Voice actors don't receive enough credit for their work - by Sam Sweeney

An article exploring the mistreatment of voice acting in the entertainment world.

Voice actors don't receive enough credit for their work - by Sam Sweeney

I think voice acting is a really important part of animation, video games and other mediums. A lot of work goes into voice acting - it’s more than simply reading out lines, it's building a character and making the noises associated with the action (e.g. grunts if playing sport) which are harder to do if you aren’t physically acting out the action. The problem however, is that voice actors do not gain the same level of recognition as regular actors. For example, everyone knows Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh or Mickey Mouse but few people know the actor that voiced those characters. Whereas, everyone knows the character of James Bond or Iron Man AND the actors that play them. It also feels like production companies do not value voice actors on the same level as celebrity actors, it is not unusual for a voice actor who has voiced a character for years to be re-cast without being informed and replaced by a celebrity actor ahead of a film.

I finally became fed up with celebrity re-casting when the cast of the new mario movie was announced. I was so frustrated when it was revealed that all the characters would be voiced by celebrities, I was especially annoyed that the voice actor who has played Mario for years (he’s played Mario across so many different games he has a Guinness world record!) was going to be replaced by Chris Pratt. The initial trailers didn’t convince me of his casting either - Chris Pratt sounded boring and uninteresting, it appeared he was going to play Mario with his own voice. On the other hand, you could argue that these characters do not speak very much in the games so perhaps you do need to cast a different kind of actor for the film. I also was excited when Jack Black was announced as Bowser because he has a good track record of great voice acting performances. During the trailers I also enjoyed the voice work of other characters, like Luigi and Toad. However, this doesn’t change the big issue here, which is a long running voice actor being recast for a celebrity.

One of the big examples of this happening is with the 2020 film Scoob. One of the biggest controversies of the film was that, aside from Scooby Doo, all of the other characters were recast with celebrities replacing them. The actor who played Fred has voiced him since the very first series, AND is already the voice actor for Scooby Doo and so was in the film already, which made his replacement a big controversy. It’s bad enough that they were replaced, but many of the actors weren't even informed that they had been replaced and were very unhappy that they wouldn’t be returning. People will justify this by saying that they need recognisable people to encourage audiences to see the film, but Scooby Doo is such a recognisable show with key characters I don’t think this is right. Zac Efron being cast as Fred won’t encourage anyone to see the film who wasn’t interested in Scooby Doo already - he did a serviceable job but he’s not a voice actor. 

Unfortunately, recasting happens a lot. A similar thing happened with the second Space Jam movie. The character of Lola Bunny  was originally going to be voiced by a voice actor, who even recorded all of the lines, only to be replaced by Zendaya so they could promote the film with a star name. This was especially frustrating as they were already the only voice actor credited in the film and trailer. Another example is the 1990s Jettson movie, all of the voice actors recorded their lines, only for one actor to be replaced by a famous pop star from the time. It was so hated that one of the casting directors asked not to be credited in the film because she felt strongly against that choice and didn’t want to be blamed for it. It ends up being stupid in the long run as the celebrity is no longer a celebrity, so the casting doesn’t have the same star quality and it dates the film.

This issue of voice actors being recast is even just limited to voice actors being replaced by celebrities. For example, in the 2016 Powerpuff Girls reboot the voice actors for the 3 lead characters were all re-cast and not informed, they only found out about the change when the casting was announced on social media. This really upset Tara Strong, the voice actor for Bubbles, as she had been waiting for the call to reprise the role since the reboot was announced. She said it was like a ‘stab in the heart’ to see she had been replaced as she has so much love for all the characters she plays. She similarly complained when Mario’s original voice actor, Charles Martinet, was replaced by Chris Pratt for the Mario movie. 

Going back to the Mario movie, when the film was released I went to see it at the opening screening. I actually really enjoyed Chris Pratt’s performance as Mario and thought he did a good job for the Mario he was portraying. The Mario character in the film was a typical everyday hero, whereas the characterisation in the games is more cartoon-ish. There are occasions when Chris Pratt adopts a more cartoonish style, so he is clearly paying homage to the original voice while adopting his own characterisation at the same time. I think most of the other celebrities did a good job, most notably Jack Black as Bowser and Charlie Day as Luigi. However, I felt that Seth Rogan’s performance as Donkey Kong was very bad. In an interview I read before I saw the film, Seth Rogan admitted that he doesn’t attempt to perform a different voice but simply voices characters in his own voice, which I think shows a lack of respect for the art form. This is particularly frustrating given he receives a lot of voice roles, just playing Seth Rogan, whilst there are other trained voice actors who put a lot of effort in. Every other celebrity, like Chris Pratt, is at least trying to give a good voice performance but Seth Rogan clearly isn’t. 

Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet, also does star in the film in two good cameos, which somewhat makes up for him not being cast as the two cameos made sense. At one point he praises Mario's performance, and in the other cameo he plays Mario’s dad, which makes it feel like he is endorsing the new voice. When I looked up the voice cast, there were a lot of voice actors playing minor characters in the film, for example most of Mario’s family were played by voice actors, which is good. While this is a good start to have voice actors in a mainstream film, it is a shame that they only play bit parts and cameos. However, in some rare cases the original voice actors are invited to reprise their main roles in a follow-up film/series. For example, the original voice actor for Scooby Doo continued to play the character in Scoob. However, the best example of this is the movie Christopher Robin, where the original voice actor for both Winnie the Pooh and Tiger returned to play the roles. He was originally only meant to play Winnie-the-Pooh but he did such a good job he was brought back to re-dub Tiger. This is almost a reverse of earlier examples, as the voice actor redubbed over celebrity actor Chris O’Dowd’s portrayal of Tiger which was judged not to work in the test screenings. 

Chris Pratt’s performance in the Mario movie, and in the Lego movie, demonstrates that celebrity actors aren’t always poor voice actors. Other good examples are Ryan Reynolds in Detective Pikachu; Jack Black in Kung Fu Panda and Will Arnett in Bojack Horseman. Other actors such as Tim Curry and Mark Hammil started in TV/Film performances but then transitioned into voice acting and have played many successful roles. When Mark Hammil guest starred on the Simpsons, the producers originally wanted him to play himself, but he wanted to play an actual original character which I think shows how seriously he takes his voice acting. I think perhaps the issue is less the celebrities and more the direction. For example, when I watched the Chip and Dale movie I thought the actor who played Chip gave a poor performance, his voice was dull and didn’t emote at all. But then I watched Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and really enjoyed the voice performance of Jack Horner and was shocked to see the character was voiced by the same celebrity, John Malaney. This has made me realise how important the role of the voice director is in creating good voice performances, as the same actors have given some poor performances when the direction has been poor. This is very similar to when actors in film/tv give poor performances as a result of poor direction and I think demonstrates that voice acting is an equivalently skilled role. 

One of the biggest issues in Voice Acting is pay - a lot of voice actors are not paid as much as I believe they should be. Unfortunately, however, not all actors go the right way around getting higher pay. For example, for the release of Bayonetta 3, the voice of the title character was recast and no one really knew why as there was no official statement explaining the re-casting. Then, a few weeks before the game came out, the original actor Helena Taylor made a video on Twitter stating that she had been offered an insulting amount to voice the entire game and refused to continue, leading to her being recast. Helena Taylor then implored the fans to boycott the game in support of her. At first, this sounded believable and a lot of voice actors stood in support of her as they have first hand knowledge and experience of companies mistreating voice actors. However, people started re-watching the video again and identified inconsistencies with the message, most notably the fact she threw the new voice actor under the bus by saying that the new actor didn’t have the right to call herself the voice of Bayonetta or to sign merchandise. Not only did this seem weird for her to attack the voice actor when seemingly the whole point of her video was to stand up for voice actors, but also the new voice actor was a very successful and experienced voice actor who has previously spoken out about mistreatment of voice actors, so it seemed unlikely that they would accept the low fee Helena Taylor claimed was on offer. Her story then came crumbling down when a very reputable and well respected games journalist published a story claiming she wasn’t being truthful with what she had said about the pay offer she was given. In actuality she had been offered a lot more than she claimed to voice the whole game, the fee she had quoted was what she had been offered for a cameo role after she turned down the offer to voice the whole game. Helena Taylor doubled down on her original claims but dug herself into a hole. In trying to debunk the claim, she essentially confirmed that she had quoted the offer for the cameo role, not the offer for the whole game. After this, all the voice actors who had stood by her realised she was lying and were disappointed, as it damaged the issue of unfair pay in voice acting by making people take it less seriously as a concern.

Part of the reason Helena Taylor’s claims were found to be untrue is that Bayonetta 3 is a unionised game company and therefore, by law, they have to pay rates agreed to be fair by the unions. Sometimes companies try to encourage voice actors to record all their lines in one day if they are unionised to make recording cheaper, but this wouldn’t have been possible for a lead character. This might however explain the lower fee for a cameo role as this could realistically have been recorded in one day.  Unions sometimes affect voice acting a lot. For example for the SMASH brothers series, the character Cloud was unable to use the English voice actor as he was union-based and he couldn’t voice a character as the series wasn’t unionised and he contractually had to be credited if he played the character. For that reason, in the sequel, Cloud is one of the only characters who still speaks Japanese in all regions. This has also happened for Street Fighter Six, a lot of the voice actors were re-cast as they didn’t want to work with a non-unionised company. In some ways unions have improved voice acting conditions for actors, but this can come at the cost of fan experience if actors are replaced. 

Another big instance of a voice actor complaining about pay was the new Futurama series. The actor who plays Bender, John DiMaggio, originally didn’t sign on to return to the show. This was due to him feeling like the pay offered was not enough. However, unlike Helena Taylor, he wasn’t complaining about his individual pay but the pay of the entire cast. He did eventually agree to join the show, despite not being given the pay rise he felt they deserved, but he said he was happy to at least get his message across and inform audiences that voice actor pay is not as good as it should be. These pay disputes demonstrate that voice actors do not get as much pay as they should do, especially considering the amount of work they have to put in compared to other actors, suggesting they are underappreciated in the industry. Unfortunately, as shown with Helena Taylor, not all voice actors go the right way about this and should be more like John DiMaggio who wanted better pay and respect for voice actors in general.

One of the biggest issues faced by voice acting is that it is not treated as a proper skill, which might suggest why they are not paid so much. I watched an interview starring Rob Brydon. Before becoming a TV actor and comedian, Rob Brydon was a voiceover artist. He said one of the hardest part of voice acting was making noises like grunts, for example if he is pretending to be in a fight he has to make all the noises you’d expect in that situation without physically doing any of the action. He similarly spoke about the time he did a point and click video game and said he had a huge amount of dialogue to record, as he had to record speech for every possible thing the character could do. He also said that he would regularly have to re-record multiple takes of a line so that the director could see if there was a better version he could do. Despite how skilled voice acting clearly is, when Rob Brydon became famous he started being asked just to perform characters with his natural voice. It became more important for companies to be able to say they had cast Rob Brydon then to have an interesting vocal performance. You can understand why they would do that as someone might be more interested in a product if they recognise Rob Brydon, but it’s a shame that is valued higher than his talent as a voice actor.

For the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 film, many of the original voice actors were replaced by celebrity casting. The biggest example of this was Idris Elba being cast as Knuckles. I think Idris Elba did a good job in the film and I think he is one of the few celebrities who is actually good at voice acting, probably because he has a unique voice. However, when doing an interview for the film he said something that really rubbed me the wrong way. When talking about the character of Knuckles, one of the things he stated was that he was unsure how the character would sound and act. I found this to be very disrespectful to all the voice actors who had voiced Knuckles in other media. Whilst I don’t think Idris Elba was being intentionally mean, it still showcased a dismissiveness to the many voices Knuckles has previously had. Whilst I am fine with Elba doing his own take on the character, who should still have looked at or acknowledged what other people’s take on the character has been. What is weird is that the character of Tails was voiced by the original voice actor, so it’s not like he had no knowledge of the original voice acting cast as he is working with one of them. The dismissiveness shown by Idris Elba is seen too often in the industry, to the extent that nice people who wouldn’t actively try and cause hurt are dismissing voice actors passively without even realising they are doing it.

One place where I feel voice acting is respected is in the gaming world. This is mostly shown by the fact The Game Awards have an award for the Best Voice Actor of the Year. The award this year was given to Christopjer Judge who voices Kratos in the God of War: Ragnarok game. But perhaps one of the main reasons why voice acting isn’t taken seriously is because animation as  a medium is mistreated in Hollywood. This is most notably shown during the Oscars. The best animated feature category was first introduced in 2002, and whilst it was good to see animated films get a lot of recognition, it seemed it was only introduced to stop animated films from being nominated for Best Picture. This was most notably shown during the 2009 Award ceremony when WALL-E, which had been pipped to win Best Feature, wasn’t even nominated. In recent years, most Best Animated feature wins go to Disney and PIXAR. This is because best Animated Picture is one of only two categories where the voters do not have to watch every film in the category, so they end up just voting for the Disney nominees as they recognise the production company and their children would have seen the film. This is why many indie animated films and animations designed for adult audiences never win best animated feature. 

One of the main reasons for this dismissal is that people tend to view animated films as kids films. This reached its boiling point in the 2022 Academy Awards, where the Live Action Disney Princesses presented the award for animation and gave a speech saying animated films were films kids loved and parents had to suffer watching over and over again. This was heavily criticised online, to the point where a director of one of the films nominated published a comment on twitter expressing his disappointment about how the medium was being presented. In previous years animation was treated much better. Animated films would be nominated for best adapted or original screenplay and were often nominated for and winners of best original song. But this year, no animated film was nominated in any category other than best animated feature. Which is even weirder when you consider Del Toro was one of the director of the winning Animated Feature, and when he directs non-animated films the Oscars are always keen to give him multiple nominations, but weren’t interested in his animated feature. 

This dismissal of animation feeds a disregard for voice acting, which was heavily shown at the 2012 Oscars. This was presented by Chris Rock, who has performed multiple voice roles, most notably Marty in Madagascar. During his introduction, he made a joke about voice acting and saying it is the easiest job in the world, all you have to do is say a line and they give you a load of money. Not only was this incredibly inappropriate to make a joke about a line of work as you’re meant to be celebrating them, but it is also incredibly disrespectful to the many professional voice actors out there. The only reason Chris Rock thinks it is easy is because production companies want his characters to sound like Chris Rock, but for most professional voice actors they have to distort their voice, especially if they are multi-rolling. Many voice actors called this out, most notably Billy West who is a very prolific voice actor, who has also called out the use of celebrities in movies and has criticised their lack of range in characters. 

In conclusion, I think I have showcased why Voice Actors should be given more respect and should appear in more animated films. Whilst video games seem to have more respect to voice actors, having categories of awards for their work, even they rely on celebrity voices. For example, Mortal Kombat 11, featured Ronda Rousey voicing the character Sonya Blade. She was the only voice actor announced as a character, even coming onto stage during the reveal of the game, and had replaced the previous professional voice actor. But, when the game came out, she was heavily criticised for a poor voice performance, especially compared to the professional voice actors in the cast. It seems they only brought her in to gain publicity, which is a big issue across the Games and Film industry. Looking forwards, a new worry that could emerge for voice acting is the use of AI. For example, for the Obi Wan Kenobi Show they really wanted to get the original voice actor for Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, on board, however he was too old to play the character anymore. But he signed a contract allowing the company to use his voice with AI. Whilst this is the only time this has happened so far, this does make me worry for the future of voice acting. Many different actors have played Darth Vader, and they may lose out on jobs if companies can just use an AI for his voice. This could also pose dangers when actors pass away, as AI could be used to replicate their voices, creating issues with what actors give consent for their voices to be used for and reducing the number of roles available.

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