I think voice acting is so friggin’ awesome.
-Screen actors have to travel and wear makeup and costumes. Voice actors can do their craft in a single room, sometimes in their own house, wearing their PJ’s.
-Screen actors can get pigeonholed or typecast. Voice actors can literally play any one and anything.
-Screen actors can barely go grocery shopping without fans making it a chore. Voice actors fly under the radar and can “switch on” their fame only if they choose.
-Screen actors are targeted by paparazzi and are often fodder for tabloids. Voice actors are almost completely ignored and tend to have a much healthier work environment since there’s little need for ego.
-Screen actors can do anything from blockbusters to kid’s shows, and are often recognized most by adults. Voice actors tend to do cartoons and video games, and thus have a special bond with fans due to childhood nostalgia.
By the time I was in my teens, I came to recognize more voice actors than I could screen actors. I came idolize legends like Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Rob Paulson, Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, Grey Griffin, Frank Welker, Clarence Nash, Bill Thompson, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Jeff Bennet, Phil Lamarr, Cree Summer, and so many more. I am just flat out blown away by these guys’ talents, and they deserve to be recognized!
Since I’m the Disney guy, I’m listing these actors’ Disney roles. While I might mention some of their awesome not-Disney roles, I’m squarely focused on the variety of roles these ten titans have accomplished within Mickey’s reach.
10. Paul Frees
Paul Frees may not have the most recognizable voice, but he has over 350 IMDB credits to his name over a 45 year period. Among his best known voices: Burgermeister Meisterburger in Rankin-Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jerry’s voice over in Tom and Jerry’s Blue Cat Blues, among many other Tom and Jerry shorts, Boris Badenov in Rocky and Bullwinkle, Wally Walrus in The Woody Woodpecker Show, The funeral director in Some Like it Hot, Inspector Fenwick from Dudley Do-Right, Meowrice in Gay Purr-ee, Santa in Frosty the Snowman, as well as the Pillsbury Doughboy and Toucan Sam.
His first Disney credit is in 1947 with Crazy with the Heat, a Donald Duck/Goofy cartoon as a soda fountain vendor. He also voiced in Primitive Pluto, Social Lion, Casey Bats Again, The Shaggy Dog, Donald in Mathmagic Land, Noah’s Ark, Goliath II, Pollyanna, 101 Dalmatians, The Absent-Minded Professor, Mary Poppins, Goofy’s Freeway Troubles, and The Ugly Dachshund.
But let’s say you’re not impressed with such profound credits as 101 Dalmatians‘ Dirty Dawson, a horse in Mary Poppins, or a garbage man in Ugly Dachshund. You want to hear the good stuff. Well, in 1961, when Disney switched from ABC to NBC, in pursuit of color television, Walt’s show introduced a new character: Professor Ludwig Von Drake. Drake, Donald Duck’s uncle, was a kooky German scientist who claims to be an expert in everything, but his primary purpose was to glorify color, right down to his signature tune, “The Spectrum Song”.
Later on, Frees became better known to Disney park enthusiasts for his panache in narration. He provided the original narration for Disneyland’s Journey Through Inner Space as well as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. But his true stardom shone through in 1967 when he put a portly woman on auction in Pirates of the Caribbean as the auctioneer. Many of his lines became classic quotes of the ride. Similarly in 1969, when the Haunted Mansion began welcoming “foolish mortals”, as Paul also voiced the beloved Ghost Host. A beloved voice that’s as legendary as it gets.
9. Russi Taylor
Russi Taylor is probably already pretty well-heard among casual fans of animation, considering she’s a long-time Simpsons actress, taking on the roles of Martin Prince and twins Sherri and Terri, among others. She also voiced Baby Gonzo in the original Muppet Babies back in the day. But we Disney fans will forever and always adore her as the voice of Minnie Mouse from 1988 to present day. In fact, in 1991, she was married to Wayne Allwine, the then-voice of Mickey Mouse, until his death in 2009.
In 1987, Taylor first took up the role of Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie in Sport Goofy in Soccermania (I seem to recall that special…), and she would continue to voice the triplets plus Webby Vanderquack all throughout DuckTales and beyond. There have been exceptions, like in Quack Pack and House of Mouse, where others took on the roles, but Russi’s raspy, young-sounding delivery is arguably the most iconic version of the trio.
In the current DuckTales series, not only do Huey, Dewey, and Louie speak coherently, but they all have three separate and distinct voice actors. However, in the episode “Last Christmas!”, Dewey travels back in time and meets the kid versions of his mother and uncle Donald. It’s already so-cute-it-hurts that teenage Donald was an insecure emo musician in his teen years, but the true music I hear is Russi’s familiar voice playing young Donald. It was a brilliant nod to the original series while being true to its own continuity. I swear I lost it when she said “Quackeroonie!”.
8. June Foray
Legendary Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones once said of this woman, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray“. Mel Blanc, as you may know, voiced most all of the Looney Tunes. Foray not only voiced classic WB characters such as Granny and Witch Hazel, but she kept her voice acting career going until her death in 2017 at the age of 99, with over 320 credits to her name! Arguably her best known characters are Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha from the original Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Talky Tina in The Twilight Zone.
Naturally, June wouldn’t stay bound to one or two studios. She frequently popped over to Disney studios and provided many smaller-scale roles. One of her first was the hissing and meowing of Lucifer in Cinderella (1950). In 1953’s Peter Pan, she voiced the cranky native who orders Wendy to get firewood. She took on a dual role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit as one of the Judge’s weasels, Wheezy, as well as the Jessica Rabbit doppelgänger, Lena Hyena. Her most prominent Disney film role was in 1998’s Mulan as grandmother. She voiced in numerous other shorts such as Lambert, the Sheepish Lion (Lambert’s purring), Trick or Treat (Witch Hazel, oddly enough), How to Have an Accident at Work (Daisy Duck), Father’s Week-end (Mrs. Geef and Goofy Jr.), Let’s Stick Together (Mrs. Spike), How to be a Detective (Dame), and Fathers are People (Mrs. Geef).
By far, though, her best known characters in the Disney canon are in the heralded Disney Afternoon. In The Adventures of the Gummi Bears, she starred as the maternal, yet fussy Grammi Gummi, whose key skill was brewing the infamous Gummiberry juice that bestowed upon the heroes their bouncing powers. In the following series, DuckTales, she voiced two of the series’ most notable villains, the sorceress Magica DeSpell, and the cranky crime syndicate leader Ma Beagle. In the series Bonkers, she took on villainy once again as Ma Parker, an anthropomorphized tow truck seeking to salvage scrap metal for monster truck rallies.
In 2013, more than 25 years since DuckTales, Foray returned to the sound booth as Magica DeSpell in the DuckTales: Remastered video game for the PlayStation 3. In all seriousness, Foray is a friggin’ queen in the industry, and she deserves all the praise she gets.
7. John Ratzenberger
I’m not a superstitious man, but who am I to discount a lucky charm when it seems to work wonders?
John Ratzenberger is most familiar to audiences of the eighties as Cliff the postman in Cheers, but in 1995, he appeared in Pixar’s first film, Toy Story, as the know-it-all piggy bank Hamm, and he has literally voiced in every single Pixar film to date.
Aside from Hamm in all four Toy Story films, he has also voiced Mack in all three Cars films, the Abominable Snowman in both Monsters, Inc. movies, and the Underminer in both Incredibles movies. In A Bug’s Life, he was P.T. Flea, a school of fish in Finding Nemo, Head waiter Mustafa in Ratatouille, John in Wall•E, a construction foreman in Up, Gordon in Brave, Fritz in Inside Out, Earl in The Good Dinosaur, a husband crab in Finding Dory, and Juan Ortodoncia in Coco.
There are other roles, such as the ones in both Planes movies (Which, despite all appearances, are not Pixar movies), Super Buddies, That Darn Cat (1997), and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. He even played a Rebel major in Empire Strikes Back. However, Ratzenberger will always be best known as Pixar’s lucky charm, to the point where a mid-credit scene in the first Cars movie pokes direct fun at this. Mack is watching Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc., and A Bug’s Life at a drive-in, and when he notices they just use the same actor over and over, he asks, “What kind of a cut-rate production is this?”
A very cool one, Cliff. A very, very cool one.
6. Alan Tudyk
If Ratzenberger is Pixar’s go-to, Alan Tudyk is Disney’s, doing roles in all their animated films since Wreck-it Ralph (2012).
Best known as Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball, and Wash from Firefly, Tudyk has proven himself rather adept at being more than just another pretty face. In Wreck-it Ralph, he surprised audiences with not just a pitch-perfect impression of Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter, but imbuing it with just as much silliness as well as menace as King Candy. The following year’s Frozen gave us the pompous Duke of Weselton, a red herring bad guy whose foppish and greedy demeanor had us all laughing. He took on a similar role as Alistar Krei in Big Hero 6 in 2014. In Zootopia, he voiced Duke Weaselton (Whose name was a reference to the running gag of his character in Frozen), as a scummy small-time crook. Oddly enough, being white wouldn’t even stop him from stepping into the booth for Moana, a movie where the cast was predominantly from the Pacific. Who did he voice? The chicken Heihei, of course…who never spoke, but only clucked. Hey, a paycheck’s a paycheck.
He returned for Ralph Breaks the Internet in 2018, voicing the quirky genius search engine mascot Knowsmore. Outside of the main animated Disney films, Tudyk also provided multiple voices in Star vs. the Forces of Evil, K-2SO in Rogue One, and Iago in the live action remake of Aladdin. Given how diverse these characters all are, I’m fascinated to see where he goes next!
5. Thurl Ravenscroft
I bet if you’ve heard his name, you’d never, ever forget it. But Thurl has a very, very distinctive voice. If you’ve ever recalled Tony the Tiger boasting how “Grrrrreat!” Frosted Flakes are, you’ve heard him. And chances are definite you’ve heard him every December, when you hear that chillingly delicious super-deep bass crooning what a mean one Mr. Grinch is (Not, as the film’s credits claim, Boris Karloff). Thurl is a national treasure.
He started a singing group called the Mellomen in 1948. While the Mellomen would go on to back up numerous great singers over the next three decades, they were also frequently contracted at the Disney studio for various projects. One of his earliest is in Alice in Wonderland, where while the rest of his band mates played the rose-painting cards, Thurl is distinctly heard wailing the lyric, “In fact, they’ll soon be dead!” This was after already voicing in Pinocchio, Melody Time, Springtime for Pluto, So Dear to my Heart, and Cinderella as various uncredited ensemble voices or vocals.
In cartoon shorts, Thurl was often featured prominently due to his unusually deep bass. Trick or Treat, Pigs is Pigs, The Story of Anyburg, U.S.A., Noah’s Ark, and Donald and the Wheel are on his resumé, but his biggest standout performance in shorts was the 63-axe-handle-tall behemoth lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, while his fellow band mates voiced the rest of the characters.
Thurl would continue voicing in films, including 101 Dalmatians (Captain), Babes in Toyland (the trees), The Sword in the Stone (Black Bart), Mary Poppins (Barnyard hog), The Aristocats (Russian cat), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Background vocals), The Small One (Potter), and The Brave Little Toaster (Kirby the vacuum).
But it doesn’t end there. At the Disney parks, you can hear Thurl’s voice to this day on Pirates of the Caribbean (Singing pirate), Liberty Belle Riverboat (The guy calling out “Mark Twain!”), Country Bear Jamboree (Buff the Buffalo), The Enchanted Tiki Room (Fritz the parrot), and most notably, the decapitated bust on the Haunted Mansion singing “Grim Grinning Ghosts”. You know, the one everyone keeps mistaking as a caricature of Walt Disney?
Surprise: it’s not Walt. It’s actually Thurl’s face. Isn’t that grrrrreat?
4. Jim Cummings
It’s relatively easy to list the projects most of these past several actors thus far. With the older actors, their roles were plentiful, but easy to isolate. The newer ones had comparatively shorter resumés. But then there’s Jim. I couldn’t begin to list his full repertoire because a huge chunk of his credited works is often one-line, background vocals. However, even isolating his more prolific roles is a daunting challenge. So let’s get started.
Jim owned the Disney Afternoon entirely. He took over the role of Zummi Gummi after Paul Winchell left Gummi Bears. He was the villains Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul in Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and even took over the role of Monterey Jack after Peter Cullen in season 2. He took on both Louie and Don Karnage in TaleSpin. He voiced Dingo in Gargoyles. He starred as both Bonkers D. Bobcat and Lucky in Bonkers. El Capitan in the pilot of DuckTales. But far and away, his best known Disney Afternoon credit is the terror that flaps in the night himself, Darkwing Duck. A role he took on again for the rebooted DuckTales series in 2017.
In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, he took on the role of Hondo Ohnaka. And since first taking on the role of Pete, the overweight cat and frequent antagonist to Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, in Goof Troop in 1992, Jim continues to voice Pete to this day. And while Jim has had numerous roles in animated Disney films, his most prolific ones are Rasoul, the market guard in Aladdin, Ed the hyena in The Lion King, Nessuss the centaur in Hercules, and Ray the firefly in The Princess and the Frog. He took on the singing voice of Chief Powhatan in Pocahontas, too, but a great piece of trivia is that when Jeremy Irons blew out his vocal cords singing “Be Prepared” in The Lion King, Jim took over the rest of the song. It’s subtle, but you can just barely make out his voice starting at “So be prepared for the coup of the century”. He did the same for Christopher Lloyd in Anastasia for the song “In the Dark of the Night”. Impressed yet?
If not, consider this: Jim is also the go-to guy for My Hero Sterling Holloway impressions (More on him later). That being said, Jim has been the official voice of Winnie the Pooh since 1988, and continues to be so to this day. And while Jim voiced Tigger on occasion when Paul Winchell couldn’t, he didn’t fully take on the role of Tigger until 2000’s The Tigger Movie. So yeah, the lesson here is…Jim is awesome and a very busy guy.
3. David Ogden Stiers
David Ogden Stiers is not an unknown by any means. If he looks familiar, that’s probably because you recognize him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester from M*A*S*H, the antagonist to Hawkeye and Hunnicutt after Frank (Larry Linville) left the show. The Illinois-born, Oregon-raised man puts on a very convincing British façade, wouldn’t you say? Someone at Disney noticed. His first role for Disney was Cogsworth the clock in Beauty and the Beast, who was very similar to Winchester in a lot of ways. But he really expanded himself in 1995 in Pocahontas as the voice of Governor John Ratcliffe as well as his effeminate manservant, Wiggins. After that he took on two minor roles in Disney animation as the Archdeacon in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Professor Harcourt in Atlantis: the Lost Empire. But he came back in a big way in 2002 as Dr. Jumba Jookiba in Lilo and Stitch, the creator of the mischievous blue rascal.
While his resumé was never as extensive as Jim Cummings, the range in characters in still incredible. From fussy and ineffective to authoritative and threatening, Stiers was an incredible actor.
2. Verna Felton
Born in 1890, Verna was 50 by the time she first came to the studio and recorded her lines for Dumbo. She used that to her advantage by voicing the pompous and aloof Matriarch, the lead elephant who snubs Dumbo and gossips with the other lady elephants.
In 1950, she took on a very different role as the gentle and sweet Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. But arguably performed the greatest about-face when in the following year, she appeared as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. One minute, as kind, grandmotherly saint who makes dreams comes true, the next a psychotic, screaming, fat, pompous, bad-tempered, old tyrant. Strangely, that duality came in use for her next project, Lady and the Tramp, as Aunt Sarah. A woman who seems like a sweet old lady who loves babies and cats, but recoils in horror at dogs.
In 1959, she took on the role of Flora, the red fairy and de facto leader of the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty. And oddly enough, she began her Disney career as an elephant, and she ended it as one. In the short Goliath II, she voiced Eloise, who almost steps on the protagonist. Her final role was in 1967’s The Jungle Book as Winifred, Colonel Hathi’s weary wife. She passed away one day before Walt Disney on December 14th, 1966. Her talent was loved by all.
1. Sterling Holloway
Walt loved Sterling. He utilized him in so many films and cartoons his voice became ubiquitous to Disney. What impresses me most about this man was, unlike most of the others on this list, Sterling had one voice that he used over and over. He didn’t even do any accents. But regardless, most don’t even put it together he did so many characters, despite the voices all sounding alike. I think that’s a far more impressive skill than having a diverse range. He did numerous one-spots on The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, Family Affair, Gilligan’s Island, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, even George Reeves’ Superman show.
Studio notes as far back as the mid-thirties show Walt wanted Sterling as the voice of Sleepy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For whatever reason, Sterling was replaced by Pinto Colvig, who was already voicing Grumpy, and his Disney debut wouldn’t be until 1941’s Dumbo, alongside Verna Felton, as Mr. Stork. Since Holloway was from Georgia, he had typically been put in hick or messenger roles, and Mister Stork was not just a messenger, but a caricature of him as well. In the following Bambi, he voiced Flower the skunk as an adult.
Holloway’s pillow-soft voice landed him the role of the whimsical, gentle narrator in many shorts, starting with Make Mine Music‘s Peter and the Wolf sequence, and the Cold-Blooded Penguin sequence in The Three Caballeros. He would also narrate The Pelican and the Snipe, Susie, the Little Blue Coupe, Lambert, the Sheepish Lion (as Mister Stork again), Mickey and the Beanstalk, The Little House, Ben and Me (As Amos Mouse), and Goliath II. He even took on the role of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, in the half-hour special, Man, Myth, and Monsters.
In 1951, Sterling stole the show as the mischievous Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, diverting from everyone else’s kinetic wackiness, the cat was more understated in his madness. In 1967, Sterling voiced a true villain, Kaa, the sinister python from The Jungle Book. Finally, he voiced Roquefort Mouse in The Aristocats.
Except not, because he was also the first voice of Winnie the Pooh from 1966 to 1977. The first three half-hour featurettes (Honey Tree, Blustery Day, and Tigger Too), leading up to his first full-length film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Hal Smith took over the role in 1983, and later would wind up in Jim Cummings lap. Honestly, is there a better voice for a teddy for a voice that literally sounds like it’s made of cotton?
So, what do you guys think? Who are your favorites? Did I miss anyone? Let me know by voicing your opinions!
I’m not sorry.