Vanity Fair’s Top Hollywood Earners of 2009


I might have saved this one for the next edition of Frivolous List Friday except that it involves some heretofore unmentioned upcoming animated feature films and details on earnings from voiceovers — a “hot topic” here as one of this blog’s most-read articles.

Names of note on Vanity Fair’s list of “Top Hollywood Earners”:

#7. Ben Stiller: Madagascar film series
– VF: Estimated “$5 million: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (back-end bonus for voice work, and share of DVD)”

#8. Tom Hanks: Toy Story series
– VF: Est. “$15 million: Toy Story 3 (fee for voice work in upcoming “3-D-quel”)”

#12. Adam Sandler: voices in 8 Crazy Nights and upcoming Zookeeper
– VF: Est. “$2 million: Zookeeper (fee for voice work in and producing upcoming animated feature)”

#16. Owen Wilson: voices in Cars and upcoming Cars 2 sequel and Marmaduke
– VF: Est. “$1 million: Marmaduke (fee for voice work in upcoming animated film based on tired comic strip)”

#17. Nicolas Cage: G-Force
– VF: Est. “$2 million: G-Force (back-end bonus for voice work, based on worldwide gross of $285 million)”

#19. Cameron Diaz: Shrek series
– VF: Est. “$10 million: Shrek Forever After (fee for voice work in upcoming 3-D “fourquel”)”

#21. Johnny Depp: voice in upcoming Rango animated feature
– VF: Est. “$7.5 million: Rango (fee for voice work in upcoming animated film)”

#22. Steve Carell: voices in Over the Hedge and upcoming Despicable Me
– VF: Est. “$500,000: Despicable Me (fee for voice work in upcoming animated feature)”

#29. George Clooney: Fantastic Mr. Fox
– Earnings info from Fantastic Mr. Fox not available.

#31. Reese Witherspoon: Monsters vs Aliens
– VF: Est. “$10 million: Monsters vs. Aliens (back end for voice work, based on worldwide gross of $381 million, and share of DVD)”

#40. Brad Pitt: voice in upcoming Megamind feature film
– VF: Est. “$5 million: Megamind (fee for voice work)”

Related post: 4.27.2009 — How Much Do Voice Actors Earn?

Pitt, Farrell and Hill to Co-Star in DreamWorks’ ‘MegaMind’


In March 2009, I reported the following:

Robert Downey Jr., Tina Fey and Ben Stiller will be lending their voice talents to DreamWorks’ Master Mind CGI feature scheduled for 2010. describes the film’s plot as a “satirical take on superhero movies, in which a notorious villain loses his oomph after he accidentally kills his nemesis.”

According to both IMDb and an August 18th article on, the new working title for the project (currently listed in post-production) is Oobermind Megaind and is slated for a November 2010 release. Furthermore, neither Downey nor Stiller are listed as being involved, and People states that Downey (who canceled due to schedule conflicts) has been replaced with Will Farrell as the voice of Oobermind MegaMind. Jonah Hill appears to have replaced Stiller as the voice of a reluctant new superhero named Titan, while Fey voices a news reporter named Roxanne Ritchi.

People also reports that Pitt is co-starring in something of a cameo role as the voice of superhero “Metro Man” against Farrell’s villainous Oobermind MegaMind.

I discovered the People article via The Animation Guild blog which offered some amusing and ironic commentary on a report by The LA Business Journal which seemed surprised that the announcement of the Pitt, Farrell and Hill celebrity voice casting was ineffective in helping to boost DreamWorks’ stock.

It’s something I’ve already discussed here on a few occasions, but I enjoyed TAG’s tongue-in-cheek sarcasm in their response:

Here’s the thing about big-name, celebrity voices: Sometimes they work out wonderfully well, and they are often useful in promoting a high profile animated feature.

But are they necessary? Do they add to the bottom line?

Only marginally.

Ed Asner was a fine choice for Up, but face it. Pixar didn’t choose him because he’s tabloid catnip or a marquee name like Mr. Pitt. They chose him because he was right for the role. (And Disney seems to be doing okay in the big grosses department as regards Up.)

I’m not saying using mega stars is necessarily a bad way to go, but [Pitt] didn’t provide a lot of added value the last time he performed a voice role for DreamWorks Animation. This time, I’m sure, will be different.

Update: 2.11.2010 — On Jan. 15th, Movieweb reported on DreamWorks’ 2010 film presentation which mentions that the new title for the film is MegaMind, that David Cross will voice MegaMind’s assistant, and that Ben Stiller is producing. Movieweb also describes the action of the 10-minute preview and interviews Jonah Hill about his character.

Related post: 7.07.2009 — Trend Changing in Celebrity Voice Casting?

Hollywood’s “Most Valuable” Comedians


Following Forbes’ list on Animation’s A-List Actors, they have now ranked Hollywood’s Most Valuable Comedians.

This is a continuation of Forbes’ series posting results from the 2008 polling of “hundreds of entertainment industry professionals to rate 1,400 actors on critical financial metrics, such as their abilities to attract financing for films and drive box office revenues.”

And Entertainment Weekly has spared us the hassle of clicking through Forbes’ photo countdown in order to view the complete list:

1. Adam Sandler
2. Will Ferrell
3. Ben Stiller
4. Jim Carrey
5. Vince Vaughn
6. Steve Carell
7. Eddie Murphy
8. Sacha Baron Cohen
9. Jack Black
10. Robin Williams

What does this have to do with voice acting? Well, did you happen to notice that every comedian on the list has lent their voice to an animated feature film, and some of them more than once?

I realize that the discussion over celebrity voices in animation has been done to death. Heck, I just did a whole feature op-ed on the subject last month. And not that any of the above comedians/actors have performed poorly as voice actors (although Adam Sandler often fails to impress me), but I was reminded recently that whenever I watch an animated feature with a poor celeb performance, I always catch myself trying to imagine what other actors might have sounded like in the same role, and how improved the character performance might have been if the studio had actually taken the time to audition other actors until they found the ideal voice for the part, rather than the mad rush to cast and launch the marketing campaign first and ask questions later after the film failed to meet their box office expectations.

I’ve never thought to ask if anyone else does this too. Feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment — especially any examples of specific roles that you think would have been improved by casting a different actor, and who you think that actor should have been.

Celebrity Voice Acting Round-Up (yee-hah.)


Forgive me for lumping all these celebrity voice acting news bits together. It was more for the sake of convenience, and not because I have any personal bias against celebrity voice acting (as I previously discussed here).

– Rapper Kanye West will have a recurring role as Kenny West on FOX’s upcoming Family Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show (as previously reported here). Producers for the new series, Mike Henry and Richard Appel, spoke with People Magazine about Kanye’s involvement in the show:

“It was surprising to us that [he] was so into it that he came to the table [read], and wonderfully surprising how cool he was, how funny he was and how unassuming he was,” says Henry, who voices Cleveland Brown and other characters on the show. “He’s just a great presence.”

“We knew Kanye was a big Family Guy fan because he invited [creator] Seth [MacFarlane] to his house a year or two ago,” adds Henry. “And there was a mention on his blog when the spin-off was announced that he was excited about it. We knew he was a big fan and a lot of us are fans of his.”

“We just recorded him in the booth and he was fantastic,” says Appel. “Once he read it a couple times through, he just owned the character, which I guess isn’t hard since he was named Kenny West. He said he’d be glad to [be back.]. I said we could write him in to the next 21 episodes!” reports that Johnny Depp is recording new narration for When You’re Strange, Tom DiCillo’s documentary about rock legends The Doors which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

– The educational CGI/3D feature film Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey boasts a lengthy and impressive celebrity voice cast: Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming “Star Trek XI” feature film), Samuel L. Jackson (“The Spirit,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Star Wars”), Hayden Christensen (“Jumper,” “Star Wars”), Amanda Peet (“X-Files Movie 2”), Robert Picardo (“Stargate Atlantis”), Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”), Casey Kasem (“Transformers,” “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”), Tom Kenny (voice of “Sponge Bob Squarepants,” “Transformers”), Sandra Oh (“Sideways,” “Grey’s Anatomy”), Brent Spiner (“Independence Day,” “Star Trek: Next Generation”), James Earl Jones (“Star Wars”), William Shatner (“Boston Legal,” “Star Trek”), Mark Hamill (“Star Wars”), astronaut Neil Armstrong, Doug Jones (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Abe Sabien – Hell Boy”), Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”), and Janina Gavankar (“The L Word”).

The film is scheduled for release in September 2009. Character profiles and a preview of the character designs and animation are available at the official movie site:

Life & Style Magazine reports that Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, Get Smart) will have a cameo in an upcoming episode of Family Guy. “Anne is a longtime fan of the show. She hadn’t considered guest-starring until series creator Seth MacFarlane approached her,” an insider told the magazine. “He pitched Anne an episode idea that completely cracked her up. She didn’t even have to think it over — she wanted in!” Hathaway also recorded for an episode of The Simpsons earlier this year.

James Earl Jones is narrating the U.S. release of Earth, a feature-length spinoff of the BBC TV series, Planet Earth. The UK version released in 2007 was narrated by Patrick Stewart. The film makes its US debut April 22, appropriately, on “Earth Day.”

Mike Tyson is narrating Tyson, a feature film documentary on his life opening in NY and LA on April 24th, 2009. When asked by the UK’s Daily Mirror what was most difficult about making the documentary, Tyson responded, “Doing retakes and voiceovers. I was in rehab and sometimes I couldn’t go as it was against my curfew.”

And it’s only because Tyson doesn’t know where I live that I’m saying this, but I would imagine just trying to read one word at a time out loud for the narration was the most difficult for him. (Now watch him find this in a random Google search, hunt me down, and bite off my ear. But on second thought, no worries: he doesn’t know how to spell “Google.”)

Robert Downey Jr., Tina Fey and Ben Stiller will be lending their voice talents to DreamWorks’ Master Mind CGI feature scheduled for 2010. describes the film’s plot as a “satirical take on superhero movies, in which a notorious villain loses his oomph after he accidentally kills his nemesis.” reports that Ellen Degeneres will be voicing a character in the Warner Bros animated film Dog Show, currently in early development and tentatively scheduled for release in 2011. More on this from

“Dog Show” [is] a pitch for an animated [film] from Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons who also wrote DreamWorks Animation’s’ “Master Mind.” “Eagle Eye” writer John Glenn and producer David Manpearl developed the idea with Schoolcraft and Simons before approaching DeGeneres [about producing and performing in the film]. The team took the project around town and Warners topped others competing for the title. Not much on the plot now, but apparently the story tells of a stray dog and her misfit friends who shake things up a bit for a posh dog show.

– Rapper/actor Tone Loc, who has recorded voice-overs for several animated projects (Chowder, King of the Hill, Static Shock, C-Bear and Jamal), says in an interview with that voice-overs are “easier” than anything else he’s involved with: “I don’t need to get up early. I don’t need makeup. You just get in there and say what you’ve got to say.” reports that Liam Neeson has joined the cast for Disney’s English dub of acclaimed anime film director Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, which is scheduled to make its US theatrical debut August 14th, 2009. Other members of the US voice cast include Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Noah Cyrus, Madison Davenport, Frankie Jonas, and Cloris Leachman. ETOnline says the animated film is “inspired by The Little Mermaid fairy tale and follows an overeager goldfish named Ponyo that is determined to become a human.”

And speaking of Cloris Leachman… just for the heck of it, here’s a pic of her literally dressed in lettuce as the spokesperson for Peta’s new vegetarian campaign: "Let Vegetarianism grow on you." "Let Vegetarianism grow on you."

Jack Black’s Voice Wins Nick’s Kids Choice Award


Based on his performance in the 2008 DreamWorks CGI film, Kung Fu Panda, Jack Black was declared “Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie” in Nick’s 2009 Kids Choice Awards, winning out over nominees Ben Stiller (Madagascar 2), Jim Carrey (Horton Hears A Who), and Miley Cyrus (Bolt).

Other animation-related winners included SpongeBob SquarePants for “Favorite Cartoon” and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for “Favorite Animated Movie.”

Black is voicing Eddie Riggs in the Electronic Arts heavy metal-influenced hack-and-slash adventure, Brutal Legend, releasing Fall 2009 for the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3.

Forbes Ranks ‘Animation’s A-List Actors’


Must have been a slow news day for Forbes to cause reporter Lauren Straub to make the effort to research and rank “Animation’s A-List Actors” which Straub defines as the “10 most successful actors at getting audiences to tune into ‘toons.”

Straub says, “To collect the list of animation’s A-list, we looked at the animated films released since 1980 that earned at least $50 million domestically and compiled a list of every actor who portrayed a top-billed character in at least one of the movies. We ranked the actors based on the film’s box-office earnings and the actor’s media presence tied to the film. If an actor was in more than one movie, the figures were averaged.”

And the resulting list:

Eddie Murphy
Mike Myers
Cameron Diaz
Owen Wilson
Tim Allen
Tom Hanks
Robin Williams
Ellen DeGeneres
Jack Black
Ben Stiller

I think it’s important to note that Straub’s list ignores the co-stars of the films mentioned: Ellen DeGeneres’ Finding Nemo co-star Albert Brooks; Owen Wilson’s Cars co-stars Dan Whitney (aka Larry The Cable Guy), Bonnie Hunt, and Paul Newman; Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda co-stars Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and Jackie Chan; and Ben Stiller’s Madagascar co-stars Chris Rock and Alec Baldwin. This makes the list appear to be subjective selections, which in my opinion negates the entire point of the article.

The article continues:

Casting an animation role isn’t as simple as finding a big name. “As a casting director, I’d like to hire the best person for the job,” say Ruth Lambert, a casting director. But, she adds, big-name stars are a way for production companies to get better distribution and better financing, especially in the international market. “A lot of times we end up hiring people not because they are right for the part but for what they can provide.”

Though A-listers can bring comedic talent that transcends star power. Lisa Stewart, a producer on the upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens, says the project’s stars brought an invaluable talent for improvisation. Producers would bring Seth Rogen or Stephen Colbert into the recording studio with some lines and “let them go,” says Stewart. “We’d just be on the other side of the booth in hysterics.”

Straub also incorrectly credits Robin Williams as “one of the first big-name actors to voice an animated character,” when it actually originated with Walt Disney hiring stars from radio, stage, and film to voice characters in his animated features some 50 years before the studio hired Williams to voice the Genie in Aladdin. Furthermore, it was not The Lion King but Transformers: The Movie (1986) that was genuinely the first animated feature where a studio actively recruited several celebrities for lead characters and used their “star power” to promote the film (as I discussed here previously).

Straub goes on to offer other inaccuracies and contradictions in her article, although she did finally get it right when she said, “The lasting appeal of a film’s characters clearly trumps the fleeting popularity of today’s voice-over stars.”

I’ve no doubt that Pixar’s films like the Toy Story movies, Cars, and The Incredibles would have been no less entertaining regardless of who voiced the lead roles. With Pixar’s track record, they could have cast complete unknowns and yet those films would still have been successful because they strive to maintain a high standard of quality…which doesn’t seem to be of much concern to the studios cranking out formulaic animated crap. Pixar also understands and emphasizes what is most important about a film: the story and the characters. And if studios could make quality animated films with an entertaining story and likable characters, and cast actors who actually fit the characters rather than casting celebrities based on their potential box office draw, the films would likely be more commercially successful. And there’s plenty of evidence that star voices have done little to boost the success of some animated films, like the recent The Tale of Despereaux, for example, which barely cracked $50 million at the box office despite the celebrity voice cast.

While casting Hollywood stars may indeed convince a small percentage of the public to see an animated film, it ultimately boils down to the film’s overall entertainment value as to whether it becomes successful (although there are exceptions, like the critically-acclaimed The Iron Giant, which Warner Bros made no real effort to promote).

Animated films are generally made for kids and families anyway. And if kids aren’t interested in seeing it, celebrity casting adds little to no value towards making the film a hit with the target demographic. As casting director Lambert says in the article, “I have a 7-year-old son, and he doesn’t care who’s in the movie. He just wants to be amused.”