot and performances. Despite the higher critical success of animated films with a prioritization of professionally trained voice actors, studios have been feeding on the success of Robin Williams’s revolutionary performance and forsaking artistic value for commercial success. Audiences’ obsession with superstars in voice acting roles is not nearly as important as a film’s artistic value, like the actors’ performance and design.

The one thing that remains constant throughout this evolution of voice acting is Hollywood’s lack of respect for voice actors. In comparison to other actors, voice actors are often belittled, treated as “inferior” to other actors under the assumption that anyone can voice act. Many disregard the years of training and dedication voice actors go through to attain their wide range of skills. Voice actors manage to bring life into two-dimensional characters without the bonuses of facial expression and body language actors can utilize. Many are able to incredibly encapsulate emotions and tension without any visuals, but all are based on the interpretation of words on paper.

This stigma against voice actors has affected the public perception of their place in the entertainment industry. Young voice actors entering the business have been quickly pushed out due to not only big movies getting flooded with high-tier celebrities, but also TV shows, commercials, video games, and many more as studios are prioritizing live-action stars over trained voice actors.

Tarantino said in his recent statement that actors do not catch their “big break” the same way they used to; viewers associate an actor with a single character for the rest of their career. It’s hard to prove Tarantino wrong as trends in the media industry back his reasoning, but one can debate the positive effects of this culture. Hollywood shying away from targeting big movie stars can help producers and directors trust their own process and not spend millions of dollars on one star to ensure their movies’ success. Marvel Studios as of late has been fond of the notion, as they have cast lesser-known actors like Simu Liu and Iman Vellani in lead roles as loyal audiences can rely on the movies’ quality to maintain interest. This makes the process of casting big movie stars for voice projects even more frustrating as these films do not need big stars like they used to.

Voice acting is one of the most underappreciated occupations in the entertainment industry and is constantly overlooked by studios and audiences alike in their ability to deliver stories and generational performances. The overabundance of movie actors in voice roles has effectively marginalized opportunity and quality for the industry. Without a reevaluation of the audience’s desires, the industry will continue deteriorating, creating increasingly dull projects that are nothing more than cash grabs for studios.