Male film producerWhat is the process for casting films based on an animated series when members of the original or current cast (for which a show, movie or otherwise gained its following) are still alive and well?

This question is a timely one and a topic that should be of great interest to the voice over community.
Join in this discussion now and learn more about what goes on behind the scenes.


A couple of days ago, I wrote in article in support of June Foray to raise awareness regarding how she was not approached to participate in any way in the new Smurf film. This article is a follow up to a comment received that questioned why the voice over community was up in arms over this.
I answered the comment and was inspired to learn more about this subject so I called up my friend Marc Graue who works with voice over professionals and celebrities doing voice over on a daily basis at his facility Marc Graue Voice Over Recording Studios in Burbank.

Shouldn’t Talent Trump Celebrity? Apparently Not

My theory as I shared it with Marc Graue (and now with you fine folks!) is that if a film is to be produced and based upon an animated series, for instance Transformers, the original cast, if they be living and able to do their voices just as before, should be in the very least extended an invitation to audition.

Sounds reasonable, right?
Marc confirmed that if the voice talent still has what it takes to do their role, for example in the case of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime in Transformers, they may be considered and even booked should their voice and delivery be what the director has in mind.

While this is true in a variety of cases, Marc added that more often than not it is celebrity that trumps talent which is why we are seeing so many people cast in roles that don’t quite match up with our expectations, especially if there was an animated series with beloved voices that first breathed life into the character roles up for casting.

Another factor that may come into play is that if a television series is older, let’s say from the 80s like The A-Team, producers making an updated version may want to make it grittier than its previous existence to please theatergoers at the box office.

Community VS Hollywood Casting

For any of you familiar with communities, the Transformers, Star Wars and Star Trek communities being of particular note, you know that they are almost zealous about the plot lines, characters and participate with unrestrained gusto via forums, conventions and podcasts.

These are the same people that the franchise derives much of its ongoing support, merchandising sales and following. A community built around a franchise is important (and of immediate benefit), but when it comes to casting, their influence is nowhere near as prominent as one might think.
What surprised me most is just how little the community surrounding the franchise factors into the decisions made by those involved with the film in pre-production meetings.

Pre-Production Meetings and Preliminary Casting

During these meetings, casting ideas are explored and comparisons made between who may be a better artistic fit than a better box office fit.
Here’s an example:
The new Yogi Bear movie due out December 2010 has been cast as follows:
Dan Aykroyd as Yogi Bear
Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo Bear
I’ve never heard Dan Aykroyd as Yogi before so perhaps we are in for a treat. Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo has certainly made me curious.

If one were to cast based upon being able to deliver Yogi’s lines in the voice and style of how Daws Butler did it, there are literally hundreds of voice over pros across the country who could do it at varying levels of proximity to Daws’ original interpretation… but is that what the producers want and will a relatively “unknown” but extremely gifted voice talent have what it takes to land the top spot on their opening weekend at the box office?
Nowadays, it’s sound bites that sell seats in theaters, not talent.

This is a regular occurrence in feature film but not so much in television. Always look for that silver lining!
One exception of note to the celebrity vs talent in a feature film is Ellen DeGeneres and her role as Dory in Finding Nemo. While known as a celebrity, her celebrity status may not have been the primary reason why she got the gig… if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that Ellen is talented!

Any Thoughts?

Regardless of how unfortunate this is or how upsetting it may be to fans or performers whose hearts are connected to the pursuit of excellence, this is how it is. A cultural shift has taken place where talent is no longer the most important contributing factor that ensures box office success with the general public.
Do you have anything you would like to add?
Best wishes,
© Singular


  1. Stephanie,
    The main goal of casting, no matter what casting, is the bottom line.
    Be that bottom line, more ticket sales, better response to an ad, and so on…
    No matter what the fans might really want, it is completely up to the producers and directors… And they just may be right. The chips fall where they may.
    But of course, on the rare occasion, they will listen to the fans.
    Good article..

  2. Stephanie–thanks for this straight-forward insight, “A cultural shift has taken place where talent is no longer the most important contributing factor that ensures box office success with the general public.”
    So I have this idea, see…a bunch of us under-employed voice actors get together and star in our own reality TV series called, “Voiceover House!” â„¢. We live together and converse in our various performing voices, mainly complaining all day about how celebrities are stealing our pay checks.
    Then we become overnight celebrities because of ‘Voiceover House!”. We get invited to red carpet events, talk shows, award ceremonies, and…voila!…we’ve earned enough celebrity to get hired to to what we’re best at…Voiceover.
    Whaddya think?

  3. While I completely support VO talent booking substantial roles – especially the ones they deserve….I once asked Bob Bergen – “Why do celebrities get all the animated films?” His response to me made a ton a sense. It doesn’t mean we have to agree or like it, but it made sense.
    In the history of disney movies and the like (Short of a few exceptions obviously) they have always used celebrity voices (Perhaps not as much as they do now) and what’s changed is that instead of doing one movie a year or even less in some cases, now they are doing several movies a year….so now it seems like they are all voicing jobs we could do – but they always have…with more animations, it’s just more obvious at this point and the audience has caught on.
    Prior to this century, no one really cared who voiced what….now the celebrities have put a curiousity in our audience, so in some way’s they are exposing us more and more – even though we’re not getting the features.
    In the case of June Foray – I believe it’s unfair absolutely…however Smurfs was a TV series, not a feature film and as much as OUR community knows June – the rest of the world does not…so they won’t be as curious as they will be if it’s someone they are familiar with.
    It’s disheartening to ask someone if they know about June or Daws Butler and they say “WHO”….very disheartening…but I try and do my share and expose who they are to the world.
    We want celebrity recognition, but in fact it is PERFECT that we don’t have it as no one cares who we sleep with and what crazy drugs we are doing LOL……seriously…we have the best kind of fame we could ask for….selected fame. Look at Nancy Cartwright….everyone knows her name, but she can still live a normal (Very rich mind you) life……that’s the perfect package…
    So while I wish we had the recognition of our craft they way celebrities do, I appreciate that the Paparazzi doesn’t want to know about us – just the fans…..and they really want to know more about our character…..
    So I do understand it as a benefit – perhaps not for JUNE in this situation – but there is great benefit to doing ALL the other VO work. Now if they start taking that away – okay, then I will come out fighting…..
    I was appauled at an Oprah show on SHREK. She interviewed Eddy Murphy and he bragged about his home studio and that he did it all from his home studio (WHAT THE??)(*#@)($*) None of us get that luxury when it comes to cartoons…we must be in the studio – and Eddy educating the world on home studios? WHATEVER….his studio to be equipped for animation – was far from a HOME studio – it was a PRO studio worth MEGA BUCKS I’m sure… I do wish someone like Oprah (or me perhaps) can start exposing the REAL voice talents to the world…..they will all be fascinated…they just don’t know it yet
    Thanks for writing this for June Stephanie…I’m sure she will appreciate all this support very much. We support you, admire you and love you June Foray – and will consistently fight for one of the BRAVEST, most incredible female voice talent that ever existed (AND MY IDOL)
    All my best
    Deb Munro
    My Voice, Your Way

  4. On the surface it seems to be kind and respectful for the producers to invite June Foray to audition. …but perhaps the producers rejected her out-of-hand because the objective is to revitalize and extend the Smurf franchise for another decade. The time to switch voices is now, not after life is breathed into the animated characters. They did what I (in my producer role) would have done. It may seem cold-hearted, but this business always has been. Voice actors are talent: if A can’t do it, hire B; if B can’t do it, put the janitor in the booth; same:same.
    Now as voice actors we’d like a little respect; too bad, so sad, that’s life. Of the zillions of VOs today, how many are so unique and capable that they cannot be replaced within an hour of searching and at a small fraction of the session fee?
    Sorry, guess I’m just a grumpy old guy with no time for foolishness.

  5. I’m all for a grassroots effort to get a gig for June Foray – I agree it was not “nice” to dis her – but when were Hollywood producers known for being “nice”? I don’t believe it is in their job description. The idea is to make money and a known entity with box office appeal is pretty compelling. Don’t forget this is Big Business. Besides the fact that a lot of money is spent promoting a movie, audiences WANT to hear actors they know make animated characters come to life. It is part of the draw. Let’s face it – that is part of the fun – just figuring it out. Who hasn’t watched an animation and said – “I recognize the voice, but can’t think of who that is” (unless you are a kid, and then it doesn’t matter, except a kid is not buying the tickets). And obviously it must make money because a known actor is going to cost a heck of a lot more than an unknown “gifted” talent.
    And really, it sounds pretty foolish to hear voice actors complain that screen actors are not “talent” – really! Dan Ackroyd and Justin Timberlake are not just “celebrities” they are very talented performers. And Eddie Murphy, no doubt, has a top of the line studio (and probably his own engineer) at his mansion. And when he’s hired, it is for, not only his Talent, but his name.
    Notoriety sells – so if you want to compete you really need to jump into that pond – no matter how big a fish you think you are behind the mic, you need to be a marketable commodity to make it “big” in Hollywood.
    No body said this business is fair. My suggestion is to get over it and continue to do the best work you can do and hope that you get an opportunity to be heard, hired and paid.

  6. At the very least, this movie should include both Ms. June Foray and Lucil Bliss (Smurfette) in some capacity. I haven’t seen Lucille in a couple of years, but she’s always been a tough broad and I think that both she and June could handle slightly toned down regular recording schedules and still knock the ball out of the park.
    Does this project really require all of this star power? Apparently, I have been a good enough talent to do the voice of Papa Smurf for some toys and games, but I wasn’t given a second thought with regards to this project. I’m no Jonathan Winters, but is Jonathan Winters a Papa Smurf.
    I idolize Don Messick and have been lucky enough to play a few of his characters since his passing in 1997. Understandably, he and the other regularly appearing Smurf cast members who are no longer with us would need to be replaced. Given the circumstances, it would have been nice to have been given even a chance to read for Papa Smurf, although it woulld seem that the producers may be going for star power alone to drive box office.
    Not including June and Lucille is criminal and thoughtless. It will be curious to see if they are given some opportunity to perform cameos (isit too late to mend fences?). We will also have to wait and see if this project delivers or disappoints. The Smurfs hold a very special place for many people.

  7. This very same story happened to a good friend of mine.
    She was a lead character on a pilot for an animated TV series here in NYC, which then got produced and aired in England.
    At that point it was relatively easy to accept that they wanted British voices for their market, but when it came time to produce it for the US, no invitation to audition– no nuttin’ honey!
    It’s the nature of the beast that work ebbs and flows. Sometimes what you think you’re holding in your hand one day, slips through your fingers the next!
    Thanks, Stephanie.

  8. Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for the article. The idea of a live-action Yogi Bear movie with Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo scares the pants off of me! Fortunately, like Yogi, I’m still wearing a hat and tie…
    The upcoming Toy Story movie has added to their cast, and a few names raised my eyebrows. In particular, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Picklepants. He’s a good actor, but is he a box-office draw? And does he bring something more to the character than a talented unknown? We won’t know until the films release next month.
    Pixar has a great track record, obviously, but do you remember who stole the show in their last big hit, “Up”? It was Dug the Dog. A character that was voiced by one of the film’s writer/directors. Not a celebrity.
    I can even understand stunt-casting a couple of leads… but an entire cast? Is it worth the money?
    I think the common wisdom is that celebrities sell tickets, but it’s not always so. Think of how many live action films go down in flames at the box-office, despite their star power. A good story, good characters, and good casting (regardless of celebrity) should be what matter most. At some level, the decision-makers are simply acting like lemmings and making these casting choices because it’s what everyone else in town would do. Not because the decision has merit.

  9. I read this and kept asking myself, “When did animated cartoons stop being a business?” It is not just theatricals that have to make money. It’s the same economic factors involved in animation as there are in radio, tv and film. The producers want/need to make money.
    Foray, Butler, Blanc, Ravenscroft et al. made a lot of money their producers in their prime. Disney, Warner Bros and Hanna Barbera would not have allowed it otherwise.
    As an example, and nothing against Akroid, but casting Dan Akroid as Yogi Bear makes the same sense to me and casting Daws Butler to be a Ghostbuster. What was the criteria used to make that casting decision? Gee, let’s get some with no VO experience and who has never does a cartoon character voice before (certainly not this character)? Where are these casting notices posted? I want to audition and get what I have no prior experience for as well.
    If you want to use new talent to draw in new audience fine. Ask yourself: Is Akroid new enough for Smurf age audiences? When available, why not also use the nostalgic, original voices on these projects to bring the rest of use who remember the original cast. Two markets equals more revenue. The producers want more tickets sold. This would be a win for everyone.
    Just look at the terrible box office Rocky & Bullwinkle feature had. Great named talent on screen, awful voicings of animated characters and non-existent story. Trashed franchise.
    As all of us who sell our voice, not our face, know that voice acting is much more challenging as a primary career. It is disrespectful to us to consider this as a secondary income type job by out of work screen actors. And as many a film/tv actor has told me, it was much more work and more challenging then they realized. Doh!
    When I see an big screen version of an animation I come to see the animated characters tell their story in their own (original) voice. Don’t you?


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