Wednesday, August 31, 2011

10 FAVORITES (42) - Disney Voices

After over 80 years and over 60 animated films, the Walt Disney Company has amassed a large cast of characters.  Some are beloved, some are despised and some are just so evil that we can't help but cheer when they come on the screen.  But one of the true measures of the impact of a great Disney character is thanks in large part to the performance of the actor or actress chosen to play that role.  Which performance is the most special?  That's what this week's 10 FAVORITES is all about.  Below, is my list of 10 (actually, 12!) best Vocal Performances from Disney animated films.  Now, when I say "Vocal Performance," I am not referring to singing (though most of the characters listed below sing, with a couple exceptions!).  Also, you will notice that almost half of the characters on the list are villains.  And to put it bluntly, villains are often the most memorable thing in a Disney film.  But a hero, a heroine or even a sidekick can be just as memorable, if it is done just right!  So, without further ado, here are:

Adriana Caselotti as Snow White
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The original Disney heroine is an "Honorable Mention" mainly because the voice of the sweet Adriana Caselotti almost irritated me for a while.  But there is no more iconic vocal performance than Caselotti's renditions of "Whistle While You Work" or "Someday My Prince Will Come."  I felt she needed some recognition on this list.

James Woods as Hades
Hercules (1997)
While this film is not the most beloved within the Disney canon (especially within the studio itself!), the performance of James Woods as the devilish Hades is quite the scene-stealer.  Woods utilizes some of his best skills and is the perfect bad guy (in what might be called a "so-so" film!).

Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel
Tangled (2010)
The biggest highlight in last year's animated hit was the performance of two-time Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy as the deliciously wicked Mother Gothel.  The twists the writers gave to the Rapunzel story and that of the "witch" character were perfectly fitted to Murphy's theatrical bravado.  She's cruel, she's selfish and she's a total bitch, but we love her for it!

Kathryn Beaumont as Alice
Alice In Wonderland (1951)
No matter where I am or what I'm watching, when I think of the character of Alice from the Lewis Carroll classic story, I hear Beaumont's sweet and wistful voice.  She's so prim and proper and just the perfect little girl as we follow her curiosity and her adventures in Wonderland.

James Earl Jones as Mufasa
The Lion King (1994)
No one can deny the power of this man's voice!  James Earl Jones, who chilled us as the voice of Darth Vader, moved us to tears when he voiced the father of Simba.  The scene in which Mufasa's ghost comes to the disenchanted Simba is one of the most haunting and powerful scenes in the movie, certainly in thanks to James Earl Jones' voice!

Eleanor Audley as Maleficent
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
I've talked of my love for this movie and even then I talked about how much I loved this villain.  The dripping disdain in Eleanor Audley's voice when she is cursing the innocent Aurora (soon after her birth!) is so spiteful...but I can't help loving this character more!  Audley also voiced the wicked Stepmother in Disney's Cinderella, so she was no stranger to the world of the Disney villain.

Pat Carroll as Ursula
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Like many other Disney villains, Ursula practically steals the movie from the rest of the delightful cast of characters.  Character actress Pat Carroll was so amazing when she voiced the role and her performance shines through.  In fact, the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is one of the best songs in Disney history and certainly a showstopper sequence if there ever was one in a Disney film!

Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear
The Jungle Book (1967)
Jazz legend Phil Harris sounded so at ease with the lazy "jungle bum" character of Baloo and his performance of the Oscar-nominated song, "The Bare Necessities," is so ingrained in our collective consciousness.  Harris would go on to voice O'Malley the Alley Cat in 1970's The AristoCats and Little John in 1973's Robin Hood (Little John was quite similar to Baloo in many ways, not just Harris' voice!), but it is his performance as Baloo that is forever in our hearts.

Jonathan Freeman as Jafar
Aladdin (1992)
Jeremy Irons as Scar
The Lion King (1994)
I put these two together because they are practically equal in my mind and their performances as two of Disney's greatest villains are so wickedly great.  Character actor (of film and stage) Jonathan Freeman was so snake like and imperious as Jafar and, when you talk about imperious, you cannot forget Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons' performance as Scar.  Interesting note about Irons' performance of the song "Be Prepared" (below): Irons' voice cracked more than halfway through the song (on the line: "You won't get a sniff without me!") and master voice actor Jim Cummings (who also voiced Ed, the loony hyena) had to finish the song in his stead.  My father said if I hadn't pointed it out, he would never have noticed it.  I believe many other people don't notice either!

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
As I've stated before, this is my favorite Disney film of all-time.  There are so many things I love about this film and the cast is chief among them.  But if I had to pick a stand-out performance, I would not hesitate to recognize the charming performance of the great Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts.  She is so perfect and proper as the teapot that by the time the film gets to the title song (which Lansbury sings!), my heart races to hear her brilliant rendition.  And it makes it even more special when I heard (from Alan Menken in an interview) that Lansbury was able to perform the song perfectly in the recording booth in one take!

Robin Williams as The Genie
Aladdin (1992)
Of course this performance would top this list.  When Robin Williams wowed critics and audiences with this vocal performance, it changed the game.  Since then, stars line up to take a part in a Disney animated film (and now, DreamWorks animated films!).  Williams' performance was so important to the film that both the Golden Globes and the Academy thought about giving him a special award.  And the Academy still talks about creating a Vocal Performance category, and that is all thanks to Robin Williams' role as The Genie.

Some of you may be asking the above question at this moment, so to allay your worries, here are the 5 best voices in PIXAR's short history (hence the 5 and not 10!):

Jason Lee as Syndrome
The Incredibles (2004)
For anyone who remembers Jason Lee's fantastic performance in the Kevin Smith films (Mallrats & Chasing Amy, in particular), his role as the ultimate fanboy turned total villain is quite the highlight of the 2004 Oscar-winning adventure.

Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego
Ratatouille (2007)
Getting the well-respected Peter O'Toole to voice the role of the cynical food critic was quite a coup for PIXAR and his brilliant speech towards the end of the film is as much about all critics (and criticism, in general!) as it is about food.

Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
When you create a character like Mike Wazowski, you need a top-notch comedian to take it to the next level and Billy Crystal is in that category.

Ellen DeGeneres as Dory
Finding Nemo (2003)
In a cast filled with charming performances (Albert Brooks, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, etc.), it is Ellen DeGeneres as the absent-minded Dory that almost steals the touching, funny and poignant movie.

Tom Hanks as Woody
The Toy Story movies (1995, 1999 & 2010)
In all three movies, it is the performance of Tom Hanks as Woody that is at the franchise's heart and it is a testament to the power of Hanks as an actor (whether he is seen or just heard!).

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