Trend Changing in Celebrity Voice Casting?

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, this summer’s movies banking on celebrity casting have not proven successful:

The stars are not twinkling bright this summer.

Hollywood’s movie studios, hopeful that marquee-name actors would push their summer box-office receipts to record levels, are finding that the heavyweights aren’t winning over audiences like they used to. With all but a couple of big-budget films already opened, the summer of 2009 is shaping up to be one of the worst on record for Hollywood’s A-list talent.

But rather than igniting ticket sales, the star-studded movies have under-performed dramatically.

The brightest stars of the lucrative popcorn season – which typically accounts for about 40 percent of annual ticket sales – instead have turned out to be mostly movies with no-name actors – or no actors at all.

The article cites Pixar/Disney’s Up as an example of a “high-grossing summer movie” which completely bucks the trend in celebrity voice casting. In fact, Up has the distinction of being the first animated Disney film in a long, long while to avoid casting “Hollywood A-Listers” altogether. Instead, Pixar chose the best performance — voices which actually best fit the characters (as it should be) for the lead roles: newcomer Jordan Nagai, Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, and of course John Ratzenberger (whom it seems Pixar can’t make a movie without), but none of them are considered “high profile” celebrities these days. And the remainder of the cast were either involved in production or are related to Pixar production peeps, or are cartoon voice acting regulars such as David Kaye, Danny Mann, Donald Fullilove, and Jess Harnell.

The Chronicle goes on to say:

The studios, which for years have banked on richly paid stars to open movies, are witnessing a new reality: Even the most reliable actors can be trumped by what Hollywood executives like to call “high concepts” (“The Hangover”), movies based on brand-name products (Hasbro’s Transformers toys) and reinvented franchises (“Star Trek”).

“I think we’re seeing a transformation in what the value of the star system represents,” said Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Pictures, “[And there’s also an] incredible hunger among audiences for something new and different.”

“Movie stars still hold an incredible value both creatively and financially,” “Hangover” director Todd Phillips said. “But it’s getting to be more about the movie and whether it delivers on the promise of its trailers and commercials.”

Moreover, with the Internet, word of mouth about movies spreads instantly.

“The world has changed, throwing conventional wisdom out the window,” former studio marketing executive Peter Sealey said. “The star-power opening is fading in importance and the marketing and releasing of movies is going into new territory where the masses are molding the opinion of a movie. People no longer say, ‘It’s a Tom Cruise movie, let’s go see it!’ With social networking, you know everything about a movie before it comes out.”

Doug Belgrad, production president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said stars alone no longer can compete against the draw of franchise movies and sequels like “Transformers” and “Harry Potter” that come with a high degree of public awareness.

“Movie stars in the right films provide a certain amount of value from a marketing point of view,” he said. “But, there is no star power that you can throw at a movie that gives you the kind of brand awareness you get from presold titles.”

Here’s hoping that this new precedent Pixar has helped to introduce with Up combined with audiences’ possible waning interest in celebrity casting will result in future animated films and TV shows being cast with the performances and characters being the most important consideration, and not on alleged “star power.”

Previous report: 3.20.2009 — Forbes Ranks Animation’s A-List Actors.

2 Responses to Trend Changing in Celebrity Voice Casting?

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  2. adamverner says:

    I hope, hope, hope that this is the truth. Breaking into voice acting on a larger scale is hard enough as it is without competing with celebrities.

    I remember this trend being predicted a while ago when the economy tanked. Why pay a celebrity 10 times as much when you can get a professional VO that’s got more experience and actually might be better? Ad agencies will wise up.

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