It takes a lot of talent to give a great performance in a movie or TV show and even more talent to give a great vocal performance. An actor only has their vocal abilities to make an animated character come to life, so it’s even harder to deliver something that stands out. However, when done right, a truly excellent voice performance can be just as, if not even more so, memorable as any live-action performance.
There may be no voice performance in a film more iconic and instantly recognizable than Eddie Murphy as sidekick Donkey in Shrek. Murphy was already a comedic A-lister before earning the role, but his hilarious turn brought his already stellar career to greater heights. Murphy imbues his larger-than-life persona into the character, as well as infectious charisma and energy. It even earned him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the only voice performance ever nominated.
Tom Kenny has voiced SpongeBob SquarePants for over twenty years and continues to prove himself as the perfect and only choice for the role. Kenny perfectly captures SpongeBob’s upbeat and cheerful personality, bringing youthful, energetic, and high-pitched elements to the character’s distinctive voice. Let’s not forget to mention SpongeBob’s signature laugh, which may drive Squidward mad and is best served in small doses, but is utterly infectious.
The best thing about Disney’s animated classic Aladdin is undoubtedly Robin Williams’ versatile voice performance as Genie. As one of the greatest talents of our time, Williams brought comedic and dramatic elements to the role, developing many layers for the character. Genie appears in many forms, allowing the actor to utilize his vast vocal range while consistently radiating warmth and heart. This resulted in the creation of such a prolific character.
Nancy Cartwright is a voiceover actress who has easily convinced viewers for over thirty years that a middle-aged woman is actually a ten-year-old boy. Well, not literally, but through voicing Bart Simpson on the classic animated television series. When you learn that Cartwright’s voice sounds nothing like Bart’s, her vocal ability and range are unbelievable. To further blow your mind, she also voices other characters on the show, like Ned and Ralph.
There has perhaps never been an actor so permanently linked and associated with the animated character they voice as Jack Black is with Po from Kung Fu Panda. You obviously need a great comedic actor to play a clumsy underdog like Po, and Black more than delivers on the laughs front. However, what makes Black’s performance shine is the enthusiasm, naivety, and empathy he injects into Po, making him a protagonist that viewers passionately root for.
Not only is Seth McFarlane the creator of Family Guy, but he also provides many distinct voices for several of its characters. The standout of the bunch is, of course, Peter Griffin, the moronic and unintelligent father of the family. McFarlane’s unique vocal performance gives Peter a thick Rhode Island accent, heavily exaggerated with comedic energy and timing. The actor also gives some iconic musical performances as Peter throughout the show, including “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen.
The movie may be called Finding Nemo, but viewers remember Dory the most, partly due to the perfect casting of Ellen DeGeneres. The famed talk show host brings warmth, humor, and plenty of heart to this forgetful fish, making her a lovable sidekick who steals the show. Aside from showcasing her comedic chops, DeGeneres perfectly captures Dory’s innocence and naivety. The character's success led to Finding Dory, with DeGeneres reprising her role.
Since the 1960s, many actors have had the task of creating and sustaining the soft, soothing, and heartwarming voice of Winnie the Pooh. That job has belonged to prolific voice actor Jim Cummings since the 1980s, and he has completely owned it. Voicing Pooh in several shows, games, and movies, including his titular feature film in 2011, Cummings has perfectly recreated the yellow bear’s iconic voice, which feels like a warm hug and is as sweet as the honey he loves so much.
Through both motion-capture and voice performance, Andy Serkis brought to life one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Using his physicality and vocal talents, Serkis creates a singularly unpleasant voice for the creature, with raspy and scratchy textures. Best described as a cat coughing up a giant furball, the Gollum voice is constantly imitated, making phrases like “my precious” iconic in movie history.
Like many members of the The Simpsons cast, Dan Castellaneta voices a number of Springfield citizens. However, everyone knows him as the voice of the one and only Homer Simpson. Homer, the lazy but loving family patriarch, is perhaps the most famous cartoon character of all time, partly thanks to Castellaneta’s dynamic vocal range. Homer’s voice has a nasal and whiny sound to it that fluctuates between low and high pitch and is recognized all over the world.
Scar from The Lion King is the epitome of evil and one of Disney’s most threatening antagonists ever, thanks to the brilliant casting of renowned British actor Jeremy Irons. The veteran actor's classical training brings a Shakespearean quality to his performance, as he injects Scar with hate and malice. From the character’s grand and villainous monologues to his scowls and sinister whispers, viewers will need to "be prepared" for how good Irons is in the role.
Many people will say their favorite Batman is Michael Keaton or Christian Bale, but one of the most memorable iterations of the caped crusader comes in animated form, thanks to the late, great Kevin Conroy. Conroy provides the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in a number of DC movies, video games, and TV shows, including Batman: The Animated Series. Conroy voices many different versions of the character through many different mediums and, as a result, remains the definitive voice for the hero.
The Emperor’s New Groove is one of Disney’s most underrated animated movies, and it happens to star legendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt as Yzma, who is also one of their funniest villains. As the scheming former advisor to the Emperor, Kitt gives a totally committed and theatrical performance, filling Yzma with absolute sass, energy, and unhinged chaos. Let’s hope this is one Disney movie that doesn’t get a live-action remake because no one could ever match Kitt.
As co-creator of the hit animated comedy series South Park along with Matt Stone, Trey Parker provides a number of voices for the show. The most notable are protagonists Stan Marsh and Eric Cartman. As the two foul-mouthed ten-year-olds, Parker adds a childish tone and inflection to his voice. It’s high-pitched and slightly irritating, especially when it comes to the abrasive and aggressive Cartman. Twenty-five years later, Parker still provides the voices for these controversial kids.
Darth Vader is perhaps the most legendary villain in cinematic history, and a huge part of that is due to the deep, booming voice of James Earl Jones. Jones has voiced Vader in every Star Wars movie in which the character appears, and with him remaining ominously faceless under his mask, Jones’ muffled voice radiates intimidation and fear across the galaxy. Thanks to the actor’s prowess and strong vocal baritone, he helped to craft a villain for the ages.
Tara Strong is a queen in the world of voice acting, playing iconic characters of the 2000s, including Raven in Teen Titans and Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls. However, her most impressive role to date is as ten-year-old Timmy Turner in Nickelodeon’s The Fairly OddParents. Strong completely transforms her real voice and makes viewers believe she is a young boy rather than a middle-aged woman. How she manages to make it so authentic, we’ll never know.
In another example of perfect casting, America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks plays Woody, one of Pixar’s most lovable characters, in the Toy Story movies. Hanks brings his signature charm and warmth to the role, making Woody so likable and easy to root for. He also instills a sense of depth and insecurity into the character, making his arc all the more satisfying and crafting a protagonist who isn’t perfect. Hanks makes viewers believe they’ve got a friend in Woody.
At this point, Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime, and Optimus Prime is Peter Cullen. Cullen has voiced the heroic leader of the Autobots in movies, TV shows, and video games, starting with the 1984 animated series The Transformers up to 2023’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. The renowned actor’s abilities bring authority and gravitas to this truck-disguised robot. Having been with the character for almost forty years, he has become permanently associated with the bot.
Not only is Chris Sanders one of the co-directors and writers of Disney’s cult classic Lilo & Stitch, but he also provides the voice of the mischievous but adorable blue alien "dog." Sanders’ versatility and vocal manipulation are utterly impressive, creating a unique voice for Stitch. Speaking with a somewhat nasally tone and in broken English, Sanders perfectly expresses Stitch’s humorous and goofy side, as well as his sensitivity and vulnerability.
Known as the man of a thousand voices, it’s not an understatement to say Mel Blanc is the greatest voice actor of all time. With over a thousand acting credits to his name, Blanc originally voiced virtually every major character in WB’s Looney Tunes pantheon. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Elmer Fudd, and more were all brought to life by the vocal genius. Blanc voiced the characters right up to his death in 1989 and has left a monumental legacy behind.
Alyssa De Leo is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has studied both media and screenwriting, and has had her work screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival. She loves writing about film and television just as much as she loves creating her own projects and stories.