Annalisa Giglio

Dreamworks and Voice Acting: AKA, What Separates Dreamworks from Disney

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Clever move Dreamworks. Clever move.

What are the biggest names in animated films? Disney and Pixar. It’s understandable as to why: these two powerhouses churn out animated feature films like the Wonka factory makes chocolate. But what about the film companies that aren’t as well known for their animation? Lets look at Dreamworks. Why should I? What sets these guys apart from the rest? Well, I’ll tell you! Like Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar, Dreamworks has a slew of both traditionally animated and computer animated films. But that’s not what sets them apart. What sets them apart is how they go about advertising for their animated features. Unlike the big names in animation, Dreamworks sells the voice actors of their films as if these were actual “acting” roles, that is to say, as if it were a live action film. Clever tactic, Dreamworks. Clever tactic.

Look at how movies are advertised. Flashy cut scenes, that same guy who apparently narrates every single trailer, and the announcement of the big stars to be in that particular movie. With animated movies you don’t typically see that type of advertising. It’s usually the narrator giving us minuscule synopses of the movie without any inkling of who is doing the voice acting, which, in my opinion, is kind of an integral part of watching an animated film. If the voice actor doesn’t match the character, then all is lost. It would be like…oh I don’t know…a casting director having an aneurysm and choosing Carol Channing to be the voice of God in the Ten Commandments, for example (thankfully, a thing that didn’t ever happen, though it would be hilarious.)

Anywho, there are three Dreamworks films in particular that have pretty impressive role call attached to their titles: The Prince of Egypt, Joseph: King of Dreams, and Shrek. If memory serves me right, these films were billed with the voice actors being the prominent attraction, while at the same time giving you  some of the best clips of the film to entice you into seeing it even further. Now, I could easily go on at great length about The Prince of Egypt and Joseph, but that’s for another time. This is about the cast! All of these films have pretty big names, and in my opinion, the casting was spot on.

The Prince of Egypt (1998):

The first of two biblical stories that Dreamworks did was Exodus and was received with a variety of reactions from various religious groups (and was even banned in two countries).Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin and Martin Short. Let that list sink in. A film about one of most well known stories in human history starring Batman, Catwoman, Jean-Luc Picard, Her Royal Majesty, Voldemort, and Jeff Goldblum. Honestly, I’m pretty sure these choices were absolutely perfect. Especially when you take into consideration that Ramses, the bad guy, was voiced by bad guy extraordinaire, Ralph Fiennes. But what I like most about this, is how they did the voice of God. I remember reading somewhere that they decided to have Val Kilmer in the double role of God and Moses because they wanted God to be like that voice you hear in your head. And, as we all know, that voice is typically that of your own. It was an interesting move and honestly worked for the better. Four for you Stephen Spielberg. You go Stephen Spielberg.

Joseph: King of Dreams (2000):

The second in the Dreamworks bible stories, Joseph: King of Dreams tells the story about, well, Joseph and his God-given (literally) talent for interpreting dreams. This story is better known in its Andrew Lloyd Weber musical format, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but that didn’t stop Dreamworks, now did it. Either which way, it is almost as good as its predecessor, The Prince of Egypt. While this one was a direct-to-video release, it too had an impressive roster. With the voice talents of the likes of Mark Hamill, Ben Affleck and Jodi Benson (best known for her role as Ariel in The Little Mermaid), Joseph was another Dreamworks animated film billed as though it were live action. Stylistically, it was the same as Prince of Egypt, but didn’t do nearly as well due to the fact that Prince was released in theaters. That tends to be the case, eh?

Shrek series (2001, ’04, ’07, ’10):


Only one was really necessary.

Finally, we arrive at the moneymaker. Lawd have mercy. The film series that put Dreamworks animation on the map. I can remember seeing this film in theaters and thinking “wow, this is almost as good as Toy Story.” This is where the big names come into play. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrew, John Cleese, Eric Idle. As the Shrek franchise grew, so did the cast, which was the most alluring part of the films.  Because honestly? They went downhill very fast after the second installment. There are very few films that require that many installments. But what was the one thing that drew crowds to see these movies? The cast list and the hopes that the movies would improve. Alas, the cast list was the only thing keeping people interested. Dreamworks sold the names to the public. The more impressive the celebrity name, the more people would develop a fan base. Either which way, the Shrek franchise did and continues to do very well for itself despite the last two not being up to par with the first two.





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2 Responses to Dreamworks and Voice Acting: AKA, What Separates Dreamworks from Disney

  1. Kati July 4, 2013 at 1:11 am

    In my honest opinion Dreamwork’s featuring of celebrity actors “starring” as their animated cast was the beginning of an end to the rose tinted glasses to animation. Billing popular actors to just play themselves behind a cartoon persona tends to detract from the detachment from reality provides and at many points you find yourself wonder what the actor will say next contrary to what the character will. I have actually always found Pixar’s casting of classically trained voice actors as one of their greatest strengths. Sure the big ticket roles go to Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal and John Goodman but almost every nook and cranny of the film is filled out and subtly controlled by the subtly of the actors around them.
    I am of course NOT questioning the talent of ANY of these actors, several of the above list are some of the greats. What I am saying is that when a production company presents a film as a whole, no part superior to another, there is always something special there. The voice acting is a part of the ensemble.
    It is as important as the score, the art, the story. Without it there would be something significantly lacking in the spirit of the piece. However I always feel that putting these celebrity voices on a pedestal breaks them away from the ensemble, hones it’s audiences attention and distracts from the piece as a whole.

    …That was my late night rant about celebrity voice acting.

  2. Brosolo Francesco February 16, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Disney was the first to use celebrities to do voice acting. But they used them as exceptions. Dreamworks started to use them as the rule and there was born the problem. Casting celebrities over experienced and prolific veteran voice actors.

    Take a look at Kung fu Panda: Fred Tatasciore first got the role of Po’s father in the second movie because those were only a couple of lines. Fred is one of the greatest voice actor you could ask for. He’s talented, so talented that he can portray characters completely differents and still pull off a wonderful job. He can change his voice so that no one can recognize him. And yet… in the third movie he was replaced by Bryan Cranstron. Because Cranstron is a celebrity. He got not even half of the talent of Fred (speaking of voice acting) but he’s famous. This is Dreamworks logic and it’s killing the voice acting business.


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