Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Los Angeles Quick! Can you name who did the voice of Snow White? Or Cinderella? How about the Little Mermaid?
It's OK if the names Adriana Caselotti, Ilene Woods and Jodi Benson don't immediately spring to mind -- they were never promoted or paid as stars when their most famous screen characters debuted.
But now try naming the actors who voiced Shrek, the Genie from "Aladdin" or Woody the cowboy from "Toy Story," and it's easy to think of Mike Myers, Robin Williams and Tom Hanks.
Performing animation was not considered prestige work decades ago, but those three performances have changed things over the past 10 years.
Now, practically every cartoon features famous voices.
The new undersea gangster comedy "Shark Tale" has a slew of them.
The computer-animated story of a scared little fish (Will Smith) who becomes famous as a "shark slayer" by surviving a shark attack when an anchor lands on his predator features the voices of 12 famed actors
Jack Black is his vegetarian shark buddy, Robert De Niro the menacing undersea gangster mourning his son, and Martin Scorsese a puffy-eyebrowed pufferfish. Renee Zellweger plays a love-stricken angel fish, "The Sopranos" Emmy winner Michael Imperioli Black's vicious brother, Peter Falk an aging gangster shark and Angelina Jolie a femme fatale.
Add to the mix "The Sopranos" actor Vincent Pastore as an octopus, Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug as Rastafarian jellyfish, and "Today" show host Katie Couric as the fish reporter Katie Current.
Decades ago, Walt Disney barred Caselotti -- who was 18 when she earned about $970 for her work -- from making any public appearances. He didn't want viewers to put a face to Snow White's voice. Caselotti, who died in 1997 at 80, often said she deserved more, but never sued for it.
What changed over the years?
For one, Peggy Lee, one of the rare celebrity voices to do a cartoon years ago, successfully sued Disney for more money after the videocassette success of 1955's "Lady and the Tramp," opening the door for better pay.
Studios now find that a star is one more attraction for audiences. And actors find it's easy work.
Over two years, Black said he went in about a dozen times to record the voice of Lenny, his nebbishy, bashful shark.
"I did it all by myself, except I did a little bit with Will Smith at the end. That felt like kind of a symbolic meeting of the thingies, just in case some magic happened between us. For the most part, it's an isolated experience and I like it that way."
Black said the iconic status of being a cartoon had similar appeal for him, which is why he agreed to do "Shark Tale" before a script was even finished.
"I've wanted to do it ever since I saw Robin Williams in 'Aladdin,"' Black said. "I thought he was so awesome in that. I think it might have been his best performance because it was cool to see him go all the way insane with this crazy cartoon character taking care of the body. I wanted to do something like that."