Why celebrity voice acting is lazy


Isabelle Curtis

Last November, I was one of the many that watched with fascinated horror as Chris Pratt was voice cast as Mario and then Garfield only days later.  Despite recent allegations of homophobia, Pratt’s rise to stardom from the Marvel franchise has made him a box office draw. 


It is not news to anyone that we are in the age of the reboot. Beating the metaphorical dead horse of beloved properties to see if they’ll cough up a few extra million dollars. I think Yakko Warner from the ironically rebooted 2020 “Animaniacs” put it best: “Reboots are symptomatic of a fundamental lack of creativity in Hollywood. A creativity crisis fueled by terrified executives clinging to the past like rats to the debris of a sinking ship.” 


However, I think the decision to cast Pratt in two vastly different iconic roles also points to Hollywood’s larger issue around celebrity voice acting and its relationship with the soulless reboot. Casting celebrities for roles in animation isn’t a new practice. But in recent decades it seems that animated features are marketed less on their stories, artistry, or music but rather what industry celebs are tied to the project. This trend began after Disney’s 1992 commercial success “Aladdin” which featured Robin William’s iconic Genie, an example of a character that was animated around its voice actor. This made Disney and other animation companies realize the marketing power of celebrity voice acting.  


But an A-list celebrity lineup does not make a movie. Does anybody remember anything about Shark Tale (2004) besides that Will Smith and Angelina Jolie were in it? How about Beyoncé’s Epic (2013)? The only thing I could tell you about Smallfoot (2018) is that Zendaya is Meechee.  


This isn’t to say that all celebrity voice acting is bad. Some standout performances include the aforementioned Robin Williams in “Aladdin,” Eddie Murphy in “Shrek” or Jack Black in “Kung Fu Panda.” This is because they are actually playing characters with their voices. 


Pratt has only voiced two characters; Emmet in The Lego Movie (whose purpose is to be an “everyman”) and Barley in Onward (2020) (a goofy older brother that should have been voiced by Jack Black.) Yet, Hollywood wants me to believe that this man has the range to voice Italian plumber Mario and sarcastic fat cat Garfield?  


The over-reliance on celebrity voice acting also contributes to the lack of respect actual voice actors are given. Charles Martinet has been voicing Mario for Nintendo since 1992, as well as lending his talents to Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi over the years. His signature “Wahoo!” is immediately recognizable to generations of fans. Yet, he’s only scheduled to voice a cameo role in the upcoming 2022 Mario. Meanwhile, Frank Welker —one of the most prolific voice actors of all time with over 860 film, television and video game credits—has been voicing Garfield since 2007 and, as of now, has no involvement with the upcoming film.  


Western animation has come a long way from being considered a kids-only medium, with hits like Into the Spiderverse (2017) gaining widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking animation and phenomenal storytelling. It’s time to stop using celebrities to market weak films because of marketing laziness and instead draw audiences through the sheer artistry of the medium.  

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.