As perhaps the most iconic villain of contemporary cinema, Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight is a special kind of role: the kind where an actor is so completely absorbed into the character that the thespian can’t even be recognized. This effect is somewhat easier to achieve in animation, simply because we normally don't see the actor. However, without facial and bodily expressions, all the actor gets when playing a cartoon is the voice, which is why many talented actors (such as Johnny Depp in Rango) are failures in voice acting.
Luckily, these 15 celebrities are not Johnny Depp.
Will Smith movies generally revolve strictly around the Fresh Prince (or, when things go horrifically wrong, his son), and this animated parody of numerous Hollywood classics is no different — as in, it’s all Will. Well, it was supposed to be, anyway. However, the world’s most kickass tomb raider had something else in mind and Angelina Jolie steals the show as Lola, a vicious, evil, vengeful, and ridiculously attractive fish, best described by her theme song, Ludacris’ "Gold Digger." The stunning visual design is complemented perfectly by Jolie's alluring yet malicious delivery and stands tall as one of the finest representations of lust and greed in animation.
In a career as distinguished as Leonard Nimoy’s, it's hardly surprising that even an animated performance — where the actor remains entirely unseen—is of such high caliber. Having to compete with an all-star cast, including Michael J. Fox and voice-acting veteran Cree Summer, Nimoy takes charge of the screen with remarkable ease, transforming the potentially weary and withered king of Atlantis into a wise emperor, more than aware of the intentions of "men of science." The Lost Empire is one of the best representations of colonialism and cultural decay on screen, and Nimoy’s performance is at the very top.
A bit unfair because most people would likely know DeGeneres — this Disney-Pixar feature made her a household name — but anytime great vocal performances are mentioned, Dory from Finding Nemo must receive a tip of the hat. DeGeneres creates a character that is insufferable yet adorable, seemingly naive but remarkably wise, genuinely touching and consistently hilarious. Few actors can bring such nuance to a role, but DeGeneres does so and, in the process, becomes the most memorable character in Disney's finest modern film.
While the more observant fans may have picked up on the voice or the references to the actor's iconic role in The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman was not even credited by name for his role in the classic Simpsons’ episode, “Lisa’s Substitute.” Caring, wise and funny, Hoffman becomes the teacher only some of us were lucky enough to have. This is considered one of the best episodes in the show’s seemingly endless history, and a big part of that is Hoffman’s performance.
Because of her masterful performance in Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig has gained much momentum in Hollywood, which puts a question mark on her role as the Bugs Bunny’s talkative girlfriend in this modern remake of the animated classic. And if she is to leave, that is truly a shame because no one else can take the ditzy, foolish, and overly eager spoiled princess that is Lola Bunny and make her so charming. It says something when the very definition of the 1% is as cute as this, and that's largely in part to Wiig's vocal excellence.
Nathan Fillion doesn't have to do much to be funny, charming and a jerk simultaneously. In fact, as we’ve seen on both Firefly and Castle, he’s made a career out of it. So it makes sense that he would voice the somewhat suave yet pretentious Green Lantern in the DC Comics Animated Universe (DCAU). During his introduction in Justice League: Doom, him and the team show up to fight a group of Batman thugs that are way in over their heads. Ever the wise guy, Fillion simply says, "You should give up now." Funny, charming, and a jerk simultaneously: the Fillion way.
Although it has always had quite a few celebrities, the beloved kids show Arthur really went all out for their second TV special when they brought in the Backstreet Boys. The annoyingly adorable Muffy Crosswire plans to become the next Backstreet manager, only to realize that her father’s success at the car dealership can’t buy her that. She never gives up hope and, in the end, manages a compliment from Howie. Sure, she preferred Nick (who doesn’t?) but it was a very touching Backstreet moment.
Having played more vicious characters than an overly enthusiastic kid at Halloween, Spacey still trumped many of his previous performances as Hopper in Disney's A Bug's Life. With a calculated and menacing delivery, every word that comes out of Hopper's mouth is a testament to why no one in the ant colony ever dares to rise against him. The strongest tactic in gaining subservience is intimidation and Spacey's delivery has that down to the last, bone-chilling letter.
The awkward moment when you realize a Playboy cover model was in a Disney movie, brought to us exclusively by Tia Carrere. However, before you start thinking this was a vocal choice made on physical appearance (cough *Yvonne Strahovski in the Mass Effect series* cough), Carrere does a fantastic job as the loving sister who is just a kid herself but needs to take care of her younger sibling like a daughter. The problems that Nani and Lilo face are a lot more real than those in most Disney films, and it is that grim reality that Carrere captures perfectly.
He was given such a criminally underutilized role that you can’t help but wonder why Dreamworks even picked Jackie Chan to voice Monkey in their martial-arts-fest, Kung Fu Panda. However, there simply can't be a world where an Eastern-themed comedy film about kung fu warriors does not have Chan, so even though his role was out of character and insignificant, we can let it go. He also has a great bit about how Panda (modeled realistically after actor Jack Black) can't even see his own toes. Sorry, Jackie — we can't all be fit enough to jump off helicopters.
The eighth collaboration between genius director Hayao Miyazaki and the legendary Studio Ghibli, the American dub for Ponyo boasts strong performances by Tina Fey and Matt Damon. Of course, as with most Japanese animation, the translations don't always do the original justice but when your actors perform their roles with such sincerity, it almost doesn't matter. A testament to the power of minimalist animation, Ponyo is also a great example of Fey and Damon doing something brilliant: becoming so much like the roles they play that you don’t even notice them.
Sorry for embarrassing anyone who had loved singing along with Disney’s remake of a Chinese classic, but the guy you were musically imitating was none other than the former host of that weird pyramid show. As the strong but insecure leader of China's "greatest soldiers," Shang pushes his crew to the limit. And even though much of the vocal work was done by BD Wong from Law and Order: SVU, the most memorable part of the character (and the film, perhaps) — the song ""Be a Man" — was performed by none other than the Don. Yes, to reiterate, you sang along with Donny Osmond.
Mentioned for no other reason than because of its sheer ludicrousness, horridly inappropriate rapper Busta Rhymes was in this children’s movie as Tommy's favorite toy-cum-wagon, Reptar. There is so much wrong with this choice that Nickelodeon should really be fined by the FCC.
The most recast hero in recent times, Spider-Man has been played by so many people across so many mediums that it’s tough to keep track of who is Peter Parker. Luckily, amidst the plethora of changes, Neil Patrick Harris briefly took up the role in this short-lived series and ran with it. As Doogie Howser, he was used to playing a child genius and, as himself in the Harold and Kumar series, he was used to playing a jerk — both traits he combined for this role. If only he had Barney Stinson’s lady-wooing powers, Peter Parker's life would have been complete.
Quite possibly the dumbest bird in the history of television, Gilbert Gottfried once again channels his role as Jaffar’s pet bird Iago in Aladdin and produces a great show as Digit in this edutainment program that actually manages to be both educational and entertaining. Even though he's a machine designed by the world's smartest computer, Digit is still dumb as a tin can and it's up to our three child protagonists to teach him the rules of probability, fractions, and division. The show is due to return soon after a lengthy hiatus but, following Gottfried’s sacking from Aflac because of a horridly insensitive joke about the Japan earthquakes, it will be interesting to see if he returns to PBS.
So there you have it: 15 amazing performances by fifteen amazing actors. Who are your favorites in the world of animation? Does it even matter to you if the person voicing your cartoon is famous? Did you simply hate the list because it didn't have Steve Carrell from Despicable Me? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.