Who are the most used voice actors in Disney movies? How about Pixar? DreamWorks? Universal? If you’re a nerd for animation, then questions like this probably run through your head now and again.
I’m a big old nerd for animation myself, so I decided to figure it out. We all know that many of the same voice actors crop up again and again in animated films, but to what extent? Who works the most?
What I really wondered was, do modern animation studios have something like the Hollywood’s old star system?
Hollywood and the Star System
Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, movie studios had something known as the star system. The most promising actors signed contracts to only work for a single studio, like MGM or 20th Century Fox.
The contracts could be up to seven years long, and they gave the studio insane amounts of control over the star’s life. It was all in the name of protecting their public image, but it led to the system being abolished by the 1960s.
And so today, there’s really no such thing. Actors don’t sign long-term, multi-film contracts anymore. Movie franchises like Marvel are the exception that prove the rule, since those actors are playing the same character in what are essentially sequels.
The Star System in Modern Cartoons
Despite that, it’s a simple fact that John Ratzenberger is in almost every Pixar movie. He’s the example that came to my mind most readily, but I was curious if there were more favorite actors of each of today’s major animation studios.
And so, I delved deep into their filmographies, pulled the complete cast lists, and started digging. I wanted to find the most used voice actors in Disney movies, and in every other studio that puts out a lot of big animated features.
To wit, that’s Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and Illumination Entertainment. That last one is the studio that makes Despicable Me and other big-name Universal animated features.
To keep all this data under control, I placed a few constraints. I might do further articles to explore the areas I omitted.
- Movies only, no TV shows.
- Theatrical movies only, no direct-to-video
- This century only. In other words, 2000-2016.
And so, here we go!
The Most Used Voice Actors in Disney Movies
Disney produces at least one animated film in-house, every year. In fact, they’ve put out 21 theatrical release since 2000. The studio has employed well over 1,000 actors during those years.
So, it’s a little crazy that only 106 voice actors have appeared in more than one of those films. A fair number of those were sequels, too. Sequels are a little bit of a cheat here, because it’s natural to cast the same actor to reprise their roles.
If we take only the actors who have appeared in 3 or more movies, the number drops to 49. The number of actors falls off even more sharply from there.
So who’s the #1 most used voice actor in Disney movies since 2000?
It’s Terri Douglas.
Who’s Terri Douglas? Well, she’s a voice casting director, and she pops up in a whopping 9 Disney films with credits like “Additional Voice”.
- The first runner-up is David Cowgill, with 7 roles mostly along the same lines. He does small roles in quite a few animated features from other studios, including Open Season and Madagascar.
- Third place is shared by Fred Tatiasciore and Lynwood Robinson, who each have 7 roles. Fred is a big name voice actor with a ton of credits to his name, while Lynwood’s 7 Disney roles are just about all he’s done.
The Most Used Voice Actors in Pixar Movies
I treated Pixar separately from Disney, for reasons obvious to any animation fan. The studio has produced 13 theatrical films since 2000, including the forgettable The Good Dinosaur, but not including the forgettable Planes. The Cars spin-off was produced by Disney, perhaps a sign that Pixar wasn’t fully on board with the project.
Possibly because it’s a comparatively younger and smaller company, Pixar seems to have a higher proportion favorite voice actors than Disney. They’ve used over 600 actors since 2000, and a solid 80 of them have been in more than one film.
If we remove the people who have been in exactly 2 roles (to eliminate sequels from consideration), we’re left with 42.
And without further ado, the #1 most used voice actor in Pixar movies is…
John Ratzenberger! Yes, it’s Cliff Clavin from Cheers, though today he’s far better known as Hamm the piggy bank from the Toy Story movies. Amazingly, Disney and Pixar films are the only voice acting gigs he does. Aside from those, he lands a fair amount of on-screen work.
- The first runner-up for Pixar is Bob Peterson. He’s a Pixar artist and writer who also does some voices. Most notably, he’s Mr. Ray, the stingray teacher in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
- Third place is shared by a whopping 7 people with 6 roles each. The group includes voice acting legend Jess Harnell, who played Wakko on Animaniacs and countless other roles.
The Most Used Voice Actors in DreamWorks Movies
Compared to Disney and Pixar, DreamWorks is a sausage factory. Since 2000, they’ve produced an amazing 31 films. The quality of the films isn’t always amazing, of course, but the volume of output is incredible.
Also unlike the previous studios, DreamWorks loves their sequels. Lots and lots of them.
- 5 Shrek films (including the spinoff Puss in Boots)
- 3 Kung Fu Panda films
- 4 Madagascar films (including the spinoff Penguins of Madagascar)
- 2 How to Train Your Dragon films, with a 3rd in production
- Innumerable direct-to-video productions, Netflix series, holiday specials, etc.
So, it’s not surprising that 132 of the voice actors in DreamWorks productions have been in more than one of their films. It’s not even surprising that 64 of them have been in 3 or more.
It is slightly surprising that the #1 most used voice actor in DreamWorks movies, with an incredible 13 roles, is Conrad Vernon. His most recognizable roles are Mason, the chimpanzee in most of the Madagascar installments (including the TV show), and the Gingerbread Man in Shrek. Conrad is a writer and storyboard artist as well. He’s moving up these days, and recently directed Sausage Party.
That’s right, the voice of the Gingerbread Man is also the director of Sausage Party. Yes, the one with the dirty jokes about hot dogs.
- Second place is Chris Miller. No relation to Christopher Miller of The Lego Movie
- Third place is a tie between Christopher Knights, Stephen Kearin, and Tom McGrath. All three primarily do voice roles for DreamWorks.
The Most Used Voice Actors in Universal Movies
Universal is much more active as a distribution house than the other three companies on this list. That means they release a huge number of films that weren’t actually made by them, but are “published” under their name.
Universal actually makes very few animated movies in-house, and none of them are the kind of blockbusters people usually associate with the name. So instead of Universal in-house movies, we dove into the work of Illumination Entertainment.
Illumination is the company that made the Despicable Me series (and spin-off Minions), as well as The Secret Life of Pets, The Lorax, and Sing. They only have 7 films to their name, so the voice actor numbers are much lower.
Out of 263 voice actors, only 36 have been in more than one film. That number will almost certainly go up over time as they start to release sequels to franchises like Sing. Illumination has already proven that they love their sequels, and we’ll likely see little yellow Minions running around on screen for many years to come.
So, the most used voice actor in Illumination Entertainment films is Laraine Newman. She’s an SNL alum and who had her first voice role in 1983, with an animated pilot for The Coneheads. That show wasn’t picked up, but she started doing more and more voice work from that point. Today it’s her primary business.
- First runner-up is split by 7 people with 4 roles each. Included among them is, once again, Jess Harnell.
- Third place is a tie between 9 voice actors and celebrities, including Bob Bergen (the current voice of Porky Pig), and Steve Carrell.
Shared Voice Actors Between the Studios
Collecting all this data led me to one final question. How many of these voice actors have been able to bounce around between the studios? Is there anyone who has worked for all four?
The answer is, amazingly, no. Frank Welker, who seems to be in just about everything, has never been in a Pixar or an Illumination movie. Even John DiMaggio, one of the absolute most prolific voice actors in today’s industry, has only worked for Disney, DreamWorks, and Illumination. Never Pixar.
Maybe the studio system is alive and well, after all.