I saw the delightful Frozen yesterday and noticed something: Idina Menzel’s singing voice stands out so much that you feel like you’ve been transported to the Hollywood Bowl midway through the movie. For me, this celebrity quotient adds to how great a Disney animated adventure can be. That brings us to today’s topic: the 10 best celebrity voiceovers in Disney films. Draw up your personal list beforehand; this one got hard for me and I needed to switch up my order several times. I only ended up including the bare necessities. Onward!
10. Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo
Dory is exactly who don’t want to meet when you lose track of your spawn. She’s flighty, annoying, chipper and not incredibly helpful thanks to her short-term memory loss. “It runs in my family. Well, at least I think it does.” But Ellen makes that character so lovable thanks to her droll, worried tone. Here’s hoping she can keep up the charisma in 2016’s Finding Dory.
9. Bob Newhart in The Rescuers
God, The Rescuers. Remember when Disney could release a huge blockbuster starring the voices of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor? Sounds more like an episode of Password Plus than a runaway hit, but nonetheless, Newhart’s stutters and meek sincerity are perfect fits for Bernard, the most adorable animated mouse of all time (and I don’t care what Mickey, Jerry, or Staurt Little have to say). This remains a very rewatchable Disney movie, one that appeals to viewers with classier taste and button-down minds.
8. Peggy Lee in Lady and the Tramp
As the voices of Darling, the Siamese cats Si and AM, and the Lhasa Apso Peg (Is that all there is?), Peggy Lee originated Eddie Murphy’s shtick of playing multiple characters with Lady and the Tramp. Oh, her magnificent voice and can’t-help-it sultriness! Love her slightly mischievous tone as the squawky cats. An unforgettable and one-of-a-kind performance from a woman who, let’s not forget, was an also an Oscar-nominated actress. (I remembered watching the above clip from when I was a kid and dug it out for you. You’re welcome.)
7. Tom Hanks in Toy Story
Woody is an affable, sensitive type of toy chest sheriff, and Tom Hanks’ aw-shucks patois brought those qualities to astonishing life. I even love how Tom Hanks’ performance makes Woody unlikable at times — especially when he’s indignant or overly mad or cynical. It’s a slyly complicated role, and for that he makes it on this list ahead of his costars Don Rickles, Tim Allen, and the immortal Annie Potts.
6. Billy Crystal in Monsters Inc
I always thought Monsters Inc already achieved a poetic level of greatness thanks to its climactic scene featuring tons and tons of bedroom doors on a monstrous circuit, but its other fabulous attribute is its voice performances, particularly Billy Crystal as schlubby, lovable Mike Wazowski. Sure, it’s not exactly a stretch for Crystal, but he delivers with such conversational ease and punchy timing. It feels like a romcom performance snuck its way into a dynamite adventure, and I love that about it
5. Holly Hunter in The Incredibles
With apologies to Sally Field, Holly Hunter might be the definitive harried matriarch of all time. Her casting in The Incredibles is downright brilliant — who’d have thunk Hunter’s brand of backwoodsy angst would adhere so well to an animated superhero? But she’s elastic and dependable and awesome, and Hunter succeeds in selling us on both Helen’s relatable and superhuman qualities.
4. Angela Lansbury in Beauty and the Beast
She finally collected an honorary Oscar (after a mere 70 years in the industry) and she still doesn’t have an Emmy to seal her EGOT, but one of many things for which Angela Lansbury deserves more credit is her exquisite performance as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. She sings, she soothes, and she wins Belle (and us) over. Who can get over her speaking voice? Because it should recite every audiobook there is, no?
3. Jeremy Irons in The Lion King
We’ll have to put aside Mr. Irons’ strange comments about the implications of gay marriage for the moment, because his role as Scar in The Lion King is both classically devious and operatically resonant. If you can sit and not cry while picturing him coo, “Oooh, I quiver with FEAR,” congratulations, you are a national hero and soulless. One of the most towering villains in Disney history, and it’s mostly thanks to the power of Irons’ august, booming instrument.
2. George Sanders in The Jungle Book
One of the great “heavies” of mid-century cinema and my pick for the greatest Best Supporting Actor performance ever (in All About Eve), George Sanders is simply chilling as the collected, yet all-powerful Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. That purr. That fearsomeness and fierce elocution. I love when amazing radio voices work well in an animated adventure. (The same goes for Betty Lou Gerson, who gave us that dazzling Tallulah-style performance as Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians.) Sanders owns, but let’s also give some credit to Sterling Holloway — the original voice of Winnie the Pooh — as the snake Kaa too.
1. Robin Williams in Aladdin
Aladdin will always hold a certain magic to me because it’s just the gaudiest, wickedest adventure in the Disney oeuvre. Magic carpet rides! Doubloons! Fabulous songs! (Peabo Bryson!) And best of all, Robin Williams, who unleashes as the spectacular Genie and treats us to 90 minutes of whizzbang pop culture references, dynamite impressions, and awe-worthy comic timing. It is a legendary performance, and if you ask me, it’s Williams’ best in any genre of film. (Guess I’d put Awakenings second?) His majestic work on “Friend Like Me” would earn him the #1 spot on this list alone.