The Cons of Celebrity Cartoon Casting

The other day I had a sudden realisation: I have watched quite a few animated shows in the last few years where a character voiced by a celebrity has been replaced.

When I say “celebrity” I am not talking exclusively of A-listers, what I mean more accurately is a “high-profile” person, someone you can look at and say, “Oh that’s the lady from that movie” or “Oh that’s the bloke from that comedy series”. They are recognisable in some way, though somewhat ironically; it might not at all be by their voice.

I don’t personally know all of the reasons why these voices were replaced. That is why I will not single out or specify any particular case in a negative light. Some people may drop out due to personal reasons or in some cases maybe the show wanted the character to go in another direction. But I think it’s a good guess that for the most part, it is due to the celebrity having other commitments that they prioritise over the cartoon and thus they cannot carry on with the work. Once characters have established voices in a show, aside from their performer dying, you rarely see voices for characters replaced in cartoons other than in the case of celebrities.

When we start becoming familiar with a character, we also grow attached to them and if something about them changes suddenly, it can really throw us off. It can be incredibly frustrating to have a character in a show for a season or two (or maybe even for just a few episodes) and then have their voice change. This can be very disillusioning, especially for kids, who are very sharp and do notice this kind of thing.

What about those times when the voice is replaced and it’s so brilliant that people don’t even notice? Think about this – a high-profile person could have a more awkward recording schedule; they might have to record at a weird time or do their session over the phone instead of with the rest of the cast. Due to the fact that they are high-profile, they could even demand or require more money… so with all of this in mind, let me ask: is it really worth using a celebrity knowing that another actor can just slip into the role so quickly and comfortably? If a voice actor who’s already performing several characters on a show can just step up to the microphone and at the snap of their fingers perform this new role just as well, maybe even better than the celebrity, surely this indicates that the celebrity isn’t exactly perfect for the role? That they aren’t really worth having in the first place?

In one show I enjoy, there was a character who I never found particularly funny and she was voiced by a kind of famous person. When a new season began, I suddenly found this character was really making me laugh a lot. I had a gut feeling it was someone new, especially as I thought her voice sounded a bit different but then again, that easily could have just been due to a highly improved comedic performance. It turned out my instincts were right, the kind of famous voice had indeed been replaced by the incredibly talented and absolutely hilarious Grey Griffin (seriously, her Twitter is one of the funniest accounts I follow: @greydelisle). Grey was already on this show voicing a number of characters and she has a very solid track record – she has personally brought a lot of humour and joy into my life through her work for one thing – so I do wonder why wouldn’t you just hire her for this role right from the start?

The Netflix show Turbo Fast is spun-off from the movie Turbo, a movie which featured a number of celebrities. However, for the Netflix show they wanted actors to be in the room to be able to perform together, so they decided to not hire all of the original celebrity talent from the original movie, only the ones that could commit. Yes, it’s a shame they couldn’t have the entire original cast but they immediately prevented any awkward substitutions down the line. I hugely admire this kind of forethought.

I understand many of the reasons why a show would want to use a celebrity talent – pitching, promotional, creative etc. When a show gets a celebrity casting right, it’s amazing. I think we all have our favourite guest stars on The Simpsons. So this isn’t me saying “never cast celebrities in cartoons”, I am not against using a high-profile person because I know the benefits it can bring. But I do still think it’s ridiculous that I can say that there is a show I watch that has had at least three of its characters with high-profile voices change voice. What I am ultimately saying is I personally feel there are two prerequisites to using a celebrity in a cartoon:

1) They are perfect for the role
2) They can actually commit to doing it and can stick it out

Posted on July 3, 2017 .