6 Surprising Stories Behind Iconic Cartoon Voices
We usually don't think much about the voices coming out of cartoon characters or how each one is developed. They're all just being made by some actor sitting in a cushy recording booth somewhere taking stabs at silly noises, right? Well, that may be true occasionally, but sometimes the stories behind how they got there are as good as the cartoons themselves. To celebrate Hulu's The Awesomes returning for another season and flaunting a star-studded cast of famous actors voices including Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Rashida Jones and Will Forte, we dug up the most insane origin stories behind iconic voices in TV and movies.
Boomhauer's Voice Was Inspired By An Enraged, Incoherent Viewer
No matter how open-minded you are, sooner or later something on TV is going to offend you. Maybe a joke on South Park rubs you the wrong way, or maybe the Care Bears telling you that everyone will find love and happiness as you survey your barren apartment angers your cold heart. But while most people express their emotions by posting an irate Facebook message or throwing empty beer cans into the dark corners where the person they thought was their soulmate once stood, one offended viewer's message to Mike Judge inspired the voice of King Of The Hill's Boomhauer.
Mike Judge had previously created Beavis And Butt-head, and simply putting "Butt-head" in a show's name is going to attract complaints from a certain percentage of the population. Judge got a voicemail from what he called a "deranged hillbilly," although by hillbilly standards you can't be that deranged if you're still capable of operating a telephone. The man thought Beavis And Butt-head was called Porky's Butthole for reasons neither Judge, we, nor God can explain, although we're going to guess it had something to do with moonshine consumption.
The man left a 90-second, semi-coherent message in a country twang decrying the evils of "that dang ol' Porky's Butthole," heroically fighting an incomprehensible battle for good taste in television. You can listen to Judge's impression of him below and also see what it looks like when Zach Galifianakis reaches the verge of exploding.
Judge also cites a Dallas drinking buddy whose slurred words he could only get the gist of and a man in Oklahoma City who gave him baffling driving directions as inspirations for Boomhauer's drawl, because satire is a lot easier when the stereotypes you're poking fun at are happy to guide you.
Bart Was Lisa, Lisa Was Bart, Hamburgers Ate People
The Simpsons is such a universal cultural touchstone that the latest generation of parents can quote Bart and Lisa more than they can quote their own children. It's hard to imagine the show being anything other than what it is today and will be until the heat death of the universe (characters with white skin? How freakish), but it could have sounded significantly different. The actresses behind Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) originally tried out for each other's roles, a scenario we're surprised they haven't mined for a "Treehouse Of Horror" episode yet.
Smith, who adorably/creepily sounds exactly like Lisa in real life, got two lines into her audition before being told, "Thanks for coming!" She was given the role of Lisa instead, because even for a prepubescent cartoon boy her unique voice was too high-pitched. While it's always embarrassing to get shut down so quickly in an audition, getting paid millions of dollars to use the same voice for which you were made fun of as a kid is a pretty sweet deal.
Cartwright, meanwhile, arrived fully intending to try out for Lisa. She's a girl, the character's a girl, it was a perfect match. However, when she looked at the script she wasn't impressed with Lisa's dialogue (when the show was first created, Lisa's personality was "Bart with longer hair") and was much more enamored with Bart's school-hating, trouble-making antics.
So Cartwright did what you should never do during an audition -- announce at the last minute that you want to try out for a different part. Permission was granted and, in her words that sound horrible out of context, "I just opened my mouth and a 10-year-old boy popped out." Animated history was made, and all the cows were had.
Shrek Became Scottish In A Last-Minute Change That Cost $4 Million
Even if you've never seen a Shrek movie, you can hear the titular character's thick Scottish brogue in your head. It's the perfect accent for a crude, snarky ogre, but it was arrived at only after a long, winding, and expensive journey.
The role was first offered to Nicolas Cage, who turned it down for the most Cageian reason imaginable. He didn't want to portray an ugly character, because he was worried that a movie about overcoming superficiality would make him unattractive to children. Perhaps it's for the best -- would you want to live in a world where Cage hadn't been forced to churn out hilarious abominations in exchange for quick paychecks?
So the role went to Chris Farley, who recorded about 90 percent of his dialogue before breaking his contractual obligations by dying. Clips of Farley's Shrek have emerged, and he sounds less like a fairy-tale character and more like a down-on-his-luck sitcom schlub.
Rather than bring in a sound-alike to finish the job, they cast Mike Myers, who started by insisting that the film be completely re-written so the character fit his comedic style. With that little request out of the way, he recorded the entire script ... and then asked if he could record it all again with the Scottish accent his mom used when reading him bedtime stories.
That request would be laughed off by most producers, but this was when he was still regarded as a perfectionist comedy genius and no one had ever heard him utter the dark words "The Love Guru." After hearing a few samples, the producers decided to go for it. Sure, it cost them $4 million to revise the animation, but what's the price of a private jet on an already infamously troubled production if that's all that's standing in the way of a funny accent? Shrek went on to be a massive hit, due in part to the fact that Myers' mom felt the need to inject a little pizzazz into her parenting.
The Most Successful Voice Actor Ever Practices With Zoo Animals
Frank Welker has been in over a hundred movies, he's the second-highest-grossing actor in history, and we're guessing you've never heard of him. He was Abu in Aladdin, the footstool in Beauty And The Beast, and a baby bird in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. He was the reindeer in The Santa Clause, the killer whales in Happy Feet, the evil cat in The Smurfs, Curious George in Curious George, and the beloved "various animal vocal effects" in the universally acclaimed Jane Austen's Mafia!
On TV he's been Nibbler and Seymour on Futurama, Santa's Little Helper on The Simpsons, Fred and Scooby-Doo on Scooby-Doo, a gaggle of ghosts on The Real Ghostbusters, Brain and Dr. Claw's cat on Inspector Gadget, and the timeless Batman villain Man-Bat. We could name dozens more, but by now you've noticed that Welker's voiced enough critters to hold a furry convention. In addition to all his regular human voiceover, Welker (along with his fellow animal imitator Dee Bradley Baker) is responsible for pretty much every animal you've heard in modern pop culture. Welker got his start playing with and impersonating frogs as a child, then as an adult drew attention with a stand-up routine that featured a cat and dog fighting, because comedy was different in the '60s.
"But wait," we assume you're asking, "doesn't Hollywood have a big database of sound effects?" Why would you need to pay people to pretend to be animals when actual animals exist?" Well, animals are notoriously bad actors -- you can probably convince them to make noise, but you can't get that perfect sarcastic horse snort or a meow that's clearly the feline equivalent of "Oh snap" on command. It's also kind of illegal to, say, punch a dog in the face so it will give you a nice whimper. And so, even with billions of dollars in technology available to Hollywood, one of the most prolific actors in history prepares for his parts by going to the zoo and making noises at animals.
Celebrities Are Cast Using Ridiculous Test Footage
Today it's practically a guarantee that a big-budget animated movie's sassy sidekick will have the voice of a middle-aged rapper, but celebrities providing their voices to animation is a relatively new phenomenon. We all know and love Robin Williams' take on Aladdin's Genie, but how many of you can name any of the stars of, say, Beauty And The Beast?
To sell A-listers on this novel "acting, but with your voice" concept, animators needed to give them a taste of the finished product. So Disney's animators took bits from a Williams comedy album and drew the genie performing them, complete with extra heads popping up to finish punchlines. Which means that, hopefully somewhere in Disney's sprawling vault, there's footage of the Genie swearing, making drug references, performing the Sperm Ballet, and joking about Mr. Rogers microwaving his hamster.
To convince Tom Hanks to star in a CGI movie from an upstart animation studio, Pixar came to him and said, "Look, we just want to show you this thing, because it's too hard to explain." Because apparently explaining CGI to people in 1995 was like trying to explain talkies to people in 1492.
What they showed Hanks was a clip of a Woody prototype, looking for all the world like a hillbilly version of Chucky, reciting the classic line from Hanks' critically acclaimed Turner & Hooch: "Don't eat the car! Not the car, you stupid dog!" Hanks called the clip "startling" and "hypnotic" and said he "couldn't even explain to friends what it was like." So, either Tom Hanks is more simple-minded than we realized or this really was tantamount to witchcraft at the time, but either way the demo convinced Hanks to sign up.
Even though everyone's got a good sense of what this "annie-may-shaun" thing is about by now, the same technique is inexplicably still used today. That's how we end up with absurd situations like history super-nerd Sarah Vowell voicing The Incredibles' Violet after seeing the character recite part of Vowell's This American Life feature on building and firing a Civil War cannon, because apparently even reserved cultural commentators need to be convinced that they won't look like hideous beasts in animated form.
But these tests don't always work, and when they fail, they offer us little glimpses into worlds that could have been. When you watch the early version of Buzz Lightyear speaking Billy Crystal's rant about a coffee table from When Harry Met Sally, life stops making sense just a little bit.
Man, we really hope there's footage out there somewhere of Shrek spouting quotes from Con Air and Face/Off.
Bill Murray Is Garfield Because He Didn't Read Carefully
Bill Murray also said no to the role of Buzz Lightyear, so how on Earth did he end up agreeing to voice the title role in Garfield, a pathetically lazy cash-in about the fat cat who hates Mondays, loves lasagna, and was assassinated by a rabid Odie?
The script somehow ended up in front of Murray, and having never done voice acting before, he wanted to challenge himself with something new (and he probably didn't want to miss out on being the next Buzz Lightyear, either). He flipped through the first few pages and found them acceptable, and more importantly, he was intrigued by the big name on the byline -- Joel Coen. Miller's Crossing, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, Garfield ... that's a natural career progression, right? "Christ, well, I love those Coens! They're funny," Murray thought to himself, before turning down the low-paying role. Then they offered him significantly more money and he accepted, because pushing yourself artistically is a lot more rewarding when you can buy a new yacht afterward.
Murray went in to record his lines, only to notice that the script was getting dumber and dumber with every page. He tried to improvise and improve the dialogue, but that was like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. Eventually he asked to see footage and was flabbergasted by how terrible it was. He demanded to know how Joel Coen, beloved auteur, had assembled such a cinematic monstrosity, only to be informed that the film had been written by Joel Cohen, one of the scribes behind Monster Mash: The Movie and the Cheaper By The Dozen remake. The fact that no one recorded Murray's reaction to this revelation will haunt us until our dying day.
There are many lessons to be learned here about the importance of always paying close attention to your work, but mostly we just want to know how Bill Murray could have possibly thought that Joel Coen was working on freaking Garfield. Although we really want to see the Coen Brothers' Garfield now, so maybe that was Murray's plan all along.