Okay, so let's just run down the roster here, shall we? The Princess and the Frog had Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman doing voices; this week's How to Train Your Dragon will offer Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, and Jonah Hill; Toy Story3 has Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, natch, plus Michael Keaton, Joan Cusack, and Bonnie Hunt ... and others too numerous to mention. And that's just a handful of recent releases — go back over the decades and you'll see how rapidly animated movies have become the domain of legitimate actors.
And that's okay by us. Aside from triggering an audience's "Hey, it's..." reaction when a celebrated voice is heard, letting an established star loose in a cartoon can bring a level of depth and nuance to creatures who are frequently little more than drawn scribbles or computer constructs. But while some actors may feel free to shuttle at will between the physical soundstage and animated realm, others, for various reasons, might want to consider lingering in the virtual world. Here, then, is our list of 10 stars who might fare better with a permanent move to Toontown:.
10. Billy Bob Thornton
No, you can't take the Boxmasters into the booth with you.
He's out there, somewhere, playing his music and pretending he wasn't an actor. And if that's the way he wants it, so be it — every person has a right to seek his/her dream, even if it leaves us mourning the absence of a unique and commanding screen presence. But if it's getting increasingly hard to lure Billy Bob back before the cameras (his next role appears to be "Cop" in the Dwayne Johnson vehicle, Faster), maybe we can more frequently coax him into the recording studio, where he can bring his unique take to such characters as the canny and duplicitous monk Jigo in Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. Hey, "Bud," you don't even have to shave!
8. Nicolas Cage
Last time we saw your nephew, Mr. Coppola, he'd reached escape velocity and was pulling into orbit around Saturn.
Where ya taking the role this time, Nic? You going to be somber and serious, or are you going to bounce off the walls, ripping up sets, co-stars, and audience psyches with the sheer fury of your performance? You're the Daffy Duck of acting, and just to be clear: we're talking the Bob Clampett, unrepentant anarchist Daffy, not the Chuck Jones, desperate egoist Daffy. That's good, we think — every art needs its bomb-thrower, and you embrace the job with a passion. We're down it, mostly, but sometimes we wonder if you're better fitted for a 'toon body, like Speckles, the brainy mole of G-Force.
7. Mark Hamill
Now just imagine if Obi-Wan had given him his father's whoopee cushion.
Luke Skywalker has his partisans, Nevertheless, who's going to argue that the kid isn't callow and just a tad whiny? But as everybody knows, within every nascent Jedi rests the Dark Side, and for every icon of ultimate good in the universe, there apparently also exists the voice of unrepentant evil in Gotham City. Hence, Luke becomes the Joker, and Mark Hamill, in stepping up to the mike for such films as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, manages to find the bridge between Jack Nicholson's clowning criminal and Heath Ledger's psychotic terrorist. Honestly, we find scary and dangerous much more compelling than pure 'n' good, so Mark, redeem your father if you must, but every now and then, have a good, malicious laugh on us.
6. Ellen Degeneres
And you didn't think fish could dance.
Oh, she's so upbeat, so perky! Even when fending off insane suitors (male suitors, at that), Ellen Degeneres is so sprightly and idiosyncratic that, frankly, it's maybe a bit too much. Let's shrink her down to a manageable handful, get her into a package that suits her energetic, darting persona, and let her cut loose as Finding Nemo's memory-challenged Dory. Yeah, that's better — sometimes it pays to be smaller than life.
2. Don Knotts
We just heard from Lou Reed, and, sorry, Valium won't help your bash.
Knotts made a career out of hyperactive nervousness, braying insecurity, thoughtless braggadocio, and blind fear, very often in the same character. And as skilled a comic actor as he often was, the accumulation of flaws could get somewhat discomfiting. Somehow, though, as a human transformed into a fish in The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Knotts leveraged the abrupt change in environment to pull all the foibles into context. The fish out of water played well, the human into water played even better.