On the Third Day ’til Christmas…

12.22.2009

Continuing the series of Holiday animated treats is Life With Louie: A Christmas Surprise for Mrs. Stillman, yet another underrated gem of an animated Christmas special from the Fox Kids series of the same name.

This was also the series’ premiere (original airdate: December 18, 1994) from this animated kids show based loosely on the childhood of comedian Louie Anderson.

I have some closing thoughts on this episode (including the voice credits) following the video links below.

And without further ado, I present A Christmas Surprise for Mrs. Stillman:

This is another special and animated series I would love to own on DVD, and Louie Anderson said in a letter to a fan (re-posted on TVShowsonDVD.com) in October 2006 that he had run into “legalities with Disney,” and added that they seemed to be “working themselves out” and that the series “should be out soon.”

Over three years later and the hopes for “soon” are looking rather bleak.

Looking back on the show now, it seemed ahead of its time. I don’t think it quite qualified as a kids show because it felt “grown-up” and familiar — based in reality but with comedic elements, much like King of the Hill would be when it debuted on FOX a few years later.

There are little moments throughout the episode that remind me a lot of my childhood. Louie’s dad, Andy, is like of a composite of my own dad mixed with personality traits of my grandfathers on both sides of my family. And a couple scenes in particular are like seeing flashbacks lifted directly from my own life and animated, like Andy and sons watching the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street on TV (I kid you not — that very same scene happened in my own home some 30 years ago).

And Andy’s line at the close of the episode is very much like something my own dad would’ve said at that moment. That one line effectively sets this episode apart from being like so many other schmaltzy and sadly predictable Holiday specials. It’s realistic, and very funny. Louie even says in the opening narration, “We never had a Christmas like the families on TV did.” I couldn’t agree more — those always seemed contrived and cheesy to me too.

And that’s what I appreciate most about this particular special — it captures the essense of the holiday season without being pithy and formulaic, and it’s genuinely “special” because it feels real and familiar…and a lot like home.

I also love how the ending fades from animation into reality, and you see Anderson appearing on-camera performing the voice of his dad and wishing the audience a “Merry Christmas,” which is how many TV holiday specials and radio shows before that used to end the broadcast. The nostalgia factor is high in this special in so many ways that makes it an annual viewing for me (which makes it all the more frustrating that it hasn’t yet been released on DVD — darn you, Disney!).

The voice talents featured in this special include:

Louie Anderson as Himself, Narrator, “Little Louie,” “Dad” (Andy Anderson)
Edie McClurg as “Mom” (Ora Anderson)
Justin Shenkarow as Michael Grunewald
Debi Derryberry as Jeannie Harper
Troy Evans as Tree Salesman, Police Officer Joe
Wallace Langham as Police Officer #2
Laura Leighton as Laura Anderson
Liz Sheridan as Mrs. Stillman

Previous post: 12.21.2009 — “It’s A Very Merry Eek’s-Mas” Feature

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Voice Directors McSwain and Zimmerman Interviewed

07.24.2009

Justin Shenkarow has been doing voice-overs since the age of 6. He performed the voice of the iconic Charlie Brown in It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown! (1982), was the voice of Little Sprout in Jolly Green Giant commercials, and has voiced lead and supporting characters for such cartoons as W.I.T.C.H., Hey Arnold, 101 Dalmatians, and Life with Louie.

I recently discovered Justin’s blog — JustIn Time, which includes two interviews from June 2009 with voice directors Ginny McSwain (Jimmy Neutron, The Batman, Darkwing Duck) and Kris Zimmerman (The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, Ben 10, Curious George).

Both interviews are a must-read for aspiring voice actors, beginners, and professionals for the insight they offer on doing auditions and what it takes to break in and succeed as a voice actor. Here are some excerpts:

– Ginny McSwain (official site: GinnyMcSwain.com) on what it takes to break into voice-overs:

You can’t touch it unless you’re a strong actor. Versatility is good, being in touch with the basics, theater people gravitate the quickest to the microphone, they know how to breathe, they know the pacing, and have good energy…I’m looking for people that can cut to the chase really fast, they’ve got all the layers to the part. If you’re not a strong actor, you won’t know the layers, the nuances the flushing out of the character. Forget about the microphone, it’s all about the acting and telling the story. Most importantly you have to know what your voice sounds like. So much of this is creating characters, sides of the character—low key, anger, laughter, crying. Now a lot is listening for natural actors. You need a work out, take a class, sit in front of a microphone continuously figuring out where your placement is for your voice—for an intimate read, over the top, you have to get there fast for voice-over. Training is important, take classes in animation.

Click here to read Ginny’s complete interview.

– Kris Zimmerman on how to break into voice-overs:

Belief in yourself is key; having the acting skills, as well as vocal versatility. It’s not a voice job, or a sound job, it’s an acting job. I don’t like it when it’s pinballed as “it’s just voice-over.” It’s one of the most difficult acting jobs that you can think of, because you don’t have sets, or props. All you’ve got is a microphone and a piece of glass between us and our imaginations. The more that the actor can pull on those tools: imagination, creativity, and self-directing skills, the more successful they’ll be.

– Kris on how to stand-out in an audition:

You have to be in the moment. The actor must have the character live that moment. It’s easy to hear if someone is just reading. If it sounds like they’re giving me the dialogue because it’s written in front of them, I can tell. It’s a medium where you have to read because you’re not going to memorize a 1700 page script, but you have to be able to get your brain off the page and not forget that you’re responding to something that happened.

Click here to read Kris’ complete interview.

Justin also has an interview with Hey Arnold! and Dinosaur Train creator Craig Bartlett, who performed the voice of Brainy in Hey Arnold! as well as characters in Cactus (2008), Party Wagon (2004), and The Adventures of Mark Twain (1986).