Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Voices Behind the Disney Characters - Part I

By Keith Mahne

The art of the voice-over is an interesting one. Many times, you’ll recognize the voice but you’d never be able to point out the person attached to said voice in a line-up. There are certain vocal performances in Disney classics – such as Belle in Beauty in the Beast and Walt Disney as the original voice of Mickey Mouse - that are forever embedded in our minds and memories. But we often have no real world reference as to who the performer is. And in other cases, Disney casts A-list talent, but the story is so strong that you completely forget that such a super star is behind the character on the screen. Let's take a look at some Disney characters and their respective voice actors in today's featured article...

Mickey Mouse, the character that is still, to this day, synonymous with Disney. His high falsetto voice was provided by Walt Disney himself for almost 20 years. However by 1946 he had become too busy to continue – and rumor has it his smoker’s voice was no longer up to hitting the high notes – so the role passed to Jimmy MacDonald.

For a decade Walt Disney insisted that the identities of the actors and singers providing the voices for his characters were kept secret. He believed that if audiences knew who was providing the voice the magic would be ruined. As a result, the entire cast of Disney's first feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went uncredited – along with the several other movies that followed. The title role was played by Adriana Caselotti, an 18-year-old Italian who was trained by her father to be an opera singer. Disney personally chose her for the role and she was placed under a contract which forbade her from appearing in film and other media. However, she continued to take part in publicity for Snow White well into her later years.

Lucille La Verne had an extensive stage career before she was cast as the voice of the evil queen in Snow White. She was also a model for the artists creating the old crone – who the queen turns into to trick Snow White into biting into the apple. She retired immediately afterwards and opened a successful nightclub before dying of cancer in 1945.

This pair we know as Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio – the little wooden boy who came to life and his talking, singing cricket friend. The actors who played them were Cliff Edwards (pictured left) and Dickie Jones (pictured right). Like many early Disney stars, Cliff Edwards appeared in more than one animated film. His first was as Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio – a character best known for singing the song When You Wish Upon a Star – before later playing the crow in Dumbo. Outside of films, Edwards was also a successful ukulele player who had a number one hit with a cover of Singin’ in the Rain in 1929. Dickie Jones was just 13 years old when he starred as Pinocchio in 1940. Afterwards he had a reasonably successful acting career until he gave it all up in 1959 to go into real estate. He’s still alive today and has been known to appear at Disney promotional events.

Illene Woods began her successful career early, with her own radio show on the ABC network at just 14 years old. She also performed as part of the United States Air Force Orchestra during the Second World War and sang for two US Presidents – Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry S Truman. After performing "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo", "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes", and "So This is Love" for her songwriter friends Mack David and Jerry Livingston, she was invited by Walt Disney to voice the leading role in Cinderella in 1950. By this time, Disney had actually begun crediting its voice stars rather than keeping their identities a secret.

Eleanor Audley was a well-known face on classic American television and would regularly appear on shows such as Green Acres, I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. She provided the voices for two of Disney's nastiest female characters, Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, and served as a physical model for both characters.

Sterling Holloway was an actor that Disney turned to time and time again. Those born in the first half of the 20th century may remember him as Uncle Oscar in the TV series The Adventures of Superman, however it is his voice that is best loved as that of Winnie the Pooh, Kaa in The Jungle Book, Mr. Stork in Dumbo and the Cheshire Cat in Alice and Wonderland.

Comedian Verna Felton was one of the true stars of Disney. She was already a regular film, television and radio actress when she was cast in her first Disney film as Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo. She went on to play the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, Winifred the Elephant in The Jungle Book and mean Siamese cat-owning Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp. Sadly, on December 14, 1966 she died of a stroke, aged 76, just hours later Walt Disney himself passed away.

By the time Kathryn Beaumont was 15 years old she already had two major Disney characters under her belt. At only 10, she was chosen to play Alice in Alice in Wonderland. Under contract, she also provided the voice for Wendy in Peter Pan in 1953. Two years later she gave up acting to become a schoolteacher.

Young Bobby Driscoll was a popular actor who starred in several of Disney’s live action films – including Song of the South (1946) and Treasure Island (1950). He became the first actor to be put under contract by Disney and even won an Academy Juvenile Award for his performances.

Ed Wynn is a familiar face best known for playing laughing Uncle Albert in 1974’s Mary Poppins and he also provided the voice for the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1951). He was a successful vaudeville and comedy performer in the 30s before turning his hand to serious roles later in life. He earned an Oscar nomination for his part in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). He was also originally offered the role of the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz but turned it down claiming it “too small”. He died in 1966, aged 79, and his epitaph reads "Dear God, Thanks... Ed Wynn".

Stay tuned to Disney Avenue for Part II of The Voices Behind the Disney Characters where we'll continue to peek behind the hand drawn animation and into the real life actors that made them who they are today!


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday.

(Reference: The Telegraph)

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