Animated movies and shorts are part of the traditional Christmas experience. But while we might think of animated productions as a visual experience, it is often the narration and voice acting that really makes them memorable. As far back as the Chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry V, the narrator played a vital storytelling role in moving the plot along.
The art of voice acting
Voice acting involves a very specialized set of skills. Timing, tone variation, and even breathing are details that stand out when America’s animated casting directors hire professional narrators, the kind of details that traditional actors touch on at stage school and then soon forget. Here, we have singled out some of the great narrations that have helped these animated movies to become Christmas classics, enjoyed from one generation to the next.
Vincent Price in The Christmas Carol (1949)
Looking back on his career in 2013, friend and director John Waters described Vincent Price’s screen persona as “handsome, dignified, charming, and a little bit sinister.” The same can be said for his voice. In the 1960s, Price became famous for appearing in low budget horror flicks and raising them above the mundane through his screen presence.
Years earlier, he did the same with this wonderful spoken word production, which should be compulsory holiday season viewing in every household. Like those later movies, this 30-minute Christmas special was filmed on a budget and if entrusted in any other hands, would have been quickly forgotten. Price’s voice work, however, makes it something special, and young or old, his tones draw listeners in to hear the tale.
Boris Karloff in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
English actor Boris Karloff was best-known for primarily non-speaking roles as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy in numerous movies during the 1930s. It was not until relatively late in life that his strident voice, which carefully enunciated each word, was used to its full potential.
Dr Seuss’ story of The Grinch is well known and has been adapted to the screen many times, including the high-profile production starring Jim Carrey. However, Karloff’s narration of the 1966 animation is still acknowledged as the definitive version. It is the most faithful to the book, and Karloff’s clipped tones work perfectly with the slightly surreal story. Karloff won his first and only Grammy Award for the recording, which he performed at the age of 79, three years before his death.
Edward Ivory in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
You could be forgiven for asking who Edward Ivory is. Doing so is just further evidence that those who choose to pursue a career in professional voiceover acting don’t do it for fame and glory! Ivory is one of the most talented voice artists around, and over the past 20 years has worked primarily in the video game industry.
He had several movie credits for his voice work in the 1980s and 90s and the most famous by far is Tim Burton’s dark fable, The Nightmare Before Christmas, based on his poem of the same title. Ivory has a strong baritone voice, which is perfect for the large, jovial but powerful character of Santa Claus.
Kelsey Grammar in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
That’s right, it’s the man best known for playing Frasier Crane in Cheers and Frasier. He also has some impressive voice acting roles under his belt, including Contractor in Toy Story 2 and Vladimir in Anastasia.
In Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, Grammar delivers memorable voice work as the narrator, voicing the introduction and linking pieces between each of the sections. His soft tone and relaxed pace are just right for delivering slightly old-fashioned words in rhyming couplets. It’s the sort of format that could easily come across as overly saccharine, but Grammar delivers it perfectly and the old Disney regulars, including Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto do the rest.