|By Thad Komorowski|
Tommy Reid, Brandon Sonnier
Tom Kenny, Rob Paulsen, Hank Azaria,
Tara Strong, Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy,
Stephen Root, Jim Cummings, Gregg Berger,
Maurice LaMarche, Nancy Cartwright,Phil LaMarr
As the art form of the cartoon voice enters its eighth decade of existence, proper recognition of the talents involved has been largely sidelined to intense histories and nerdish conventions.
Unsurprisingly, it’s taken the efforts of the artists themselves to get their voices heard (for lack of a better phrase) in the new documentary I Know That Voice.
A collaboration of Tommy Reid, Lawrence Shapiro, and voice artist John DiMaggio (Futurama), the film aims to give long overdue recognition for work often taken for granted.
We all know Mel Blanc had his ego problems, but does anyone truly believe the Warner cartoon characters would have gained their stardom if he didn’t voice them?
If Daws Butler never lived, would anyone remember the Hanna-Barbera cartoons with remote fondness?
Of course, Blanc and Butler are long gone, as is the practice of most Golden Age voice artists having prior experience in radio, which is covered surprisingly well early in the documentary, with insight from the still-living Stan Freberg, June Foray, and Gary Owens. I am kind of amazed Frank Welker was absent, as well as the renowned voice artist researcher and professional Keith Scott. Even in spite of consulting a charlatan like Jeff Lenburg rather than Scott for historical tidbits, I Know That Voice does a good job of giving a bite-sized introduction to the occupation’s history regardless.
The bulk of the film’s focus is today’s active luminaries and the modern industry.
And that’s just fine, given the array of talent readily and happily available. Billy West, Tom Kenny, Hank Azaria, Rob Paulsen, Charlie Adler, Bob Bergen, Nancy Cartwright, and countless others are more than capable of giving an engaging, non-superficial look at what they do for a living (Seth MacFarlane is conspicuously and miraculously omitted).
It’s obvious DiMaggio guided the documentary’s vision, as the coziness amongst the interviewees can get a little overwhelming, becoming an extended, less personable episode of Paulsen’s podcast.
Those familiar with the podcast know that while entertaining, it’s mostly celebrity back-patting and everyone saying how much they love each other, only coming to delightful life when the more colorful animation voice artists (West, Adler, and the absent April Winchell come immediately to mind) are guests.
I Know That Voice is very much a film made by artists for artists as it is for fans.
The legitimate gripe over “celebrity” voices with “marquee value” being common practice in the voiceover industry is given a lot of coverage. With Dreamworks’ upcoming Peabody and Sherman featuring only two or three people with legitimate voiceover credits (and one of them hasn’t even hit puberty), their acrimony couldn’t ring truer.
But, that kind of analysis would call for a documentary twice as long and be counterproductive to the film’s intentions, which is to get these guys and gals’ names out to the general public without off-putting minutiae.
I Know That Voice might get a little patronizing for those who do “know,” but it provides the same engaging warmness you get meeting just about any of the interviewees in person to a wide audience.
These folks truly love what they do—and it isn’t just a job.