Image composite: Getty // PBS
Image composite: Getty // PBS

21 Famous Actors Who Quietly Voiced Cartoon Characters

Image composite: Getty // PBS
Image composite: Getty // PBS

These well-known faces got behind the mic to provide the voices for your favorite cartoons.

1. Jaleel White as Sonic the Hedgehog

While audiences might be more familiar with Jaleel White as Steve Urkel, the actor also voiced Sonic the Hedgehog for the animated series when he was 16 years old and still starring on Family Matters. He later reprised the role for the animated series Sonic Underground in 1999.

2. Fergie as Sally Brown from Peanuts

Before she was the vocalist for the Black Eyed Peas, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson was a child star who appeared on the Disney Channel's Kids Incorporated. She was also the voice of Sally Brown, Charlie Brown’s kid sister, on three Peanuts animated TV specials produced in the '80s (It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown; Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown; and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show).

3. Orson Welles as Unicron from Transformers: The Movie

Legendary filmmaker Orson Welles' last role before his death in 1985 was voice-work for Transformers: The Movie. He played the villain Unicron, a planet-sized Transformer hell-bent on ultimate power.

4. Jessica Walter as Fran Sinclair from Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs premiered on ABC in 1991 and centered on a family of anthropomorphic dinos created using puppetry and animation. Before she played Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, Jessica Walter voiced matriarch Fran Sinclair. Puppeteer Kevin Clash, who was Elmo on Sesame Street, voiced the scene-stealing Baby Sinclair.

These days, Walter can also be heard as Malory Archer on FX’s animated series Archer.

5. Michael Cera as Brother Bear from The Berenstain Bears

A year before playing George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, Michael Cera voiced Brother Bear on The Berenstain Bears children’s TV series on PBS Kids. Cera continued to voice the character while starring in Arrested Development through 2005.

6. Phil Hartman as Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace

In the same year he started his career on Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman did voice work on the syndicated TV series Dennis the Menace. He played both Dennis’ father, Henry Mitchell, and the next-door neighbor Mr. Wilson. Hartman left Dennis the Menace after one season to pursue SNL full-time.

Hartman also did voice work on cartoons such as DuckTales, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and Darkwing Duck. His most notable voice work was with The Simpsons, playing Springfield’s down-and-out lawyer Lionel Hutz (a.k.a. Miguel Sanchez) and washed-up actor Troy McClure.

7. Meg Ryan as Dr. Blight from Captain Planet and the Planeteers

Following the success of When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan voiced the Eco-Villain Dr. Blight during the first season of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. After leaving the environmentally-minded animated series, Ryan went on to continue her career as America's Sweetheart.

8. James Avery as The Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

You might know him as Uncle Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but before he took the role on that wildly popular NBC sitcom, James Avery supplied the voice for Shredder on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Avery voiced the villain throughout the show's entire run from 1987 to 1993, while also playing the role on the TMNT made-for-TV movie in 1991.

9. John Ritter as Clifford the Big Red Dog

Before his untimely death in 2003, John Ritter voiced Clifford the Big Red Dog for the animated series of the same name on PBS Kids. Throughout the series run, Ritter was nominated for four straight Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program between 2001 and 2004.

10. Vin Diesel as The Iron Giant

At the start of his career in the '90s, Vin Diesel (whose real name is Mark Sinclair Vincent) took a role as the titular character in Brad Bird’s directorial debut, The Iron Giant. While undoubtedly a lead role, the animated robot only said a handful of words.

Vin Diesel’s voice can also be heard in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, coming out this summer. Diesel once again lends his voice to an unloquacious alien, the tree-like Groot.

11. Earle Hyman as Panthro from ThunderCats

Warner Bros. Television

Actor Earle Hyman is probably best known for playing Russell “Grandpa” Huxtable on The Cosby Show, but a year into his tenure on the family sitcom, Hyman voiced the wise Panthro on ThunderCats.

12. and 13. Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell as "The Ambiguously Gay Duo"

Although the animated short sketches were popularized on Saturday Night Live, "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" made its debut on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show on ABC in 1996. Lending their voices to the crime-fighting duo Ace and Gary were none other than Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, respectively.

In 2011, Colbert and Carell re-teamed to star in a special live-action version of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" for a short film on SNL. Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon played Ace and Gary while Colbert and Carrell played the villains, Dr. Brainio and Bighead.

14. Jeff Goldblum as Verminous Skumm from Captain Planet

After appearing in '80s cult classics The Fly and Earth Girls Are Easy, Jeff Goldblum took a job voicing the Eco-Villain Verminous Skumm on Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Goldblum only appeared on five episodes of Captain Planet before his career started to take off with roles in big blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence Day.

15. Flea as Donnie from The Wild Thornberrys

Flea (whose real name is Michael Peter Balzary) is mainly known as the hyperactive bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Throughout the years, he has taken a few supporting roles in movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, My Own Private Idaho, and Back To The Future Parts II and III.

Flea also lent his voice talents to Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys, playing Donnie Thornberry, and voiced the character in the show's film-length efforts The Wild Thornberrys: The Origin of Donnie, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and Rugrats Go Wild, a cross-over between Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys.

16. LeVar Burton as Kwame from Captain Planet and the Planeteers

LeVar Burton is a television icon after starring in shows like Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he has also lent his voice to a few cult animated series as well, like Batman: The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles. Burton’s most notable voice work was on Captain Planet and the Planeteers as Kwame, the Planeteer from Ghana with the power of Earth.

17. Arsenio Hall as Winston Zeddemore from The Real Ghostbusters

Two years after the release of Ghostbusters, ABC aired a cartoon version of the hit movie. The Real Ghostbusters featured the same characters from its live-action counterpart, but with different voice actors in the roles. Before he landed his own late night talk show, Arsenio Hall played the role of Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore during the first three seasons of the animated series.

Actor Ernie Hudson, who played Winston Zeddemore in both of the Ghostbusters movies and its video game, auditioned for the animated TV series but lost out to Arsenio.

18. J.K. Simmons as the Yellow M&M

Actor J.K. Simmons has made a name for himself on the big and small screens with his performances as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man trilogy and as Assistant Chief Will Pope on TNT's The Closer, but he also has done some commercial work as the voice of the Yellow M&M in the candy's popular TV commercials.

Simmons also provides the voice for the AirBender Tenzin on The Legend of Korra animated series on Nickelodeon.

19. Brad Garrett as Hulk Hogan from Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling

Stand-up comedian Brad Garrett is mainly known for playing Robert Barone on the Everybody Loves Raymond, but one of his first big roles was on the Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling in 1986. Garrett lent his voice to the cartoon’s lead: Wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan.

20. Keith David as Goliath on Disney’s Gargoyles

Keith David is one of Hollywood's go-to character actors. He's most recognizable for his key supporting roles in movies like Armageddon, Requiem For a Dream, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, but the 57-year-old actor has done his fair share of voice work.

David notably played Goliath in Disney’s Gargoyles. While the show only lasted for three seasons, David is still an active participant in fan gatherings and events for the cult animated series. Gargoyles also featured the voices of highly regarded actors including Ed Asner, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, and Jonathan Frakes.

21. Brittany Murphy as Luanne Platter on King of the Hill

Brittany Murphy was a rising star in Hollywood, starring in major motion pictures like Cluelessand 8 Mile. She was also a regular on the animated series King of the Hill. Murphy voiced Luanne Platter, Hank and Peggy Hill’s niece, until her unexpected death in 2009.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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10 Fast Facts About Cars
Pixar
Pixar

Pixar’s Cars was released on this day 12 years ago. So put on your helmets, rev those engines, and let’s take a look at some behind-the-scenes facts about the Oscar-winning animation studio’s fastest-moving film.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY AN UGLY DUCKLING-TYPE STORY ABOUT AN ELECTRIC CAR.

Cars started off life as Little Yellow Car, about an electric car that faces prejudice from its gas-guzzling counterparts. Pixar animator/artist Jorgen Klubien, who developed the story during production on A Bug’s Life, was inspired by real-life automotive history from his home country of Denmark.

“In the 1980s some enthusiastic folks got the idea of making a three-wheeled one-person car that ran on electricity,” said Klubien. “They put it into production and it worked great in the city, but out on the highway it was too slow. People also thought the car was ugly. I thought the electric car was ahead of its time, and it struck me as odd that my fellow Danes didn’t agree. It reminded me of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. This famous Danish character wasn’t accepted at first, but in the end it proved to be right on the money.”

The story was deemed too slight to carry an entire movie, but the small-town setting remained an inspiration.

2. ITS CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR PASSED AWAY DURING PRODUCTION.

Cars is dedicated to Joe Ranft, the film's co-writer and co-director, who died in a car accident on August 16, 2005—while Cars was still in production. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), which Ranft executive produced, is also dedicated to him.

3. MATER IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE NASCAR ENTHUSIAST.

The country bumpkin tow truck Mater got his name from NASCAR superfan Douglas “Mater” Keever, whom the filmmakers met while on a research trip to North Carolina’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway (now called the Charlotte Motor Speedway). Keever has a voice cameo in the film, as the motor home who says “Well dip me in axle grease and call me slick” early in the film. (Keever improvised the line, which was originally “Well dip me in axle grease and call me lubrication.” Producer Darla Anderson opted to change it, Keever speculated, because “maybe she thought it sounded sexual, I don’t know.”)

4. MANY AUTO WORLD LUMINARIES LENT THEIR VOCAL TALENTS.

Reigning racing champ Strip “The King” Weathers is voiced by legendary racer Richard Petty, who has the same nickname as his animated counterpart. Weathers’s wife, credited as “Mrs. The King,” is voiced by Petty’s wife, Lynda Petty. Several other automotive notables contribute their vocal talents: announcer/former racer Darrell Waltrip plays “Darrell Cartrip”; Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of NPR’s radio show Car Talk, voice Lightning McQueen’s sponsors, Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze; and racers Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voice automotive versions of themselves. (Despite voicing announcer “Bob Cutlass,” sports analyst Bob Costas doesn’t actually cover racing.)

5. SEVERAL ACTORS CHANGED FOR INTERNATIONAL RELEASES.

For Cars’s UK release, Jeremy Piven was replaced as the voice of Lightning McQueen’s never-seen agent Harv by Top Gear co-host Jeremy Clarkson. “The King” was also voiced by different racers in some international releases, as Richard Petty isn’t as well known outside of the United States. In Germany, The King is voiced by Formula One champ Niki Lauda, while in Spain he is Formula One’s Fernando Alonso.

6. MOST CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON REAL CARS.

Lightning McQueen, Mater, and Chick Hicks are all original Pixar designs, but most of the other characters are based on existing cars. Among them are Doc Hudson (1951 Hudson Hornet), Ramone the body paint specialist (1959 Chevy Impala), tire salesman Luigi (1959 Fiat 500), hippie Fillmore (1960 Volkswagen Microbus), military surplus store owner Sarge (1942 Willys Jeep), and Mack, the truck that drives Lightning around (Mack Superliner). Sally, as a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera, is the only Radiator Springs character modeled after a contemporary car.

7. IT BROUGHT A NEW STANDARD OF REALISM TO ANIMATED FILMS.

Cars was the first Pixar feature to utilize a technique known as “ray tracing,” which properly renders the way light passes through and collides with surfaces. More simply, it enables artists to accurately depict reflections without having to go through and “paint” them individually. Ray tracing takes up a massive amount of computer power; as a result, each frame (or about 1/24th of a second) of Cars took an average of 17 hours to render. Some frames took up to a week.

8. IT WAS PAUL NEWMAN’S FINAL FILM—AND HIS HIGHEST-GROSSING.

Cars marks the final film of Paul Newman, who in addition to being an actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist also became a racing enthusiast after starring in the 1969 racing drama Winning. Cars is also the highest-grossing film of Newman’s career (not adjusted for inflation).

9. ONE OF LIGHTNING MCQUEEN’S CHARACTER INSPIRATIONS WAS KID ROCK.

To help get a handle on the character of rookie racing sensation Lightning McQueen, directing animator James Ford Murphy “put together a series of little bios of great personalities that were really cocky but really likeable.” Among the people he pulled inspiration from were sportsmen Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley, and Joe Namath, plus musician Kid Rock.

10. YOU CAN VISIT THE MOUNTAIN RANGE THAT SURROUNDS RADIATOR SPRINGS IN REAL LIFE (SORT OF).

The mountain range surrounding Radiator Springs is inspired by the real-life Cadillac Ranch, an outdoor art installation located outside Amarillo, Texas that consists of heavily spray-painted Cadillacs, half-buried facedown in the ground.

Additional Source: The Pixar Touch, by David A. Price

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Finding Nemo
Pixar/Disney
Pixar/Disney

Although we now recognize 2003's Finding Nemo as one of Pixar’s most critically and commercially successful films, the underwater masterpiece didn’t exactly kick off production as a guaranteed goldmine. Here are a few little-known facts about the rocky road leading up to the film’s status as a bona fide blockbuster, on the 15th anniversary of its release.

1. THE FILM WAS INSPIRED BY THE DIRECTOR’S OVERPROTECTIVE NATURE.

“Autobiographical” isn’t exactly the first adjective you’d expect to assign to a road comedy about marine life, but Finding Nemo co-writer/director Andrew Stanton’s story came from a very personal place. As a relatively new father during the film’s development, Stanton found himself at odds with his proclivity to veer into overprotective territory, much in the way viewers see Marlin combating his neuroses in raising his son Nemo. Stanton also had a love for all things aquatic that dated back to a childhood fascination with his dentist’s fish tank, so he used this lifelong interest as a funnel for a deeply emotional story about the challenges of being a good father.

2. ANDREW STANTON WROTE A SCRIPT LONG BEFORE HE WAS “SUPPOSED TO.”

Pixar’s multi-tiered film production process begins with a basic premise pitch to the creative higher-ups, followed by (for all greenlit projects) a written story treatment. Stanton already had a script completed before this second step took place, the only Pixar project to proceed in this manner. 

3. IT TOOK ONLY ONE WORD TO GET THE GREEN LIGHT FOR FINDING NEMO.

“You had me at ‘fish.’” That is precisely what Pixar’s chief creative officer told Stanton following his exhaustive pitch for his passion project.

4. THE MOVIE’S ART TEAM WENT THROUGH MARINE TRAINING PRIOR TO PRODUCTION.

A scene from 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Disney Pixar

In order to get the look and the feel of Finding Nemo’s characters and world just right, Pixar’s in-house art team was required to take courses and audit lectures in marine biology, oceanography, and ichthyology while enrolling in scuba diving classes.

5. DOGS WERE USED AS MODELS FOR THE FISHY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS.

While the Pixar team’s extensive research on the denizens of the deep yielded a wide variety of spectacular shapes and colors perfectly suited to an animated feature, the underwater populace proved consistently lacking when it came to one anatomical component. The dull eyes of the average finned critter weren’t especially conducive to building expressive characters, so Pixar had to look elsewhere for its optical models. The crew chose one of the most openly expressive members of the animal kingdom on which to model the eyes of its fish characters: dogs.

6. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT HAD A DIFFERENT TREATMENT FOR THE BARRACUDA INCIDENT.

At first, Stanton kept the inspiration for Marlin’s overprotective attitude—the loss of his wife and all but one of their unborn children in a barracuda attack—a secret to reveal gradually through intermittent flashback sequences. Ultimately, this technique made the revelation obvious and anticlimactic while making Marlin feel substantially less likable, so the script changed.

7. MEGAN MULLALLY WAS FIRED AFTER PRODUCERS HEARD HER REAL VOICE.

In the early 2000s, Megan Mullally was best known for playing the rude and eccentric Karen Walker on Will & Grace. Chief among the character’s recognizable characteristics was her high-pitched voice, which Pixar producers apparently thought would be perfect for an animated fish. Upon hiring Mullally to voice an undisclosed character in the movie, the crew discovered that the actress’s natural voice was of average pitch and that Mullally was unwilling to reproduce “the Karen voice” for the film. As such, Mullally was dismissed from the Finding Nemo cast.

8. GILL WAS A VILLAINOUS CHARACTER IN AN EARLIER VERSION OF THE STORY.

Willem Dafoe as Gill in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

While the combination of somber coloration, a scowling beak, and the menacing vocals of Willem Dafoe render Nemo’s fish tank pal Gill an intimidating presence, we learn soon enough that he is in fact a good guy who has the best interests of his fellow captives at heart. The original cut of Finding Nemo was more ambiguous about Gill’s integrity, however, making him the owner of a falsified identity that he swiped from a nautical-themed children’s book housed in the dentist’s waiting room.

9. ALBERT BROOKS REPLACED ANOTHER BIG STAR.

Although Albert Brooks’s background in films like Broadcast News and Mother seems like it would have made him an obvious candidate to play the high-strung Marlin, the first actor cast in the role was William H. Macy. The Fargo star recorded his dialogue for an early screening of Finding Nemo, but producers ultimately felt that he lacked the warmth required for the role of the father fish.

10. THE DIRECTOR RECORDED ALL OF ONE CHARACTER’S DIALOGUE WHILE LYING ON A COUCH.

Stanton never intended to commit his voice to the final cut of Finding Nemo, but only to sub in as a placeholder until the right actor could be cast to play Crush, the easygoing sea turtle with the California accent. Perhaps due to his understanding of his vocal contribution as merely temporary (or maybe, in fact, to get into the “slacker” mindset of his character), Stanton recorded all of Crush’s dialogue while lying on a couch in the office of his co-director, Lee Unkrich.

11. THE CEO OF DISNEY THOUGHT FINDING NEMO WOULD BE A FAILURE.

The combination of a poorly cast Marlin, an unsympathetic Gill, and the running flashbacks made the earliest versions of Finding Nemo feel pretty dismal. Still, nobody was quite as defeatist as Michael Eisner, the Walt Disney Company's then-chief executive officer. Eisner predicted the underwater adventure would be a “reality check” for the yet unchallenged Pixar. Eisner’s only positive spin was that a commercial struggle would be helpful during contract renegotiations with the Disney subsidiary. Of course, Eisner’s judgment (and fund-cutting aspirations) came up short when Finding Nemo became Pixar’s highest grossing film—a superlative it would maintain until the release of Toy Story 3 in 2010. It has since been surpassed twice more: first by 2015's Inside Out, then in 2016 by its own sequel, Finding Dory (which maintains the top position).

12. THE MOVIE’S POPULARITY LED TO POPULATION STRESS FOR CLOWNFISH.

Albert Brooks and Alexander Gould in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

Children were so taken with the adorable Nemo following the release of the film that demand for clownfish as pets instantly skyrocketed. Excessive capture and sale of the ocean dwellers led to a steep decline in the organic population of the species; some natural habitats, such as the waters surrounding Vanuatu, saw a 75 percent drop in clownfish numbers.

13. THE MOVIE ALSO LED TO SOME MISGUIDED FISH LIBERATION MOVEMENTS.

On the other hand, Finding Nemo’s anti-tank agenda did provoke a few ecologically-minded viewers to set their aquatic captives free. Unfortunately, not everyone took the necessary steps to ensure that their newly liberated pet fish were being transported to amenable waters. Certain marine communities suffered from the introduction of predatory and venomous species in unnatural locales, resulting in, once again, ecological imbalance. 

14. SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS RELEASED “ANTI-FLUSHING” PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS FOLLOWING FINDING NEMO.

While tanked fish Gill’s proclamation that “all drains lead to the ocean” contains a grain of truth, the movie fails to acknowledge the fact that a flushed fish is unlikely to survive a trip down the typical drain. Water treatment company JWC Environmental and Australia’s Marine Aquarium Council were among the companies that offered public warnings that flushing would prove fatal to any pet fish. The former organization suggested that a movie that realistically portrayed a household sea creature’s voyage through the municipal sewage system would be more accurately titled Grinding Nemo.

15. A CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR UNSUCCESSFULLY ACCUSED FINDING NEMO'S CREATORS OF PLAGIARISM.

Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Nicholas Bird in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

A year before the release of Finding Nemo, French author Franck Le Calvez self-published the children’s book Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown, featuring a young clownfish on a quest to reunite with his estranged mother. (In fact, Le Calvez first wrote the story as a screenplay in 1995, but was unable to generate interest in the concept.) After Pixar’s admittedly similar tale hit theaters, Le Calvez sued the studio for copyright infringement, but lost two lawsuits and was ordered to pay $80,000 in damages and court costs.

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