The redeeming quality of the Cars franchise has nothing to do with spectacular visuals, high-octane action or universal bathroom humor. No, when it comes to the automotive Pixar series, it’s all about the plethora of celebrity voices and their 8-cylinder caricatures.
Jay Leno as Jay Limo. Jeff Gordon as Jeff Gorvette. John Lasseter as John Lassetire. Gene Shalit couldn’t come up with names this golden.
Cars and Cars 2 are wackier examples of animators porting over celebrity likenesses for the purposes of their characters, but it’s a more common practice than we realize. Hey, if the voice fits the real face, why not whip up a character that fits the bill? Here are a few examples of actors whom animators didn’t have too much trouble dropping into their cartoon feature films (with varying degrees of punny names):
Steve Buscemi – Home on the Range
Besides being a keystone character actor, Steve Buscemi’s eyes are capable of turning any normal human being into a real life Droopy Dog — so why change a good thing?
For Disney’s barnyard flop Home of the Range, the animation studio turned to the actor to fill the role of the bug-eyed, mustachioed criminal Wesley.
Really, not that different from his character in Fargo.
Adam Sandler – Eight Crazy Nights
Sandler’s foray into animation is a bit of a head-scratcher. There’s nothing about it that begs to be animated, other than some of the kookier body types of his co-stars and that, perhaps, the comedian didn’t want to spend two months up to his knees in snow.
So although the art form lends itself to visualizing anything the heart desires, Sandler took the safe route and made his character Davey look exactly like himself.
Hanukkah might deserve a little better.
Sylvester Stallone – Antz
Does Sylvester Stallone look like an ant or do ants look like Sylvester Stallone? This is the question that has plagued humanity since late 1998.
Stallone played Weaver, the beefy best friend of Woody Allen’s Z, in Dreamworks Animation’s Antz and they didn’t have to stray to far from the actors hexagonal cranium to make him fit the bill.
Good thing too — most Italian men prefer playing uncles.
Danny Devito – Hercules
Jim Bruer as Goat Boy may have been a better model for Phil, the crass satyr of Disney’s Hercules, but Danny Devito doesn’t hurt either.
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker must have seen a lot of their mythological sidekick in the comedic actor, as all they really did was add horns and goat legs.
See, Devito isn’t bald — he just sports an Ancient Greek haircut.
Martin Scorsese – Shark Tale
I bet all the kids who caught Shark Tale were super excited to see the director of Boxcar Bertha immortalized as a cartoon blowfish!
Scorsese made a rare outing into the world of voice acting for his role as Sykes, alongside names like Will Smith, Renee Zellwegger and Ziggy Marley — but the famed director was one of the only fish to truly convert his real life appearance into fish form.
Unless blowfish really have big puffy eyebrows. Then I’m wrong.
Tom Hanks – Polar Express
One of the biggest complaints of motion capture technology has been, “Why?”. As in, “Why would you cast Tom Hanks in a magical Christmas adventure and then cake him with puffy CG?”
Tom Hanks pulled off an array of parts in Polar Express, from the little kid to the hobo to Santa Claus, but the idea behind all of them, especially the conductor (a straight up Hanks look-a-like), was to put Hanks facial features in all of them. Give them the Hanks feel.
The only thing more photoreal than digital Tom Hanks with a mustache is actual Tom Hanks with a mustache. Maybe that costs more.
Wayne Knight – Toy Story 2
An overweight, balding toy collector might seem a little obvious, but if you’re going to go there, you might as well own it, and own it is exactly what Pixar did.
They cast one of cinema’s greatest nefarious nerds, Jurassic Park’s Dennis Nedry a.k.a. Wayne Knight to voice their Toy Story 2 baddie, Al.
Knight’s previous roles carry baggage to his vocal work, so it made sense to lift his real life looks to the 3D character model. Since the movie, Knight’s lost a ton of weight and, coincidentally, his desire to steal toys from children.
Rodney Dangerfield – Rover Dangerfield
The ultimate celebrity-to-cartoon conversion: Rover Dangerfield. For any kid who dreamed of owning Rodney Dangerfield as a pet, Rover was the answer.
After a string of raunchy comedies (and a lifetime of equally stellar stand-up), Rover Dangerfield must have been an obvious step in brand building. Kids love washed up Vegas hounds, right? Or maybe their mothers do!
Speaking of mothers, take my wife…please!