Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Who is your favorite voice actor for animated characters on TV? Why?
Dave Trumbore (@DrClawMD), Collider
My knee-jerk reaction was either Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamill for their roles as Batman/Bruce Wayne and The Joker, respectively, because “Batman: The Animated Series” is always on my mind. But thinking a moment more, my favorite voice actor (and arguably the best in the biz) is Frank Welker.
His name might not be a household one, but with over 800 credits and nearly 50 years in the industry, Welker’s voice definitely is. If you’ve ever heard Fred Jones or Scooby-Doo, Hefty Smurf, Abu in Disney’s “Aladdin,” various lion roars in Disney’s “The Lion King,” or any number of superheroes/supervillains, cartoon animals, Transformers, G.I. Joes, you name it, you’ve heard Frank Welker. He’s an absolute staple of animation nostalgia and contemporary cartoons. Welker’s still active today and hopefully will remain so for years to come.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Everyone is saying H. Jon Benjamin, right? They better be. Because even though he sounds pretty much the same on “Bob’s Burgers,” “Archer” and even as the can of fruit on “Wet Hot American Summer,” Benjamin’s droll, slightly nasally intonations are exactly what make those characters sing and I cannot imagine anyone else bringing them to audible life. The fact that he is able to give petulant, sexually dynamic superspy Sterling Archer a distinctly separate identity from the broken man that is Bob Belcher with only a slight alteration to his normal speaking voice is really some kind of voodoo.
I also worshipped former “SNL” writer Paula Pell as Gadget Gal, the randy, old-school superhero who was zapped back into her 25-year-old body on Hulu’s now-canceled “The Awesomes.” She sounded like a ’40s movie star crossed with Jane Lynch at her Sue Sylvester best, which made her inappropriate tales of carnal activity rants of staccato beauty.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com
Can I say Tom Petty? Too soon? I don’t watch a lot of animated shows, so I’m really not well versed in this area. If I were a kid, I would say the whole cast of Rugrats. Right now, I’ll give it to Jessica Biel for her exemplary work on “BoJack Horseman.” Yeah, part of why it works so well is the deliciously barbed material itself and the infrequency in which she appears (can’t have too much of a good thing), but her delivery, self-awareness and total “I’m game”-ness are downright un-Biel-ievable.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
I’m not sure if the “is” in the question has to mean “active and living.” If that’s the case, appropriate nod to all my favorite “Simpsons” vocal stars, especially Hank Azaria, even if Apu is just one of several problematic characters on his CV. Oh and kudos to Will Arnett, who doesn’t exactly do a wide range of voices, but does BoJack Horseman magnificently. Ditto there with Kristen Schaal, who does her own voice with dazzling and surprising versatility. But I have to be an old man here and say that there’s no point in looking beyond the classics like Daws Butler (Yogi! Huckleberry! Snagglepuss!) and June Foray (Rocky!) and Bill Scott (Bullwinkle!) and Paul Frees and, of course, Mel Blanc who maybe doesn’t necessarily count if you view a lot of his work as being in theatrical shorts (whcih one needn’t). The question didn’t ask for “best,” though. Rather it asked for “favorite.” So I guess I’ll land on Don Messick, the original Scooby-Doo as my answer for now.
Netflix, Adult Swim
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
It’s hard not to admire the hell out of Justin Roiland, who did amazing work during “Rick and Morty” Season 3, especially in “The Ricklantis Mixup,” which was basically a one-man show for the man behind the voices of both Rick and Morty. Alison Brie has also really proven her talents as a performer on “BoJack Horseman,” where she not only plays the lead role of Diane but a variety of additional supporting characters, including Vincent Adultman, Cow Waitress, and BoJack’s former castmate Joelle.
But really, when it comes to voice acting, the Greatest of All Time (modern-day, non-Mel Blanc/June Foley edition) has got to be Keith David, whose distinctive baritone has appeared in hundreds of animated series for the past few decades, both as a narrator and as a character actor. (We’ll always fondly remember his starring work on the Disney syndicated series “Gargoyles” in the 1990s.) In just the last year, David could be heard playing key roles in “Adventure Time,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Rick and Morty,” and more beyond that. His impact on modern animation cannot be understated.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
I have to give Seth MacFarlane a nod and major props for baby Stewie from “Family Guy,” quite possibly my favorite animated TV character. His “Stewie” lines and delivery are perfection and make the entire series work. Overall, TV animation isn’t for me at all, but MacFarlane is masterful in this genre and was born to voice characters. I love his speaking voice and he’s a great singer too!
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
Kristen Schaal, for a while there, was voicing characters on “Bob’s Burgers,” “Gravity Falls,” and “BoJack Horseman,” who were all very different, even though Schaal essentially used her speaking voice for all of them, and it was amazing how much they all seemed like completely different characters. There are a handful of voice actors capable of this (her “Bob’s Burgers” castmate H. Jon Benjamin being another), but Schaal, to me, took it to some other level.
Of course, that’s not to besmirch the many, many, many, many great voice actors who do do lots of different voices. I could point out any member of “The Simpsons” cast, or talk about Billy West, or touch on Tom Kenny, or the list goes on. But I want to do a shout out to Phil LaMarr, whose work as Jack in “Samurai Jack” anchored one of the great animated series, with only a handful of lines per episode. And then, to top that, he was also Hermes on “Futurama,” and he’s voiced a huge number of characters in shows like “Justice League Unlimited” and several “Star Wars” cartoons, where the audience has a very firm idea of what that character should sound like, and he delivers every time. I’m always happy to see his name scroll by in the credits.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
It’s hard many weeks to not just pick “The Simpsons” or some element of it as my answer to these questions. That’s what happens when you’re the best TV show ever made, and have done so many things for so long that you can apply to most any Best TV (Fill-in-the-Blank) question. Most times, I try to do something else, with the understanding that the real answer is usually in some way “Last Exit to Springfield.” This week, though — with apologies to the many brilliant ’50s and ’60s voice artists that I’m sure Fienberg is citing — I have to go with Dan Castellaneta’s work, primarily as Homer, but also as Krusty, Barney, Abe, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Quimby, Squeak-Voiced Teen, Gil, and, yes, Poochie. (Maybe especially Poochie.) Some other Simpsons voice actors have a bigger and/or more diverse cast of characters, but if not for the range of silliness, pathos, and sheer likability that Castellaneta brings to Homer, would the show have lasted 5 years, let alone be closing in on 30? I’m smiling just thinking about his deliveries of lines like, “Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!” or “The bee bit my bottom! Now my bottom’s big!” or his entire explanation of why he pulled the gummy Venus de Milo off the babysitter’s butt. And if you are ever lucky enough to watch a Simpsons table read, you will see that Castellaneta winds up embodying Homer’s entire physicality; it’s not just the voice, but him.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
Though undoubtedly a popular choice, the first time I remember being utterly flabbergasted when discovering a voice actor’s identity was after someone told me Mark Hamill played The Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series.” (I think I discovered this following a screening of “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” which came a good year into watching weekly episodes of the TV show.) To this day, I remain utterly stunned. How can the timid voice of a young, slightly whiny, rather boring Luke Skywalker be the same one giving such exuberant, malevolent life to Batman’s greatest foe? Even after seeing Hamill go back-and-forth, it’s hard to believe, and yet Hamill’s voice acting career has gone above and beyond just the Clown Prince of Crime. He’s a talent deserving all his praise, and a favorite of mine who continues to surprise me.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Halt and Catch Fire” (four votes)
Other contenders: “Better Things” (two votes), “BoJack Horseman,” “The Good Place,” “The Lowe Files” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.