Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Over the Hedge

This movie opened last weekend and the family trooped out to see it. I had seen segments of it last spring at an event I attended at Lincoln Center called “Animation Now” – along with sneak previews of The Curse of the Wererabbit, Madagascar, and Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie which is due out next year. Or maybe the year after that. Voice actors grumble a lot about the celebrity craze. Celebrities get the big parts in the animated feature films and the “real” voice actors get Townspersons 1-20. I don’t exactly think that celebrities are taking roles away from me. These are not huge numbers of roles, compared to what else is out there in the universe of roles. Plus, I’m not yet so well established as a character voice actor that I can think that way, and even if I were, it would still be a losing battle. The movie moguls want celebrities, they’re going to hire ‘em and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. I rather enjoy the celebrity thing, at least when the actors are good. Certain actors can definitely get me to the box office faster – Robin Williams is always well worth the price of admission, for example, even if the movie as a whole is not so good.

One of the most amazing animated features of recent years, in my opinion, is The Incredibles – the lead actors are well established and yet maybe not who you’d expect for a summer blockbuster. They gave truly wonderful performances, the acting was superb and there was a delightful surprise in there – Brad Bird’s debut as Edna.

And then there’s Madagascar. I read somewhere that Chris Rock was quoted as saying that he loved doing voiceovers because they’re “so easy” – you just go into the booth and talk. Maybe that’s why Madagascar was such a forgettable movie - the animation was fabulous but the actors didn’t bring a whole lot to it. Or Robots – quite a list of stars there – Ewan McGregor (no Scottish accent – I wanted my money back!), Mel Brooks, Paula Abdul, Halle Berry, Drew Carey, James Earl Jones, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno and, of course, Robin Williams. That movie must have cost the earth to make. Was it worth it? Well, I suppose I shouldn’t fault the actors if they weren’t memorable (except for Robin Williams, who was). The script probably had something to do with it too – although in the case of The Incredibles I remember the acting and the voices more than anything and the actors deserve tremendous credit for that. Over the Hedge has an excellent script in addition to excellent actors – a simple plot but dialogue that is smart, funny and fast. I think this is one of Bruce Willis’ first voice acting roles apart from a dog in Rug Rats Go Wild (2003), and the first voice role for Nick Nolte. They definitely do a creditable job. Still, I can’t help wondering what these movies would be like if they were cast “blind”. No names, no faces, just voices auditioning for the roles. What incredible talent would be discovered? What memorable characters would be created with inspiration from the scripts and directors? If actors had to offer something different and unexpected in order to get the part? I mean, Wanda Sykes is sure funny as Stella the skunk in Over the Hedge. But she sounds EXACTLY like Wanda Sykes. Is that the point? Is that why adults go to see animated feature films these days? To see how many celebrities’ voices they can recognise? How different would those films be from what they are now if auditioning required great imagination?

Just asking.


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