Animation speaks for itself

Baltimore Sun

When did it become so all-fire important that big-name movie stars provide the voices for animated features?

Trailers for the upcoming “Open Season,” the story of a domesticated bear that suddenly finds himself living in the wild, proudly proclaim that it stars Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing and Gary Sinise. But does it really?

Doesn’t it really star the talents of the film’s animators, the men and women who designed the characters, mapped out their actions and anthropomorphized all the critters? True, computers do much of the work nowadays, but some human has to tell them what to do. They’re the real stars, not the big names voices.

How important is the reputation of those voice actors? Is “Bambi” any less of a movie because few people can name the boy who provided the voice? The 8-year-old’s name was Donnie Dunagan.


It’s hard to avoid the feeling that big names are often hired to help gloss over the films’ deficiencies, the idea being that Julia Roberts’ fans will flock to see “The Ant Bully” (she’s the voice of motherly ant Hova) regardless of the movie’s qualities.

Let’s not forget that some of the greatest voices in animation history were provided by people whose names rarely found their way onto a marquee. Mel Blanc was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn and just about everyone else in the Looney Tunes canon, and yet no one ever shoved his name to the forefront.

A good animated film shouldn’t need such pumping-up. Nothing wrong with having big-name talent do voices -- imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in “Toy Story” -- but let’s not overdo things. Loudly proclaiming that an animated feature stars anyone seems an overstatement.

Chris Kaltenbach is a film critic at the Baltimore Sun, a Tribune company.