Critics and audiences weren’t entirely enamored of The Lorax (out today on DVD and Blu-ray), but it was tough to complain about the casting of the title character: Danny DeVito is spot-on, investing the character with the curmudgeonly lovability that’s always been part of his screen persona, and is a perfect fit for the orange creature who speaks for the trees.
Voice-over acting, whether in live action or animated films, is in many ways a tougher task than conventional on-screen work; the performer must do all of their acting with only the voice, unable to rely on other tools (movement, eyes, facial expression, etc.) to convey meaning and emotion. After the jump, we’ve selected — with considerable difficulty — our ten favorite voice-only performances in feature films (let’s face it: if we were just talking shorts, it’d be a list of ten Mel Blanc roles). Check them out after the jump, and add your own in the comments.
Douglas Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Rain was a Canadian-born actor mostly known for his stage work there and in England when Stanley Kubrick cast him to provide the voice of supercomputer HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. His calm, detached inflections, whether providing system data or threatening his human shipmates, are chilling to this day — even after years of parody and replication. Rain did little film work after 2001; he provided a similar computer voice for Woody Allen’s Sleeper and reprised the role of HAL for the 1984 sequel 2010. His obscurity is perhaps part of why his work in 2001 remains so fascinating; it’s not a recognizable voice, but one that seems to only exist within the housing of that terrifying computer. (Honorable mention to Kevin Spacey, for his terrific — and undoubtedly HAL-inspired — turn in the outstanding 2009 film Moon.)