If you click on the link for animated films I’ve reviewed over in the search filter thing you’ll see that I’m quite a fan of a variety of animated stuff. Two of my favourite animated films of all time are Transformers: The Movie and Spirited Away. Without hitting impressionistic eastern European animation I doubt I could pick two films further apart. I’ve always loved animation and was enthralled by the voices behind them. Even as a kid I knew Mel Blanc was pretty much every Looney Tune. That Peter Cullen and Frank Welker were Optimus Prime/Eeyore and Megatron/Slimer. I respect what they do immensely. Always have, always will. I Know That Voice is a documentary designed to showcase why some of us love these voices. Click the link below for the full review!
I Know That Voice, directed by Lawrence Shapiro and produced by Bender… I mean John DiMaggio, focuses almost entirely on a talking heads method of pouring information into your mind grapes. Normally I’d be against this. I find many talking heads docs to be a little too dry and tiring. The act of watching people sat in chairs either in a studio or a very expensive house is… hang on… that’s just films. Like, every film. Well… maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on talking head style docs. Regardless, I usually like some form of visual distraction running alongside the faces on my TV. Here though, talking heads is fine. The documentary is entirely about voices and the faces that make them voices. So just having the likes of Nolan North, Kevin Conroy and Grey DeLisle talk directly to us is, really, the perfect way to present this film. It’s about half an hour until we see any frames of animation from any of the shows these guys have worked on even.
The film is segmented up into loose subjects, such as the various skills a voice actor requires or the different types of acting involved. This does help stop the film being a self congratulatory work by keeping the actors focused on the subjects at hand. It would have been too easy for this to have been an unguided piece but the focus on smaller subjects relating to the whole really helps the discussion move along. Some subjects get a little bit of a short shaft though, specifically the act of dubbing anime into English. This could have been expanded on a fair bit, maybe even interviewing Japanese voice actors for their input on their original takes on the characters. This could have been especially interesting with Steve Blum being involved as he pretty much made his career off one anime acting role. That being as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop. That role is brought up but with no counterpoint to the Japanese original it doesn’t quite get across how groundbreaking the voice acting in that series was. It was the first anime I can recall where fans said they preferred the English dub over the Japanese original.
Whilst the main focus is on traditional animation voice work there is a small section focusing on video games too. This is nice to see because, as with Steve Blum’s anime fame, there’s a lot of voice actors, who over the last 10-15 years, have really become well known due to their video game voice work. Particularly Nolan North and Jennifer Hale. Oddly, though, the focus is on all the random incidental noises and repeated lines the actors need to make in that medium rather than discussing any particular roles that have expanded their work. This is, obviously, to highlight the differences in the methodology, but this does sell short the actual performances and how motion capture is often tied into what the voice actors are often involved in, especially in Nolan North’s case as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted games. This would have also been a good point to have brought in Troy Baker who’s currently doing a fine job of being in every single game being made right now.
Other than those couple of topics that have been skimmed over, rather than fully delved into, I Know That Voice does a fine job of being quite exhaustive in terms of covering how roles have changed, the variations of voices actors need to employ and how they fully encompass the characters. There’s a nice segment on just how great Mel Blanc was in his day with Hank Azaria providing a lot of insight as someone who’s clearly a huge fan of Mel Blanc’s work. Whilst the film is exhaustive in it’s content it is a little less so with it’s talking heads. The list of actors involved is huge but there is a few missing that I, personally, would have expected. No Peter Cullen, Frank Welker or Tress Macneille leaves quite a large hole in the voice acting spectrum. Those 3 alone account for so many voices that to not have them here is noticeable.
I should stress that this does not effect the overall input and that to the average viewer, looking to find out more of the world of voice acting, they’ll likely be unaware of those particular actor’s absence. To be fair, having Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong help complete my trifecta of important Batman cartoon voices, so it’s all good. But then, no Arleen Sorkin… She’s Harley Quinn. But this all kinda highlights just how many of these great voices there are out there. There’s so many that it would take a documentary many times the length to give them all a chance to shine. It’s odd that I find myself discussing a documentary on an artform I enjoy not being as comprehensive as I would have liked for the second time in a few weeks. Maybe I’m just too much of a nerd already.
In all, I Know That Voice is a fun and informative documentary that really gives a platform for these stars to shine. Voice acting is really hard. If you’ve ever tried just saying stuff into a mic in a manner that is hopefully, at least a small amount, entertaining, you’ll know just how hard that is to do. Trying to speak naturally into a mic is hard enough and these guys are not just doing a voice but becoming whole other people in an effort to provide the character the drawings on your screen need. Think about how no-one does a Joker like Mark Hamill and consider that there’s a reason for that. It’s his voice and even when it’s in a different looking Joker it still feels more like the Joker than any other. That’s the difference a great voice performance can make. This film highlights just that. It’s not perfect, but it’s very much recommended.