Disney voice-over actors bring theme park rides to life

The Haunted Mansion dark ride is one of Disney’s most popular supernatural-themed attractions.

The Haunted Mansion dark ride is one of Disney’s most popular supernatural-themed attractions.

(Brady MacDonald / Los Angeles Times)

Voice-over actors are the hidden artists who provide the audio atmosphere and essential back stories that bring theme parks to life.

From the parking lot tram spiel to park-wide announcements to ride narrations, the best work of voice-over actors often goes unnoticed simply because it blends so seamlessly into the overall theme park experience.

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During the upcoming ScareLA convention on Aug. 8 and 9, I will have a chance to talk with three preeminent voice actors whose voices will be familiar to fans of Disney rides around the world: Peter Renaday, Corey Burton and Mark Silverman.


Because ScareLA is focused on Halloween, haunts and horror, our discussion will focus on two of Disney’s most popular supernatural-themed attractions: the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror drop tower and the Haunted Mansion dark ride.

Let’s take a closer look at the careers of each of the ScareLA panelists as a preview of our Disembodied Spirits: Voice-Over Experts panel on Aug. 9 at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Corey Burton

Corey Burton has voiced Captain Hook, Count Dooku, Megatron, Dracula and Brainiac on television and video games but may be best-known to theme park fans as the Ghost Host on Haunted Mansion Holiday, the seasonal version of the classic ride.

Burton has done voices for many Disney theme park attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, Fantasmic, Radiator Springs Racers and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. His wide vocal range gives him the ability to create characters with raspy, baritone or squeaky-high voices.

Burton has worked extensively in Hollywood doing what’s known as automatic dialogue replacement, essentially overdubbing actors’ voices in films to make their dialogue more understandable or to remove foul language for television broadcasts. His ADR work includes overdubbing duties on “E.T.,” “Total Recall” and “Poltergeist.” He has even portrayed Walt Disney’s voice in DVD video extras.

Shy and private by nature, Burton knew that he wanted to be a voice actor after his first visit to Disneyland. He vowed at age 13 that he would someday meet the man behind the voice of the Haunted Mansion and that somehow he would one day make a career as a voice actor.

Burton started his professional career as a voice actor at age 17 and, true to his word, eventually met Paul Frees, the original voice of the Haunted Mansion, who died in 1986. To this day, Burton considers his Haunted Mansion Holiday narration a mere emulation of Frees.

Burton’s love of horror has even led him to lend his voice to the narration of a home haunt in Woodland Hills called House at Haunted Hill, built by a lighting designer friend of Burton’s and his singer-actor-dancer wife. The home haunt also features the voice talents of actor and haunt fan Neil Patrick Harris.

Mark Silverman

Mark Silverman has done voice work on TV and film -- including “Rugrats,” “Bambi” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” -- but is probably best known as the voice of Rod Serling on Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

As a kid, Silverman was a huge Disneyland fan and would bring a tape recorder to the park to record the Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Matterhorn spiels so he could practice them at home.

A fan of the original “Twilight Zone,” Silverman was thrilled to have the opportunity to combine two of his passions when he got word in 1993 that Walt Disney Imagineering was looking for a voice actor who could portray the TV show’s iconic host for a new ride.

To prepare, Silverman found a book full of “Twilight Zone” scripts and read along with reruns of the show with a bubble gum cigarette in his hand, hoping to channel his best inner Serling.

Silverman got the job and eventually dubbed Serling’s voice over an episode called “It’s a Good Life” for the preshow room of the attraction. To this day Silverman describes the experience of hearing his voice on the Tower of Terror ride as surreal.

Through the years, Silverman has played plenty of pranks with his many voices. He worked at Los Angeles radio station KROQ impersonating celebrity voices. His Rocky Balboa fooled boxer Mike Tyson and even Sylvester Stallone’s mother. And he’s been known to do his Tower of Terror spiel to the delight of fellow elevator riders.

Peter Renaday

Peter Renaday has done voices in movies for “Mulan” and “The Princess and the Frog,” on TV for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and in video games for “Assassin’s Creed.”

In the Disney parks, he’s been the voice of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Captain Nemo and Henry the Bear. And he’s done the voice of Mickey Mouse for toys and albums.

His theatrical acting career includes roles as King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes and C.S. Lewis.

But to haunt fans, he’s best known as the Ghost Host on the official soundtrack for the Haunted Mansion, a vinyl album released in 1969 to celebrate the new Disneyland attraction and still available in digital format today.

Renaday got his start on the Disney studio lot as a messenger and met Walt Disney the first day he showed up for work. Roles in annual employee theatrical productions eventually led to Renaday recording temporary tracks for audio-animatronic figures planned for Disneyland.

A temporary track he recorded for Henry the Bear, an animatronic figure under development for two years, ultimately become the official track used in Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree when Disney Imagineers couldn’t imagine anyone other than Renaday as the voice of the character. The unexpected break led to a career in voice acting for Renaday in television, movies and video games as well as Disney theme parks.


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