Voice Acting is an art form in its own right; it's genre-specific. Over the years we've seen a shift, with more film actors taking on lead roles in animated films whereas in years past the industry relied on professionally trained voice actors. Voice acting is a different profession than live action, one that requires a different amount of skills where VAs are trained to convey facial expressions and body language through the words and melodies imposed on each sentence.
Charles Bramesco wrote an interesting story for The Guardian focused on this topic. Check out his article below, and let us know your thoughts:
The rumors of Chris Pratt’s badness have been greatly – well, maybe not greatly, but at least somewhat – exaggerated. When the first trailer for the upcoming Super Mario Bros Movie teased his vocal performance as the overall-clad plumber of 8-bit repute, fans began gnashing their teeth harder than a thicket of piranha plants, outraged to hear that he’d eschewed the character’s distinctive spicy-meat-a-ball accent in favor of a more dialed-back Noo Yawkah inflection. Which is fair enough, those little cries of wa-hoo! probably would’ve gotten old after an hour or so, not to mention the inevitable backlash from Italian anti-discrimination activists. The integral Mario-ness of his performance comes and goes, to the point that most of the time, he just sounds like Chris Pratt. He’s not horrible in the role, but there’s not really anything to recommend him as the right match for this specific character, either.
It’s not long before a viewer realizes that the overt presence of Pratt must have surely been the point of casting him, a notion more apparent in Anya Taylor-Joy’s minimal-effort line-reads as Princess Peach. She makes zero attempt to transform her voice, or to introduce a more animated quality to brighten up her normal speech. A charitable viewer might suggest that her slight smoker’s rasp befits the film’s baldfaced goal to present a less bubbly, more grounded take on the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, but all the same, she doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of individual intangibles. These deficiencies in her and Pratt’s underwhelming approach to cartoonifying themselves jump right out whenever Jack Black’s Bowser occupies the screen, a glaring reminder of what good voice acting feels like. Cannily chosen for his boisterous roar capable of turning on a dime into an absurd little tenderness, Black massages a growly undercurrent into his readings and invites the supervillain’s Broadway-caliber theatricality to run away with him. He’s varied, he’s expressive and, most of all, he’s having fun.
This contrast serves as a reminder of how close Hollywood has come to losing its way as standard operating procedure for vocal talent in animated cinema circles the warp-pipe drain. Illumination, the studio behind Mario’s soul-numbing new adventure, ranks as the worst repeat offender in this emergent protocol of unimaginative stunt casting: their execrable Sing franchise taps a choir’s worth of big names including Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey, their passable musical chops expected to compensate for an across-the-board absence of texture or flavor. When Harrison Ford pops up as a pooch in The Secret Life of Pets 2, are kids meant to delight in his grumbling so uninvested that we can almost hear his desire to leave the recording booth and get back to flying his planes? Or are the grownups in the crowd supposed to enjoy a small smirk of recognition as they identify Indiana Jones? From Chris Evans’s unremarkable Buzz Lightyear to Jake Gyllenhaal’s interchangeable dad in Strange World, the junior focus group sketch from The Sack Lunch Bunch tried to warn us about this.
Even within the dictates of industry realities – it helps to have a star if you’re going to sell the public on a new movie release – there’s an art to pairing a part with the right personality. Think of James Woods as the hotheaded hell-deity Hades in Hercules, steering his unmistakable motormouth toward a schmoozier, lounge singer-type register. Without stretching too far outside himself, he demonstrates an understanding of the cardinal rule that voice acting can’t simply be acting without the visual component, that facial expressions and body language must be conveyed through the melodies they impose on each sentence. We’ve got a whole professional class of experts who have spent their whole lives getting really good at this; they’re called professional voice actors, and these days, they’re just worried about making rent.
Not so long ago, conventional wisdom acknowledged that sky-high grosses can still be achieved with an actor of Jodi Benson’s stature in the lead role. (You may know her best as the coveted voice of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.) Something’s shifted since then. The sinister forces behind the proliferation of AI would love nothing more than an efficient, bleak future in which replicable celebrity vocal patterns count for far more than the personal, human idiosyncrasies of their use. In this respect, the rainbow-streaked fantasyland of Mario’s universe takes on a pall of the dystopian. With Pratt’s bewilderingly played straight “let’s a-go”, those listening closely can hear a prophecy of lost opportunities and grim eventualities. He says it as a bid for gravitas, a lunge toward a more mature Mario in keeping with the film’s filling in of his backstory with a boisterous family and father who doesn’t believe in him. And so maybe this troubling decline in voice acting speaks to a larger crisis in kiddie cinema, the need to be taken seriously driving casting directors toward the wrong kind of serious actor. (To read this story on The Guardian's website, click here)
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