Brits go heavy metal in Cars 2, the Pixar-Disney animated sequel film opening this Friday (June 24), as Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer and Eddie Izzard all voice major vehicular characters. Jason Isaacs and Vanessa Redgrave also pipe up in minor roles (Redgrave as a regal car Queen).
Why so many British stars? Cars 2’s plot involves several new characters, sleek autos that are really English secret service agents. Plus, it is partially set in London.
The sheer number of English actors lending their vocal talent to Cars 2, however, makes it an anomaly among animated features coming out of Hollywood. While talented British stars have thoroughly infiltrated big studio, live-action flicks, animation curiously remains largely unconquered territory.
Despite that, in the last couple decades, as hiring name actors for animated films has become de rigueur, a number of British stars have managed to land roles and distinguish themselves. Here’s our list of the top five performances by British actors in animated films:
• Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King (1994). This is one of the great vocal performances of all time. Irons’ snarling, sneering, leonine turn as little Simba’s murderous uncle was so menacing, he nearly became the movie’s mane character. Not since Cruella De Vil had there been such a terrifying villain in a Disney cartoon.
• Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast (1991). No cozy was needed as Lansbury warmed up her lovable teapot character, making Mrs. Potts a comfy, maternal presence in the fairy tale adaptation, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Her shimmering performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” the movie’s title song, helped propel it to an Academy Award for Best Song.
• Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera in The Jungle Book (1967). Playing a sleek and suspicious panther who befriends Mowgli, the movie’s boy hero, Cabot lent gravitas to Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale. Cabot, who is probably still best remembered as the kindly butler in the sitcom Family Affair (1966-71), also remains familiar to children everywhere as the unseen, amused narrator of several animated shorts about a famous, honey-loving teddy bear, which were released collectively in 1977 as the full-length film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
• Minnie Driver as Jane in Tarzan (1999). In a role made famous in the 1930s and ‘40s by Irish-born Maureen O’Sullivan in a string of live-action, swinging vine pictures, Driver turned her Jane into a feisty British miss who brooked no nonsense from her jungle Romeo. The film may have been a minor entry in the Disney canon, but Driver’s Jane was a standout.
• Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego in Ratatouille (2007). The Irish-born but English-raised O’Toole brought just the right ingredients — ennui and a smidgen of snobbery — to his role as a fussy, tasted-it-all restaurant critic in Pixar’s delightful, food-obsessed comedy about a rat who longed to be a fancy chef. O’Toole’s rapture upon taking a single bite of the chef’s ratatouille, which instantly transported the cynical critic back to his mother’s table, was right up there with his finest performances.
Finally, honorable mentions need to go to Frank Oz for his multiple appearances as Yoda in various Star Wars movies, and to Andy Serkis for his hat trick as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Neither man appeared in person on screen–they were animatronic puppet or digital presences — but both gave performances to treasure.
What are your thoughts on animated Brits?