In 1927, H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers Films asked, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Up to then, music had always accompanied films and title cards explained what was going on, whilst actors never uttered a single word.
Apparently I’m not the only one that does actually want actors to talk, as that same year came the first of what was called the talkies which, surprise surprise, stands for talking films.
Nowadays, whilst actors still play out their characters both physically and through their charming and at times distinctive voices, some countries rely on dubbing the films into their own language. Dubbing could be described as the imposition of a recorded sound onto a film during the editing process. It is often used to record the script in a different language to the original for the sake of easy following.
Sometimes it’s also the case where real singers’ voices are superimposed onto singing parts played by actors who might not have the talent. However, there are cases where actors rely on their own singing voices, albeit untrained, rather than give in to this stunt.
Another very good use of this process is to overwrite dialogue that might not be too clear, such as in the case where fake rain is used on set, which is noisy enough to drown out voices. This last kind of dubbing is probably the trickiest of them all as, with the rest of the speech being totally in sync with the film, it would appear rather weird to have the lips not match the wording precisely.
Moreover, dubbing is also a godsend to keeping our little ones attentive during otherwise silent cartoons and animated features viewing! A director’s first choice for a voice-over artist when shooting animated films will often be put aside by the studio in favour of big names. It’s for this reason that the likes of Robin Williams, who was the the Genie in Aladdin and Ben Stiller, who was Alex in the Madagascar franchise, will come up in the credits to animated pictures.
Other famous actors who’ve lent their voices to animated features include Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain in Pirates! Band of Misfits and Sandra Bullock, who last year joined the party of animated villains as Scarlet Overkill in Minions.
Eddie Redmayne enthusiastically portrayed new engine Ryan in 2015’s Thomas & Friends: Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure, though it’s a pity that his voice was much altered in this film. Even Johnny Depp lends his voice to animated pictures, with one of his voice-over roles being that of Victor Van Dort in Corpse Bride (2005), directed and produced by Tim Burton.
Speaking of Burton’s works, one cannot miss the late Alan Rickman’s unmistakable vocal chords in Alice in Wonderland as the Caterpillar. Meanwhile, for this same reason of compatibility between voice and character visualisation, some actors opt out of offered dubbing opportunities. Colin Firth, who was initially meant to portray Paddington the Bear in Paddington, passed on the role to the less-mature voice of Ben Whishaw because, as he said, the bear “simply doesn’t have my voice.”