By Emily Feimster
It's always been expected that celebrities would dominate television shows and movies but now they're doing all the commercials, hogging the magazine covers, getting into video games, and that's just the beginning. Yes, it's true - celebrities are taking over the world! So what other professions are in danger of celebrity saturation? We'll give you a hint - think "Shrek" and the new "Shark Tale." Both are animated movies, both are voiced by some of the most famous actors in the business. So watch out you voice-over artists, they're coming for you next!
Sure, famous performers have been giving voice to animated productions practically since the dawn of cartoons. Bugs Bunny worked with Humphrey Bogart and Carmen Miranda back in the day. You might remember Phil Harris and Louis Prima doing their musical thing in "The Jungle Book," Mickey Rooney and Pearl Bailey in as forest creatures in "The Fox and the Hound" or Maurice Chevalier singing "The Aristocats" theme. But we've seen an acceleration of the full use of star power in the animated realm over the last decade or so, as animated films proved they could make it into the ranks of top-grossing features - with the right box office bait.
The push probably started about the time a very famous actor named Robin Williams came along, wowing audiences with his performance in the extremely lucrative "Aladdin."
It gained momentum when the ever-so-popular Tom Hanks joined forces with Pixar Animation Studios to star as cowboy doll Woody in "Toy Story."
"Toy Story" was a huge surprise success for the Disney/Pixar team and suddenly everyone began to take notice of this previously-untapped goldmine. Even Billy Crystal who had turned down the role of Buzz Lightyear, which went to Tim Allen, was soon kicking himself. "It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life," Crystal said. "I voted 'Toy Story' for Best Picture that year. Only thing I ever turned down that I felt bad about."
Now that these animated movies are raking in millions and millions of dollars, there's been no short supply of big actors lending their big voices. Take a look:
"Antz" with Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Danny Glover, Sharon Stone, and Christopher Walken
"A Bug's Life" with Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley, David Hyde Pierce, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
"Tarzan" with Glenn Close, Rosie O'Donnell, and Minnie Driver
"Monsters Inc." with Billy Crystal and John Goodman
"The Road to El Dorado" with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh
"Shrek" with Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and John Lithgow
"Shrek 2" adding Julie Andrews and Antonio Banderas
"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" with Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfieffer, and Joseph Fiennes
"Brother Bear" with Joaquin Phoenix
"Finding Nemo" with Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, and Allison Janney
"Shark Tale" with Will Smith, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, and Jack Black.
So what is it that attracts these big stars to the animated movies? Comedian Wanda Sykes, who will be voicing Bessy the cow for "The Barnyard" starring Kevin James and Courteney Cox-Arquette, responds, "Because it's more laid back. Plus with the advancement of animation and the success of those movies like 'Shrek,' it's attractive to bigger names." Would she be referring to the $430 million that "Shrek 2" has managed to pull in since its release or the $340 million made from "Finding Nemo"? Those two movies alone helped revive the careers of Eddie Murphy and Ellen DeGeneres. Besides, "It's a lot of fun," Wanda adds. "You just go into the booth and do your part. You don't have to spend hours in your trailer waiting for your time or waiting for them to set lights." Yes, Heaven forbid celebrities have to wait!
Many celebrity parents just can't wait to get their voices into one of these extravaganzas to give their offspring a special thrill - along with plush toys, beach towels and other merchandise of mommy's or daddy's character. And, heck yeah, it's for posterity.
Whatever the reason, it's quite apparent that stars are champing at the bit to be a part of the animation phenomenon - while lesser-known voice-over artists are being forced to settle for the leftovers (including imitating the big-name talents when the characters migrate to Saturday morning 'toons).
We offer our sympathy to those talented artists as they are getting shafted by celebrities wishing to get richer and we warn the rest of you entertainment professionals to be on the lookout. Last we heard, Ben Affleck and Julia Stiles were pursuing journalistic endeavors by writing articles for several magazines. Here we go again! Seems like no one's safe in this town.