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The 20 Best Voice Performances of the Last 20 Years

The actors and actresses of all ages who did some of the best work of their career without anyone seeing their faces.

Jack Angel as Teddy in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”

Jack Angel’s voicing of Teddy suggests David Kaye’s work on “Last Week Tonight” — a known voiceover quantity, imbued with something darker and more sinister. Far from the cuddly, high-pitched plush bear Snuggles, Angel’s casting is the film’s best embodiment of magic colliding with a somber, more pragmatic reality. There’s a rough, android edge to Angel’s voice, but with a glimmer of the perceptive, adaptive intelligence that makes him more than a fuzzy afterthought. (For more Angel’s career and the “A.I.” audition process, Neil Young’s short profile here has some choice behind-the-scenes anecdotes.) Teddy might not have the screentime of some of the other memorable supporting players (including voice actor Hall of Famer Robin Williams as the VR Einstein “Dr. Know”), but it’s telling that as the final shot of “A.I.” widens for its bittersweet crescendo, Teddy is the character we see clearest before the credits roll. — SG

Ellen Degeneres as Dory in “Finding Nemo”

Few animated characters have found their way into the national consciousness quite like Dory, and it’s all thanks to the confused and compassionate voice work by Ellen Degeneres. Sure, the character’s defining short-term memory loss pairs well with Degeneres’ verbal dexterity (she turns mid-sentence breaks and start-and-stop dialogue into an art form), but if it’s the comedian’s lovable forgetfulness that makes Dory so memorable, it’s truly the emotion she bottles up into every burst of excitement and eager pick-me-up line that makes her timeless. Dory may constantly be looking for a sense of self, but Degeneres has always known what that is: Optimism, hope and the power to just keep swimming. — Zack Sharf

Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots in “Shrek 2”

The brilliant appeal of Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots — the cat so adorable he carried “Shrek” sequels to credibility (all by himself, in the last few) — actually has little to do with the actor’s established affiliation with the feline’s creative inspiration. Sure, Banderas was a hoot as Zorro, more than filling the big shoes left by Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power, but it’s the personality the Spanish actor brings to the role that’s made this cat iconic. For as cute as the animators designed him to be, Puss would’ve never come to life without Banderas’ natural charisma — a charisma that’s somehow catlike, even at its most sensual. Personifying animals was an age-old practice by 2004, but never has a cat been more accurately depicted for the impassioned fury and irresistible passion each offers to those deserving of either. Puss has the gusto of a giant, the respect of a gentleman, and the Lothario smirk of a Colin Farrell. Put him in everything. He’s the cat that defined cats, on screen and off. — BT

Holly Hunter as Helen Parr/Elastigirl in “The Incredibles”

We all know moms are superheroes, but this one really is. Holly Hunter is Elastigirl, who can stretch like rubber, and she’s Helen Parr, a mom to three kids being raised under unusual circumstances. Pixar always has had to thread the needle between very real emotions and life-and-death plot twists, but that’s particularly true of “The Incredibles,” which features villains who use deadly force against kids — something Helen constantly has to explain to her often-unresponsive family. Hunter helps anchor us through the tricky tonal balance with a voice performance that captures the sincerity, comedy and strength of the role and the film. — Chris O’Falt

Alan Rickman as Marvin, the Paranoid Android in “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”

Garth Jennings’ inventive adaptation of the Douglas Adams radio play gets an added dose of deadpan comedy and melancholy from Rickman, who completely steals the movie as the voice of Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Rickman is best known for his scowl (thank you, “Die Hard” and “Harry Potter”), but what he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for is just how sensitive he could be. It’s not an easy task trying to bring a sense of identity to a robot — a character that is programmed to lack emotion — but that’s exactly what Rickman does here, building a relatable character out of every droll line reading and disappointed shrug he’s given. Marvin’s depression is played for laughs, but Rickman’s talent can’t help but bring a dramatic edge of frustration that makes the robot one of the film’s most appealing characters. — ZS

Up next: The best cussin’ voice ensemble of the last two decades

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