Voice acting is an incredible artform used in countless animated (and live action in select cases) movies, TV series, video games, and other forms of media. It’s a different art than traditional or live action acting and comes with its own unique challenges and skills. It takes a lot of practice to perfect the skill of voice acting. Unfortunately, however, voice actors are disrespected by major studios far too often.
Despite years of hard work, big-name movie and gaming studios often treat them like they’re unimportant and less than live action actors. Considering their performance is what heavily brings the characters to life, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yet, voice actors who are well-known for portraying famous roles are often replaced by celebrities whenever there’s a high budget adaptation made. In the upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Chris Pratt is taking on the role of the iconic video game mascot despite Charles Martinet, who’s known for playing the character, is also signed on to be in the film. Similarly, in the live action Uncharted movie, the Nathan Drake voice actor Nolan North both appears in the film and actually looks like the character, but is replaced by Tom Holland.
On top of replacing voice actors in these scenarios where it especially isn’t needed, celebrities are also often given jobs over professional voice actors entirely. Disney releases several animated projects each year, and the vast majority of roles are given to live action actors just because they’re household names. Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy definitely give it their all in Cars and their voices do work for the characters, but between them and every other live action actor who appears in animated movies, there are a lot of jobs being snatched away from incredibly talented voice actors.
More times than not, celebrities just read their lines in their own voices without changing a thing. Many of them, like Tom Hanks in Toy Story, still do act with their voices by adding a lot of emotion into their performance. Others, like Justin Timberlake in Trolls or James Corden with any character he has voiced, just sort of blandly read their lines without much effort. Just because they’re famous for live action work, it doesn’t mean they’re cut out for vocal performances.
Voice actors like Tara Strong or Phil Lamarr alter their voices to fit the characters they play. Strong plays Timmy Turner in The Fairly OddParents and Raven in Teen Titans, yet they sound extremely different. That’s not something most live action actors can accomplish. During the 2012 Academy Awards, Chris Rock claimed that “voice acting is the easiest job in the world” because he can simply just say his lines without doing much else, then proceeded to prove why he’s a terrible voice actor by shouting quotes in his regular, unchanged voice. Thoughts like this completely discount the years of training and hard work put in by actual professional voice actors.
It’s also worth noting that there are those who are absolutely talented enough to be great at both voice acting and live action acting, like Khary Payton who’s known for roles in Teen Titans and The Walking Dead. There’s no hard rule on who should act in live action projects versus animated ones; they just need to actually be good at whichever one they do.
Voice actors are usually not paid the same as their live action counterparts. A Futurama revival is being planned at Hulu, and Bender voice actor John DiMaggio was originally not returning to the series due to the low pay for him and his voice acting colleagues. He eventually signed on because he felt he did gain some respect. There has also been some recent drama between Hellena Taylor and Platinum Games regarding the actress’s potential pay for Bayonetta 3. Also, most voice actors apparently aren’t paid residual fees like live action actors usually are. It seems these big companies don’t think the actors bringing their characters to life are worth paying much.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences don’t like to acknowledge voice talent either. There may be Oscars given out for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short, but there’s still no category for voice acting in those animated projects. Their reasoning is that voice actors are technically eligible for the acting categories, but not a single vocal performance has ever been nominated. There’s clear favoritism toward live action actors.
Voice acting is actually seen as highly respected in Japan. Many voice talents are treated prominently as live action actors are in the United States. This is how it should be everywhere since they’re both incredible talents that require different skill sets.
The primary reason for using live action actors instead of voice actors for animated roles is that studios want to pull audiences in by advertising the famous celebrities who are in their movies. What they don’t seem to realize is that there could also be a middle ground; they could brag about a celebrity being in one or two roles while the rest of the characters in a project are played by actual voice actors. They also, for some reason, that audiences will flock to something purely based on the fact that it’s good. Squid Game doesn’t have any actors in it who are well-known in the United States, but it still became Netflix’s most-watched show ever with over one billion viewing hours. That’s because it’s an amazing series.
Hopefully, one day, these big-name studios will start treating the voice actors in the industry with more respect than they have. Until then, we can keep showing our support for those who have worked tirelessly to perfect their voice acting craft.