Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Mohawk Memoirs: You Sound Awfully Familiar!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Mohawk Memoirs: You Sound Awfully Familiar!

by "Rooster" Clayborne

So I drag my six-year old daughter to the theater to see Tangled, the new 3D animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Why? Because I’m occasionally struck with the compulsion to watch films based on beloved classic tales—unless it’s called The Nutcracker in 3D and features rat-faced Nazi storm troopers (don’t believe me? check out the trailer). As I sat and watched Tangled, engrossed by the STORY, I found myself trying to crack the voice recognition code. Perhaps you’ve done it too, “That voice—I’ve heard it before. It’s…”

Sometimes I guess right. Like in the case of the character named Hook Hand Thug in the aforementioned film. That was Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond. And sometimes I’m off the mark: I was convinced the voice talent of Astrid in How To Train Your Dragon was Dakota Fanning. Sorry, America Ferrara. And then there are those voices that you are unable to glean ownership to any particular actor. The voices that have no identifiable marker. No familiar cadence. No unique unto him/herself intonation (e.g. Gilbert Gottfried in Aladdin or Rosie O’Donnell in Tarzan). About a third into Tangled, I still hadn’t figured out who the three leads (Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder, and Mother Gothel) were, and by that time I realized this voice recognition game was distracting and...

I didn’t really care. To be frank, I prefer not to know.

If I’m watching an animated film, I’m not going to see it because it stars Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and Brad Pitt, as in the case of Megamind—which the marketing appears to be promoting more cast than content. I’ll tell you who else could care less than me (I’m sure you guessed it)... my OshKosh B’Gosh-wearing daughter. Just keep giving her the identifiable heroine with the extraterrestrial doe-like eyes and the spirited attitude, and she’s fine. Whether described character sounds like Cameron Diaz or Reese Witherspoon doesn’t matter to her.

Studios, you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to major stars who seem to be recession-proof in lieu of more affordable, could-sure-use-the-work-and-equally-skilled lesser known talent. The most charismatic character in Madagascar isn’t Ben Stiller or Chris Rock. It’s animator Tom McGrath’s voice work as Skipper the Penguin. Tom who? That’s right—it doesn’t matter. My daughter and I don’t need our talking elephants to sound like Jim Carrey, or our talking sharks to sound like Will Smith, or our talking one-eyed alien protoplasmic globules to... you get the idea.

It’s not a major grievance, for there are those stars that have added a magnetic charm to their performance, enriching the character and making it their own. Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots was bravura, and sure I smile when watching Jack Black as Po in Kung Fu Panda—I’m certain he’ll continue to do fine work in Kung Fu Panda 2; but for every Mike Meyers turning in a rendition of a loveable ogre there’s an Eddie Murphy doing his version of an ass which gratingly calls attention to itself (I picture Murphy in a sound booth, spouting rapid-fire, spit flying everywhere, and making those strange, eye-squinting faces).

Disney classics, as far back as 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the just recently released on Blu-ray Beauty and the Beast, didn’t use the names of stars to lure viewers into screenings like barker at a traveling circus freak show. It was the amalgamation of concept, story, animation—as well as vocal interpretation—that would be the true telltale criteria for potential success. Pixar’s first success was shepherded by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen; however, even the powers that be at Pixar realize that a name actor can’t infuse entertainment into a badly executed animated feature: Dwayne “formerly The Rock” Johnson could not elevate Ilion Animation Studio' tiresome Planet 51—even my daughter fell asleep watching that lifeless, clunky dud. Famous actors lending their voices to sell cars (Jeff Bridges for Hyundai) or sell home repair goods (Gene Hackman for Lowe’s) may prove to work on adult spending habits, but their same influence on a younger demographic (i.e., my daughter’s contemporaries) would likely be more dubious.

During the end credit roll of Tangled I finally discovered who the exquisite voice talents were: Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), singer turned actress who hasn’t quite cracked the A list; Zachary Levi (Flynn Ryder), the dashing nerd from the television series Chuck, which hasn’t quite cracked my DVR record list; and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel)... who in the hell is Donna Murphy?

That’s right... it doesn’t matter.

"Rooster" Clayborne documents his moviegoing experiences here pretty often in The Mohawk Memoirs.


Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

"That voice...where have I heard that voice before?"

Sorry...I just had a Rocky and Bullwinkle flashback.

"Say the name..."

pvitari said...

Donna Murphy is a Broadway star, a four-time Tony Award nominee, winning twice, for Passion (music/lyrics Stephen Sondheim) and the revival of Wonderful Town. I saw her in Passion and she was riveting. She is one of the big reasons I went to see Tangled, although as it turns out everyone's voice work was delightful and it was a lovely movie for many reasons.