Documentary Review: I Know That Voice


Voice actors explain the hows and whys behind the vocal art of a lot of your favourite animated characters.


Lawrence Shapiro, 2013

This talking heads feature has a collection of the most oft-heard voices in showbiz, even if you don’t always recognise them and wouldn’t know their faces if you saw them on the street. The interviewees discuss the difficulties of making it in the business, the nature of their particular brand of fame, and the flexibility of performance that voice acting allows. There is some discussion of the changes that voice acting has undergone through the years. They also show off some of their signature voices and methodology behind those voices. The film then follows a number of the performers to Comic-con, where they get some recognition for their work.


This light doco was made for Netflix, with the prolific voice actor John DiMaggio providing its driving force. He exec produces and narrates the film, which gets very self-congratulating very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to get to see the faces behind the voices. While there won’t be a lot of information that’s news to anyone with an interest in voice actors, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and it seems as though people are happy to get to talk about their particular line of work. These are, for the most part, people who have honed a craft, rather than big name actors who occasionally voice cartoons. The best revelations come when the performers discuss how they put a voice together. Hearing them get into the character in their own individual ways is interesting; Hank Azaria talks about his “bad impressions”, while Dee Bradley Baker does a variety of fascinating creature voices and others mash two impressions together to create a new character. It would’ve been great to see more of these kinds of moments, leading into seeing the finished product with animation – we really only get that with Futurama’s Bender, for obvious reasons (John DiMaggio does the voice of Bender).

There’s a couple of short sections on anime and video games that suggest less respect for those mediums than traditional/3D animation, or perhaps less interest in them. There is a fun section on all the noises they have to make for video games. There’s a distinctly unfun section where everyone heaps praise upon John DiMaggio for his ability to do a black guy’s voice. It’s gross in the extreme. Being as self-aggrandising as this movie is, there’s also not a lot of depth to the content. It meanders from thought to thought with no end goal in sight; it exhausts a topic, then moves on to the next one in a scattershot manner without direction. It would be interesting to know how people feel about the kinds of roles they get given; it’s worth noting that a lot of young boys are voiced by women, for instance, while meaty roles for women are few and far between. The topic of race, as mentioned, is breezed over in a slightly disturbing manner, and the vast majority of key interviewees are white. The ins and outs of the industry are brushed over, with the focus on tips for aspiring voice actors taking precedence over some of the deeper concepts I would have liked to have seen. It would have been good to have a bit more going on in the visuals; there are only occasional flashes of the animation these people give their hearts and sounds to. Still, it’s an enjoyable discussion of a much-overlooked area of entertainment.

I Know That Voice on IMDb


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