Wait, I know That Voice Calaya

Before I go into explaining my title further, please allow me to explain exactly why this essay came to mind. On a particular forum, which shall remain nameless to protect identities, the subject of Howl's Moving Castle came up - to be exact, that act of seeing it for the first time and basically the excitement that occurred during viewing. What is it about Howl's Moving Castle that appealed to this particular otaku? Was it a love of the original novel or a particular interest in the works of Studio Ghibli? You’d be foolish to think so, for the reason of this film's appeal was…and I quote “I had to watch it when I knew Christian Bale did the voice of Howl.”

I am not going to criticise this person for seeing the film based on the fact that Christian Bale took a role in the dub (just on the off chance one of you reading this did exactly the same thing). The point was it took one celebrity's voice to make a film appeal enough to someone for him or her to seek it out.

Now some actors were born to voice certain characters and often the characters are designed or finalised after the actor has been chosen. For the moment I shall talk about Western films as I feel a wider range of readers will know the examples. Let’s look at Abe Sapien from Hellboy; if you have ever seen Frasier there was no mistaking that Abe was voiced by David Hyde Pierce but Pierce asked not to be credited based on respect for Doug Jones who he believed brought the character to life. I am using Abe as an example as his face meant very little when it came to casting but his voice was clearly important. Was it easy to forget that Pierce had no input into the actions of the character at all? Of course, Pierce now has nothing to do with Abe at all, but Jones has voiced animated Abe all along anyway.

Disney has used some of the most famous Hollywood actors to voice some of it’s characters, but I ask for you to dig into your Disney memories. Take Little John from Robin Hood, Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book and Thomas O’Malley from the Aristocats. You will likely know straight off the same person voices them all, the wonderful Phil Harris, but can you put a face to the name? Granted this is well before your time (in most cases) but I would assume very few of you can bring to mind his face even though you know that voice so well.

I can only speculate what changed at Disney to make them ‘need’ Hollywood actors and actresses to take part. Animated movies were such a rarity that the public would flock to see them for the sheer delight of seeing a cartoon. If I think back in my lifetime, the first big Hollywood actor to voice a Disney character would be Robin Williams, who brought to life the blue Genie from Aladdin. Could you see anyone else take on the part quite as well? Williams character comes through in his voice as much as it does his face so when you hear he is voicing an animated character, you automatically get an impression of that character before you see anything. Carrying on with Disney, when creating Phil the Fawn from Hercules, could many actors have been picked to play the stubborn, short and chubby character? Probably not; Danny DeVito was the ideal choice. Speaking of famous heights, had DeVito voiced Lord Farquaad in Shrek the irony would have been lost. Picking John Lithgow, who is tall, added to the humour of the diminutive Lord Farquaad.

There is also picking an actor based solely on the name of the actor. Much as I am a fan of Tim Burton, he seems ever more determined to narrow down his actors and actresses. That’s fine when they are actually acting, but do voices make much of a difference? Corpse Bride was packed with famous ‘faces’, but Johnny Depp hardly stood out as ‘Johnny Depp’. What I mean to say is that someone else, though Depp voiced him beautifully, could have voiced the character of Victor. Unless you knew already would you have known the same woman who voiced Lady Tottington from Wallis and Gromit voiced Emily? (i.e. Helena Bonham Carter)

So back to the point I began with, do dub voice actors have the same pull as Western animations voice actors? Unlike Disney, the characters have not been written with a Hollywood actors voice in mind. The best that can be expected is that either the same pitch in voice can be found, or the right actor can be matched to the right character. That is if the dubbers are concerned with matching the right face to the right voice or pulling in the crowds thanks to a name (we know it worked at least once.)

The Ghibli films are probably the best example to use, especially the more recent releases. I think it is fair to say that since Spirited Away the Ghibli films have found it easier to draw in the Western crowds and thus more effort has gone in to finding voice actors with the right appeal. Interestingly enough the cast of Spirited Away were well known voices as much as faces and it was Howls Moving Castle that drew in the Hollywood stars (though in the same way, the original Spirited Away contained famous Japanese voices, Howl's characters were voiced by actors). The dub voices are done well, it is easy to accept the English voices in their Asian roles, which is not always the way. Perhaps it is just my tastes, but a couple of the dub voices in Sky Blue sounded lazy or totally unlike the character they are voicing should sound.

The round-up to this little piece of contemplating is this: Hollywood actors/actresses have a following, they are followed into the realms of voice acting even, but do animations/anime really need that added Hollywood?

Date Published
06/06/08 (Originally Created: 06/06/08)
Rantings and Ravings
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