Celebrity Voice Acting Roles Which Were Re-Cast During the Production of Famous Animated Films
Tom Selleck was the original Indiana Jones, Eric Stoltz the original Marty McFly, and Lance Henriksen the original Terminator. These are among the many well-known examples of famous roles which were re-cast during the production of famous live-action movies.
But what about animated movies? At the time of this writing, Al Pacino quit Despicable Me 2 six weeks ago, and now the film is here and you’d have no idea the Benjamin Bratt-voiced villain was an emergency replacement for Pacino. By most accounts, this is the latest into the production cycle of any major animated film that such an important role has been re-cast.
What’s the big deal, right? Voice acting dialogue can be completed with alarming haste. Woody Allen famously needed a mere 5 days to record his dialogue as the main character in Antz. Jason Lee took just 4 days to complete his work as the villain in The Incredibles. However, animators usually model the facial tics and mouth movements off of the voice actors meaning re-casting can be a huge challenge, especially when it happened in the days before computer animation. Yet it’s happened multiple times over the years.
The following is a list of roles from famous animated films which were re-cast after an original actor had been cast and recorded at least some of their dialogue (from newest to oldest):
1) Eduardo in Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Original Voice: Al Pacino
Voice We Heard: Benjamin Bratt
The Back Story: Six weeks prior to its worldwide debut, Despicable Me 2 had no voice for its villain. Al Pacino had recorded all of his dialogue, but he quit, citing the standard “creative differences” as explanation. Dick move, Pacino The animators had already modeled all of Eduardo’s mouth and facial movements off of Pacino. His replacement, Benjamin Bratt, attempted to mimic Pacino’s performance entirely until the directors told him to ignore it and do his own thing. This means that when you look at Eduardo in the film you are seeing a character whose face and mouth mimic Pacino but whose voice now is that of the half-Peruvian Bratt. The cool thing? Unless you really, really know your animation, you’d have no idea there was any disconnect whatsoever. Also, frankly, Pacino’s played Cuban (Scarface) and Puerto Rican (Carlito’s Way), but that was a long time ago. Bratt’s attempt at a Mexican accent is likely far better than anything modern day Pacino could muster (Source: DenofGeek.com).
2) Basically, the Entire Cast of Hoodwinked! (2005)
Original Voice(s): Tara Strong, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Leech, Sally Struthers, Joel McCrary, Tom Kenny
Voice(s) We Heard: Anne Hathaway, Jim Belushi, Anthony Anderson, Glenn Close, Xzibit, Chazz Palminteri
The Back Story: Hoodwinked!, which retells the Little Red Riding Hood story as a series of alternate viewpoint flashbacks via an after-the-fact police investigation, was independently produced. The animation was done on the cheap in the Philippines, and the cast filled with veteran voice actors instead of big name celebrities. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, it gained a distributor in the then-newly formed Weinstein Company, which insisted upon recasting almost every single major character with known names to enhance marketability. The problem? The film was basically done meaning the new actors had to deliver their lines exactly as the old actors had.
It could have been worse. The Weinsteins tried but failed to also recast the roles of Japeth (as voiced by Benjy Gaither) and Jimmy Lizard (as voiced by Joshua J. Greene). Plus, while Tara Strong, David Ogden Stiers, Tom Kenny, and Tony Leech had their major roles recast they were so versatile they had also voiced side-characters not crucial enough to the plot to warrant re-casting. Sally Struthers and Joel McCrary, on the other hand, had to watch a final film featuring Glenn Close and Xzibit doing vocal impressions of them (Source: Hoodwinked! DVD Commentary).
3) Marlin in Finding Nemo (2003)
Original Voice: William H. Macy
Voice We Heard: Albert Brooks
The Back Story: Albert Brooks was director Andrew Stanton’s first choice for the crucial role of Marlin in Finding Nemo, but William H. Macy was the first actor to actually accept the offer. He recorded all of his dialogue for the film at a point when the film’s script had a far different structure and a rather regrettable surprise reveal about one of the lead characters. It was at this stage of development that Disney CEO Michael Eisner viewed the film, and infamously post-poned re-negotiations on Disney’s co-production deal with Pixar because he was positive Finding Nemo would flop at which point Disney could force Pixar into a bad deal. Yeaaaaaaaah, Finding Nemo became the highest grossing animated film of all time (until Shrek 2 at least). Oops. Eisner was subsequently forced out of Disney.
However, in Eisner’s defense Stanton has admitted the film simply was kind of a mess for quite a while. Re-working the script was big, but he credits replacing Macy with Albert Brooks as being the film’s true savior, saying of Brooks, “He is exactly what I needed this father character to be. You needed someone who was neurotic, over-protective but still appealing throughout. And that is one of Albert’s gifts. That he can sort of play both. Usually it’s such an off-putting thing. But he just makes it so winning.”
You hear that, William H. Macy? You’re no Albert Brooks. Go cry about it on Felicity Huffman’s shoulder in your big mansion you worthless bum (Source: Jimhillmedia.com).
4) Shrek in Shrek (2001)
Role: Shrek…do you seriously not know who Shrek is?
Original Voice: Chris Farley
Voice We Heard: Mike Myers
The Back Story: The script wasn’t even really finished yet when Chris Farley was cast to voice Shrek, but the animators and writers began tailoring every aspect of the film to Farley’s larger-than-life performance. Then he died in 1997, at which point he had recorded at least over a third of his dialogue. When Farley’s old Saturday Night Live co-star Mike Myers was hired as his replacement the character was re-designed and re-written.
But wait – there’s more. After Myers recorded around half of his dialogue in a non-distinct North American/Canadian voice, DreamWorks screened a rough cut of the film. Myers walked away and came back convinced Shrek should speak with a Scottish brogue, reportedly offering to pay the necessary money to cover the cost of re-recording. It is here where Shrek as we know it really came together. The idea to lampoon fairy-tale characters and take satiric jabs at pop culture properties like The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon first entered into the script. Plus, a mixture of modern and old pop songs were added to the musical score, and the always-present irreverent tone of the script saw an infusion of more heart and empathy.
Point of the story? Whenever you hear that Chris Farley was the original Shrek just remember that the version of the film he was cast in only resembles the Shrek we know in its most basic plot. However, according to Myers the film retains one Farley touch in that everytime Shrek speaks using air quotes it is a reference to a key characteristic of Farley’s SNL character Bennet Bowser (Source(s): Allan Neuwirth’s book Makin’ Toons, ResnickInteractive.com).
5) Pacha in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Role: Pacha, a sweet-natured llama herder
Original Voice: Owen Wilson
Voice We Heard: John Goodman
The Back Story: A remarkably light but immensely enjoyable film about a selfish 18-year-old Incan emperor humbled after being turned into a llama as part of an attempted coup, The Emperor’s New Groove was originally supposed to be so much more. It went into development the same year The Lion King came out (1994), and initially featured the same director, Roger Allers. In Allers’ Prince & The Pauper-with-a-twist version, Incan emperor Kuzco switches places with a peasant named Pacha who looks like him. The evil witch Yzma uses the opportunity to turn Kuzco into a llama and blackmails Pacha into being her figurative puppet Emperor. The llama Kuzco falls in love with a female llama herder, and the two attempt to take down Yzma somehow. This was to be a more traditional Disney musical titled Kingdom of the Sun featuring original songs by Sting, who only joined because of how much money Elton John made doing Lion King.
David Spade was cast as Kuzco, Owen Wilson as Pacha, and Eartha Kitt as Izma, and most if not all of their dialogue was recorded. However, the production was a bit of a mess, and Disney hired Mark Dindal to join as co-director and punch up the story. He tried to make it funnier, adding a dim-witted henchman named Kronk for Yzma. Allers disliked the new direction and quit in 1998, to which Disney responded by threatening to cancel the project entirely. Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer shut down production to re-tool, at which point they dropped the Prince & Pauper stuff entirely, Yzma’s evil plan to block the sun, and all of Sting’s songs as it was no longer going to be a musical. They combined Pacha with the original female love interest and turned it into a bromance. Owen Wilson didn’t really match this new version of Pacha so he was replaced with John Goodman.
Much of this drama was caught in The Sweatbox, an unreleased documentary Sting’s wife made about the making of the film (Source: LaughingPlace.com).
6) Mushu in Mulan (1998)
Role: Mushu, the dragon
Original Voice: Joe Pesci
Voice We Heard: Eddie Murphy
The Back Story: Unlike most of the others on this list, Joe Pesci appears to have barely gotten his foot in the door on Mulan by the time the filmmakers changed their mind. Mushu the dragon was to be a comic relief presence, split into separate entities named Yin and Yang who would meld together in the end to form the whole Mushu. They were looking at Joe Pesci and Richard Dreyfus to voice Yin and Yang, but once they got Pesci into the studio they realized his voice was completely wrong for the role. Disney CEO Michael Eisner intervened and called in an old favor to get Eddie Murphy (who owed some of his fame to Eisner’s assistance behind the scenes on Beverly Hills Cop) to play Mushu, at which point the Yin and Yang concept was dropped. Murphy’s presence greatly informed the writing and animating of the character from that point forward, and it’s worth speculating whether or not DreamWorks would have ever thought of Murphy to voice Donkey in Shrek if not for Mulan (Source: CuratorMagazine.com).
7) Hades in Hercules (1997)
Original Voice: John Lithgow
Voice We Heard: James Woods
The Back Story: On this site, we once described Disney’s Hercules as being “almost unbearably bright and chipper, as if Disney had an autoimmune disorder response to” The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), i.e., the incredibly bleak film they had released one year earlier. However, one aspect of the film which is truly and completely brilliant is James Woods’ vocally inventive performance as Hades. He wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice, though. Heck, he wasn’t even their second choice. They initially asked Jack Nicholson, but had to give up on him when he demanded what he got on Batman-high salary plus a significant percentage of back-end profits. John Lithgow was cast as Hades in the fall of 1994, a part he retained for 9 months. However, no matter what they tried he just wasn’t funny enough in the role. They eventually cut him loose at which point he proved how funny and over-the-top he could be as Dick Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
So, with 20 months to the film’s scheduled release they were without a voice for their villain. The Disney casting department insisted the filmmakers try James Woods in the role, who was only an obvious choice for the part if you had seen his hilarious guest turn as himself in a Simpsons episode which had aired a year earlier at that point. Things didn’t go all that smoothly at first until the filmmakers directed Woods to play it as an impression of the smooth talking producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. The character was even animated to slightly resemble Katzenberg. Why? This was pre-Dreamworks meaning Katzenberg was still a high level producer at Disney, and in that position he was actually forcing the filmmakers to do Hercules in exchange for getting to later make their dream film, Treasure Planet. So, to them Katzenberg was basically the devil (Source: AnimationArchive.net).
8) Laverne the Gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Original Voice: Cyndi Lauper
Voice We Heard: Mary Wickes
The Back Story: Cyndi Lauper is currently experiencing a career high after her musical Kinky Boots won 6 Tony’s, including Best Musical, but nearly 20 years ago she hit a real low when her lifelong dream of voicing a character in a Disney animated film ended when her part in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was re-cast. The film as we know it features gargoyles only Quasimodo speaks to, one of them prim and proper, the other loud and boisterous, and the last kind of like a crazy grandmother. However, when Lauper was hired, joining the cast long before Kevin Kline, Demi Moore, or Tom Hulce, that last gargoyle was meant to be a young and nurturing presence. Unfortunately, Lauper came off way too young and not nearly nurturing enough, and after she was let go they re-conceived the character to be more matronly, casting Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit star Mary Wickes.
Lauper wasn’t alone, though. Character actor Sam McMurray (who, trust me, you’ve probably seen but never caught his name) was the original Hugo, the loud and stupid gargoyle, and he was re-cast at the same time as Lauper. His replacement, Jason Alexander, also had a lifelong dream of voicing a character in a Disney animated film. Well, at least someone had their dream realized (Source: LaughingPlace.com).
9) The Hyenas in The Lion King (1994)
Role(s): The evil hyenas Banzai and Shenzi
Original Voice(s): Nathan Lane & Ernie Sabella
Voice(s) We Heard: Whoopi Goldberg & Cheech Marin
The Back Story: During the auditioning stage for The Lion King, Nathan Lane auditioned for Zazu (the role which went to Rowan Atkinson) and Ernie Sabella for one of the evil hyenas. Lane and Sabella were co-starring together in Guys & Dolls on Broadway at the time and were good friends. When they ran into each other at auditions, the casting people asked them to record dialogue together as the hyenas. Some report this as them having been officially cast in those roles or simply a one-off “let’s have a laugh and see how it goes.” Of course, the resulting recording session so amused everyone it was decided the two were wrong for the hyenas but perfect for the parts of Timon and Pumbaa. For the hyenas, Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg got the parts, although Goldberg only got in because Tommy Chong was unavailable thus preventing an effort to reunite Cheech & Chong as the hyenas. Once Goldberg was cast, her hyena was obviously re-written to be female (Source: The Los Angeles Times).
10) Ursula in The Little Mermaid (1989)
Role: Ursula, the villainous octopus witch
Original Voice: Elaine Stritch
Voice We Heard: Pat Carroll
The Back Story: We poor unfortunate souls were almost robbed of hearing Pat Carroll’s iconic singing of, well, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as Ursula in A Little Mermaid. Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker originally envisioned Bea Arthur, then on The Golden Girls, in the role, and even described Ursula as having a Bea Arthur-type basso voice in the script. However, Musker has argued Arthur’s agent never even gave her the script because the agent was offended that her client would even be thought of as a witch. Elaine Stritch, now known as Alec Baldwin’s bitchy mom on 30 Rock but in 1989 mostly known for (struggling to) sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company, got the part. She began recording her dialogue, using a deep, raspy voice to play Ursula as a kind of boozy witch. However, her struggles with alcoholism and dislike for music director Howard Ashman’s controlling style led to her being fired. Theater actress Pat Carroll got the part, and her campy and deliciously evil performance made for one of the all-time great Disney villains (Source: Allan Neuwirth’s book Makin’ Toons).
Any example I somehow missed in this list? If so, darn! Please let me know. Do you struggle to imagine any of the above original castings sounding as good as the voices we ended up hearing in the role, and if you feel that way isn’t it likely that now that we’ve heard the part done one way it’s hard to imagine it having ever been done any other way? Let me know what you think in the comments.
- Top 10 Actors Who Almost Voiced Disney Animated Characters (geektyrant.com)