Tom McGrath is not just a co-director of the "Madagascar" movies; he is also the voice of Charlton Heston. OK, not really, but he does deliver the Hestonesque (and ain't that an immediately recognizable term?) voice of Skipper the penguin.
Too bad McGrath didn't follow his own lead by casting more versatile voice actors than Chris Rock in other major roles. The following examples clearly indicate that sometimes the best choice for animated voice work is the one that stays away from actors with instantly recognizable faces.
Eleanor Audley: Wicked Stepmother and Maleficent
Anyone familiar with "The Dick Van Dyke Show" will recognize Eleanor Audley's face as the woman who constantly ropes Rob Petrie into putting on a show for the PTA. Few others would ever think to connect this matronly woman's exceptionally warm face with two of the most despicable characters in the history of Disney animation: the wicked stepmother of "Cinderella" and, especially, Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty."
Maleficent almost always ranks near the top of Disney's greatest villains, and part of that sinister appeal is due to Audley's deadly voice, highlighted by elevated elocution that serves to subconsciously register her evil as intellectually superior to those annoying little fairies.
Peter Woodthorpe: Gollum
There's something about Gollum. The scenes featuring Gollum are the only parts of Peter Jackson's "Bored of the Rings" that I could ever stand to sit through again. Same goes for Ralph Bakshi's rotoscoped animated version of Tolkien's interminable tale.
Peter Woodthorpe has a long resume and you have likely seen him in something, but it is his voiceover work as Gollum for which he will likely be remembered. Difficult to say who delivers the definitive Gollum vocal performance, Woodthorpe or Andy Serkis. Like I said, there's something about Gollum -- something that brings out the best in actors.
Tracy Ryan: Duck
I couldn't pick Tracy Ryan's face out of a lineup if my life depended on it, but she's got one of the most recognizable voices I'll ever know. "The Little Bear Movie" was a theatrical release based on "Maurice Sendak's Little Bear" TV series that aired on Nickelodeon. My children grew up on this show and Tracy Ryan's innocent, naïve, and thoroughly delightful rendering of Duck is by far our favorite element of the show and subsequent movie.
Some animated voice work just achieves a level of perfection. Ryan's Duck belongs in the pantheon of such perfectly realized vocal interpretations as Daveigh Chase's Lilo, Jodi Benson's Ariel, and Nathan Lane's Timon.
Sarah Vowell: Violet Parr
Consternation. Confusion. Second thoughts. Should Sarah Vowell be on a list devoted to unknown or lesser known animated voice actors? A glance at Vowell's acting resume and the fact that "The Incredibles" is her only such job should indicate a definite yes.
Any regular listener of "This American Life" on NPR will suggest that Vowell and her readily identifiable voice is hardly an unknown quantity. It is highly suggestive of the nature of voice work in animation that the two most memorable performances in "The Incredibles" are those given by Vowell and the film's director, Brad Bird (who voiced diminutive but forceful costume designer Edna Mode).
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