At this year’s Academy Awards, Chris Rock used the spotlight to point out something that most of us probably never noticed.
“…And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra. You can’t play white? My God!”
Rock was referring to the disparity between white and black actors doing voice work. White actors voice characters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Black actors, however, have gotten far fewer roles, even to voice characters of color.
As though heeding Rock’s barb, the latest “Ice Age” film features several black animation actors. Joining Queen Latifah in her recurring role as Ellie the mammoth are Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer, Drake, and Nicki Minaj.
“Ice Age 4″ is just the latest in a line of top animation films starring black voice talent. James Earl Jones captivated a generation as the wise Mufasa in “The Lion King”. His iconic character gained new fans when Disney re-released the 1994 film in 3D last year. The re-release grabbed the #1 box office spot just as it did 18 years ago. As one of America’s most distinguished actors, James Earl Jones has created many great roles on stage and screen. Although not Tennessee Williams, the death of Mufasa has become one of those touchstone scenes in cinema that both adults and children remember.
Here’s a top ten list of other great black voices in animation.
1 Eddie Murphy
Murphy voiced Donkey in the hugely popular “Shrek” movies from DreamWorks Animation. He is also the voice of Mushu the dragon in the Disney hit “Mulan”.
2 Will Smith
Smith is the voice of main protagonist Oscar the fish in “Shark Tale”. The 2004 DreamWorks Animation comedy, which opened at #1, featured an adult storyline with references to “The Godfather” films.
3 Whoopi Goldberg
The actress and comedienne starred with James Earl Jones in “The Lion King”, voicing Shenzi the hyena. She was also the voice of Fantasy in the 1994 film “The Pagemaster”, a mix of live action and animation.
4 Oprah Winfrey
Not everyone knows that Winfrey starred in the “The Princess and the Frog” as the voice of Eudora.
5 Samuel L. Jackson
Jackson lent his unmistakable voice to superhero Frozone in 2004’s “The Incredibles”. The highly rated Disney-Pixar film featured retired superheroes who are drawn out of suburban hiding by a resurgence of trouble.
6 Jamie Foxx
The 2011 musical “Rio” showcased Foxx as the voice of Nico the yellow canary.
7 Martin Lawrence
Lawrence is the star voice in “Open Season”, the first theater film from Sony Pictures Animation. His protagonist, Boog, is a giant but tame grizzly on the run from hunters. Columbia Pictures released the film in 2006.
8 Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah voices Ellie the mammoth in all four “Ice Age” films. The series began in 2002 with “Ice Age” and has recently released “Ice Age: Continental Drift”.
9 Chris Rock
In the “Madagascar” franchise, Chris Rock voices recurring main character Marty the zebra. The first film was released in 2005. The latest film, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”, is currently in theaters.
10 James Earl Jones
Jones voices Mufasa in “The Lion King”, and of course served as the voice of the iconic Darth Vader. Need we say more?
Image credit: Wikipedia