Following on from last week’s piece about the rise of celebrity voice-overs, we take a closer look at some of the biggest animated films of 2013. This article – the first of two – focuses on the voices behind Frozen, Epic and Despicable Me 2.
Disney’s 53rd animated feature, Frozen, is loosely based on The Snow Queen, and tells the tale of two royal sisters – Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) – who live in the icy kingdom of Arendelle. Reviewers have applauded the fact that there are two strong and unconventional female lead characters in the film.
Kristen Bell has said she was drawn to the project for several reasons – not least of which was that she was able to do her recording sessions while heavily pregnant. But there was also the appeal of playing a different kind of heroine.
In an interview with The Independent, Bell said: “I really just wanted to break the mould of this ‘Disney princess’ altogether. I wanted her to be someone that I felt like when I was little. I was awkward and clumsy and goofy.”
Demonstrating the influence of the celebrity voice-over, she even persuaded Disney to incorporate some of her ideas into the character – for example Anna snorts, she trips over, she wakes up with hair in her mouth.
Blue Sky Studios’ latest animated feature, Epic, is the story of a teenage girl who is shrunk to the size of a fairy and becomes involved in a battle between good and evil, in a magical forest.
The guardian of the forest, Queen Tara, is voiced by Beyoncé Knowles, in her first animated film project. She became involved for several reasons – partly to widen her repertoire (even further), and partly because she was about to become a mother and felt that Tara would be a good role model for her daughter.
The studio took full advantage of landing such a huge star and, as is increasingly common in animated films these days, adapted the character of Tara to reflect the voice behind her.
In an interview provided by Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Knowles described the process: “The animators based much of their work on footage of us recording our lines, so my facial expressions and body language have been a part of Tara. It’s strange and exciting to see the process, to see Tara come to life.”
Despicable Me 2
Universal’s sequel to Despicable Me – which has been even more successful than its predecessor – features two of America’s best-known comedians, Steve Carell (Gru) and Kirsten Wiig (Lucy).
So what attracted Wiig to working in animated films? She recently told the Guardian: “It’s really fun, because it’s very freeing and you can do a million different takes. And you don’t have to worry about hair and makeup.”
She has also said that the pleasure of providing over-the-top voices for film characters reminds her of the sketches she used to perform for the TV show Saturday Night Live.
How about Carell – what’s the draw for him, apart from the fun factor? Presumably being a father of two helps him identify with the part of new-dad Gru – and not only do his own children get to see his film, but one of them even got the chance to be in it – his nine-year-old son did one of the minion’s voices. Now that’s a perk of being a famous voice-over actor.