After writing a post about Dan Gilvezan’s leadership roles, I started thinking about other surprises in 80s cartoon voice acting. Who starred in the most cartoons? Who had the most diverse range of characters? That kind of thing. I started building a spreadsheet of voice actors whose names appeared in so many credits, but somehow I think I miscounted and I have to start over. I’m definitely going to keep going with it because I have such a huge amount of respect for voice actors – they do such amazing work and hardly get any real credit for it. I hope that changes someday, but in the meantime, hopefully, a couple of posts might make up for it a little bit.
Today, I wanted to talk a bit about voice actors that surprised me when I found out who they were. People you wouldn’t expect to show up in cartoons, or a familiar name from something else showing up.
Orson Welles in Transformers: The Movie
As a kid, I did not know who Orson Welles was. In fact, of all the celebrity names in Transformers: The Movie, I don’t think I recognized one of them. Okay, maybe Robert Stack from Unsolved Mysteries. That’s the weird thing about stunt casting – throwing traditional in-person actors into voice rolls – it’s done for adults more than the kids, to try to give a certain pedigree to a project. Honestly, I hate this kind of casting – voice rolls should go to the best actor, not the biggest name – and it practically originated here. I’ve learned since watching the movie who Orson Welles was, same as Judd Nelson (Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime), but I don’t think I ever found out who Lionel Stander (Kup) was. Still, it was a huge surprise to find out Unicron was voiced by titan in Hollywood, even if he hated the role.
Uncle Phil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Shredder’s voice in the first nine seasons of the Turtles cartoon was pitch-perfect. It was deep and capable of some pretty scary and threatening speeches. I loved hearing him taunt the turtles and then turn around and whine like a child. It came as a big surprise to find out he had another regular roll in the 90s, as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. James Avery’s two roles were so different, I didn’t believe it until much later when IMDB was up and running.
Law & Order in The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
This one I didn’t find out until a few years ago. My wife watches a ton of Murder, She Wrote. There’s a recurring character that sounded a little familiar, played by Jerry Orbach. That’s when I figured out he plays Agent Zachary Foxx from The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers! He did little other voice acting before moving up to Law and Order, but there are some more surprises here. He only had 3 other voice roles besides Foxx, most famously playing Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which he continued to reprise until his death in 2014.
David Kaye as Optimus and Megatron
This one isn’t so much a surprise to find out, but more about how well it worked. Starting in Transformers Beast Wars, David Kaye took over voice work for Megatron. He played the Predacon leader completely opposite of Frank Welker’s, giving him a scheming, sly voice that made him my absolute favorite iteration of the character so far. After Beast Wars ended, Kaye continued to play Megatron through the Unicron Trilogy, but when Transformers Animated started, they cast Corey Burton into the Decepticon Commander. Choosing to make Optimus a younger, less experienced leader, they recast him as well – and David Kaye got the role! He had a youthful and unsure quality that fit the cartoon well and made him stand apart from the confident and imposing Peter Cullen and Gary Chalk performances.
Star Trek: The Next Generation reunion in Gargoyles
This one is just bonkers. Half the main cast of ST: TNG appears in Gargoyles – Jonathan Frakes (Ryker) as David Xanatos, Michael Dorn (Warf) as Coldstone, Bent Spiner (Data) as Puck, and Marina Sirtis (Troi) as Demona. LeVar Burton and Colm Meaney made single appearances as Anansi and Mr. Dugan respectively. Even more surprising is that Kate Mulgrew of Voyager played Queen Titania, and Nichelle Nichols from the original series played Eliza’s mother, Diane. If only they could have gotten Patrick Stewart to play a part!