“I know that voice!”
As promised, this week’s edition of Laura’s List is all about the ridiculously talented people behind the mic. I’m talking about the men and women who create and articulate the voices of our favorite animated characters. Let’s just say, most of them aren’t exactly celebrities (with one exception listed here). So, thanks to some inspiration from John DiMaggio’s hilarious documentary, I Know That Voice (which is now streaming on Amazon Prime), here are my top 10 favorite voice actors in the biz. Not counting Mel Blanc…because he is an immortal legend who’s impossible to rank.
I’ve also provided pictures of THEIR FACES. So, now, you have absolutely NO EXCUSE to not know who these incredibly talented people are. Rant over.
10. Seth MacFarlane
For voice-acting purists, the very recognizable Seth MacFarlane is a controversial choice…but, man, is he funny on Family Guy.
Most famously known as the creator of the infamous but can’t-be-cancelled animated series on Fox, Seth provides the voices of Peter, Stewie, and Brian, and Quagmire, among others. He can go from Boston-y to British in mere seconds, and his voice always lends itself to the mischievous and the hilarious. Plus, he probably delivered the best Commencement speech in the history of college graduations.
9. Dee Bradley Baker
Meet the expert in animal noises. You have to hear it to believe it.
From Perry the Platypus to Appa and Momo from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, Dee Bradley Baker is one of the most creative minds in the business. Seriously, this guy can make the most ridiculous, inhuman noises you’ve ever heard. He’s like the Andy Serkis of voice-acting — Dee can transform into any animal you could imagine, using ONLY his voice.
You can’t just learn how to do that with your voice. When it comes to raw, natural talent, Dee Bradley Baker’s definitely got something special.
8. Tom Kenny
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? This guy.
Tom Kenny voices two of the most manic, out-of-control animated characters on TV right now: SpongeBob SquarePants and the Ice King. He’s also played the Mayor from The Powerpuff Girls, Rabbit in the new installments of Winnie the Pooh, and Spyro, the lovable little video game dragon. Quite a repertoire for one guy.
The most famous non-famous guy in the world, for sure.
7. Dan Castellaneta
Little man, big sound.
Believe it or not, this is the guy behind one of the most famous cartoon characters around: Homer J. Simpson. Okay, maybe they have the baldness thing in common, but that’s about it! Dan also does the voices of Krusty the Clown, Grandpa Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie, and Barney Gumble. Simpsons work aside, he also played Grandpa in Hey Arnold! and replaced Robin Williams as the Genie for Aladdin‘s TV adaptation and one of the film’s sequels.
He’s basically the most underrated TV legend of all time.
6. Tress MacNeille
Every cartoon teenage boy you’ve ever heard was played by a woman. Definitely.
Tress MacNeille has an endless treasure trove of peripheral voices that you’ve probably heard hundreds of times before without even realizing it. On The Simpsons, she’s played Principal Skinner’s mother, Jimbo the town bully, and Brandine the red-neck. She’s played Babs Bunny from the Looney Tunes. She’s played Dot on The Animaniacs. She’s played Angelica’s mom on Rugrats. She’s played Mom on Futurama. Is there any part this woman hasn’t played?
The answer is no.
5. Rob Paulsen
If you ever wanted to know what “NARF” means, this guy probably knows but won’t tell you.
Rob Paulsen’s definitely grown on me over the years. In addition to being an amazing voice actor (Yakko from The Animaniacs, Pinky from Pinky & The Brain, Raphael and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), he’s also extremely active on social media…in a GOOD and effective way. He hosts his very own podcast, Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsen, where he only interviews professional voice actors, dedicated to the craft. He also leaves ample time to answer fan questions and fool around. Basically, Rob’s all about fan engagement and educating audiences on the art of voice-acting. Plus, he’s Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
Good on ya, Rob.
4. Nancy Cartwright
This is Nancy Cartwright. Who the hell are you?
You are looking at the woman who voices the boisterously badass Bart Simpson. She’s a mother of two adult children and, to this day, can STILL play a convincing ten year-old boy. Nancy Cartwright just has a totally unique, irreplaceable sound as Bart that no one else could possibly imitate. It’s light-hearted, quirky, and don’t even get me started on that LAUGH. Nancy also voices Ralph Wiggum and Nelson Muntz, among others on The Simpsons. AND, for you ’90s Nickelodeon nerds, she played Chuckie Finster.
How could any geeky girl not idolize this woman?
3. Hank Azaria
I have this man’s autograph. In my room. If anyone cares.
Hank has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time. He’s most famously known for playing Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum, and Professor Frink on The Simpsons, among other characters. He landed the Simpsons gig when he was REALLY young — the show’s been on for 25 years, and this is what he looks like now…you do the math — so there’s no question about Hank Azaria’s raw talent. But, in addition to his knack for creating some of the most distinct, lovable cartoon voices around, he’s also an excellent actor in other fields. I’ve seen him star in two Broadway shows and various films, including The Birdcage, in which he also puts on a memorable, unique voice. Today, he is featured in Ray Donovan, a TV drama on Showtime.
2. John DiMaggio
Bite his shiny metal ass.
John is #2 on my list for a few reasons: he’s eclectic, committed to the craft, and FUNNY AS HELL. From Bender the Robot to Jake the Dog, John DiMaggio has tackled a ton of lovable rascals in the cartoon world. He’s a master of improvisation, too — bringing an extra kick of life to all of the characters he plays. He is also the mastermind behind the documentary I Know That Voice, which provides an in-depth exploration of the world of voice-acting. Johnny D.’s other characters include Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible and The Joker from Batman: Under the Red Hood.
He also does a spot-on Tracy Morgan impression. Seriously, look it up.
1. Billy West
Meet the champ.
Billy West is my favorite voice actor of all time, simply because the man is an absolute GENIUS. He has an unbelievable repertoire, which includes Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, and Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, Stimpson J. Cat, Doug Funny, the Red M&M, and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee. On top of ALL of that, he sometimes provides the voices of Mel Blanc’s legacy characters, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. The man has a Rolodex of voices spinning around in his brain, and he can switch from one to another within seconds, seamlessly.
And, there you have it! I highly recommend you check out John DiMaggio’s I Know That Voice to learn more about the voice actors you hear every time you turn on the TV. In an age where A-list celebrities can easily step down from the hills of Hollywood and earn big bucks “reading aloud” for an animation studio, it’s important that we all recognize and appreciate the unknowns who do voice-acting for a living — it’s their life’s work. Educate yo-self.
I hope you guys liked the list, and I’ll be back in two weeks with another review! If you’ve got questions, complaints, suggestions for the next post, whatever — hit me up in the comments! And, as always, thanks for reading animate this!