I've been trying to write a post on the voice actors of 80s cartoons for a while now. Who starred in the most cartoons? Who had the most diverse range of characters? That kind of thing. I built a spreadsheet of a bunch of 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 some day, but in the mean time, hopefully a couple posts will 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.
5. Orson Welles in Transformers: The Movie
As a kid, I had no idea who Orson Welles was. In fact, of all the celebrity names in Transformers: The Movie, I don't think I recognized a one of them. Okay, maybe Judd Nelson. 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, no the biggest name - and it practically originated here. I've learned since watching the movie who Orson Welles was, same as Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus), 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 roll.
4. 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 e 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.
3. Law & Order in The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
This one I didn't find out until last year. My wife watches a ton of Murder, She Wrote. There's a recurring character, Harry, that sounded a little familiar. Then I figured it out, he's Agent Zachary Foxx from The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers! He had since moved up to a starring role in Law & Order and maybe even more surprising, he played Lumiere in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
2. David Kaye as Optimus and Megatron
This is 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 to Frank Welker's, giving him a scheming, sly voice that made him my absolute favorite iteration of the character. After Beast Wars ended, Kaye continued to play Megatron through the Unicron Trilogy, but when Transformers Animated started, they casted 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 roll! 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.
1. 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!