What happens when the voice behind one of your beloved animated characters dies or retires?
Is there generally a succession plan in place for the most popular roles?
Discover more about the role of character caretakers in today’s Vox Daily.
What Goes into Making a Character Great?
Those that stand the test of time share a variety of qualities. Some of the most popular animated characters of all-time have continued on because of the dedication to excellence and integrity their caretakers have painstakingly applied.
Everyone from writers to animators to voice artists play a role in the preservation and authentic sustaining of an iconic persona the likes of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and even Dora the Explorer, all of which have undergone multiple successions.
The secret to why a character endures? The answer lies in its popularity and how it is cared for.
When Greatness Bows Out
Some actors, like Walt Disney, have stepped willingly out of the way for others to take their place, but when someone passes away, there is a deeper void that is harder to fill. Their voices are so closely tied to the character that it is hard to think of anyone replacing them.
As I type this, I can’t help but think of Robin Williams, the original voice of Genie in Disney’s Aladdin franchise. Before Williams died in 2014, he had already made room for a successor to the role, Jim Meskimen, who has been voicing Disney’s Genie character since 2008.
Following Robin Williams’ death, Jim was faced with a question along the lines of, “Should I continue to do Robin Williams’ voice, now that he’s gone?” He answers this question in the form of a poem and in Williams’ voice.
Watch Jim Meskimen’s Robin Williams Tribute video on YouTube
The character was so knit to Williams’ larger-than-life personality that it takes a similar character genius with his heart in the right place like Meskimen to do justice to the role. And, as it would happen, Meskimen’s voice may be the only one Genie has for the foreseeable future because Robin Williams’ will stipulated that his past work cannot be used in future productions. I’m not sure of the extent to which this applies, but if you know more, be sure to leave a comment.
When it comes to iconic characters and brand mascots, the issue of succession and care taking becomes very real.
Consider Tony the Tiger from Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, voiced by veteran voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft for over fifty years. Prior to Ravenscroft’s death in 2005, voice actor Lee Marshall had already been waiting in the wings, voicing Tony the Tiger here and there since 1999. Upon Ravenscroft’s death, Marshall would take over the role completely until he passed away in 2014.
Warner Bros. Succession for Bugs Bunny
As you might have heard in recent weeks, voice artist Joe Alaskey passed away at age 63. Alaskey served as one the voice actors who succeeded Mel Blanc (d. 1989) in voicing Bugs Bunny and other prominent Looney Tunes roles including (but not limited to) Sylvester, Tweety, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Marvin the Martian.
If you visit the link on “Bugs Bunny” above, it will take you to Behind the Voice Actors, a site that celebrates character roles. This link in particular will take you to a page about Bugs Bunny and all the voice actors who have voiced the roles and their respective productions. Jeff Bergman has voiced Bugs most recently in the 2015 release, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run. Fan favorite Billy West has also voiced Bugs Bunny in the past.
What Gives Characters Staying Power?
Surely you are a fan of a character that wasn’t mentioned here (or maybe, you’re a fan of a character that was!).
What characters do you feel have experienced the greatest longevity and why?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!