When "Madagascar" came out in 2005, there were a number of big names in the voice cast. The leads heroes alone included Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and David Schwimmer. Now, seven years later, the third installment of the movie franchise comes out. Surprisingly, a minor character is still more famous than any of the leads.
Thanks to the wildly successful "The Penguins of Madagascar" cartoon on Nickelodeon, the characters most kids are familiar with are the quartet of penguins, led by Skipper. With the big names playing most of the other characters, Skipper is voiced by Tom McGrath, the co-director of the movie. McGrath is a rare case of a supporting voice talent overshadowing the high-priced actors in an animated movie.
Early Disney efforts
Of course, it was not always like this. Throughout most of cinema history, there were no big names doing voiceover work for animated films. A great example is "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The evil queen, whose voice was so important in the original movie, was an actress named Lucille Le Verne. The actress' best known role, over her entire career, was the voice of that witch.
Jump forward 30 years and Disney brought in someone a little more prolific for the voice of Baloo in "The Jungle Book." That name star was Phil Harris. If he is unfamiliar to you, that is because, before he manned one of the most famous voices in animated movies, he was a band leader and worked with Jack Benny. That was pretty much the extent of Harris's popularity. As a result, the most famous voice from that movie was, once again, not a famous actor.
By the time Disney animation started rebounding in the '90s, more recognizable voices started taking on roles in animated efforts. In the Oscar-nominated "Beauty and the Beast," Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers lent their voices to the story. The next year, Robin Williams poured his manic spirit into the Genie in "Aladdin." Within two years, everyone in "The Lion King" seemed to be a famous movie star.
Pixar recruits big names while developing a nice repertory group of more obscure performers to round out voice casts. The prime example: John Ratzenberger.
While fans of the TV show "Cheers" recognized him, Ratzenberger was not the biggest name in any of the animated movies in which he appeared. However, after he got his first role in Pixar's "Toy Story" as Hamm, he has become one of the most recognizable voices in the industry.
While Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are the headliners in the "Toy Story" flicks, Ratzenberger also stood out. Since that time, he has been in almost every Pixar movie, serving as a comforting, familiar voice among the high paid talent.
"Kung Fu Panda"
Much like "Madagascar," the DreamWorks animated franchise "Kung Fu Panda" also received an animated television series. Leaving plenty of room for some minor characters to get a lot more screen time one character that played a decent role in both movies but has stood out in the television series is Po's goose father Mr. Ping.
While the Furious Five and Po are portrayed by Hollywood's finest, from Jack Black to Angelina Jolie, Mr. Ping is voiced by James Hong. The longtime actor has been performing for over 50 years, accruing hundreds of roles to his credit, but when you look at his name value, he is nowhere near as prolific as the rest of the cast. Yet, his character has become more important as the franchise lives on.
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- John Ratzenberger
- John Ratzenberger
- David Schwimmer