Before Aladdin made casting big-time celebrities the norm, voice actors used to be the unsung heroes of Hollywood. There simply weren’t that many cartoon characters that looked just like the people voicing them, the way Robin Williams’s rubber-faced antics were integrated into the fast-talking Genie. Today, actors who look like their cartoon counterparts are incredibly common, with 2004’s Shark Tale being perhaps the most striking example.
But pre-Aladdin, there were, in fact, a handful of voice actors that looked like cartoons, but they weren’t major celebrities, so the resemblance wasn’t meant to help sell tickets. Disney, for example, didn’t just hire incredible voice talent; they also hired strong actors such as Eleanor Audley and Bobby Driscoll and filmed them acting out the roles on a sound stage to assist the animators in creating more compelling, lifelike characters.
This list is a mix of voice actors from TV and film that look uncannily like their cartoon counterparts. Excluded are characters that are explicitly based on a real-life person, because where’s the fun in that? (In other words, no Rover Dangerfield.) Vote up the doppelganger you think is the most convincing.
Jessica Walter and Malory Archer (Archer)
Jessica Walter looks so much like her Archer character Malory Archer that she had to be the inspiration, right? Not exactly. The producers considered Walter “something akin to acting royalty” and didn’t want to “abuse her time” with the necessary photo shoot, so they abused the time of Kathleen Cohen, a local Atlanta actress, instead.
Kevin Michael Richardson and Principal Lewis (American Dad!)
Principal Lewis is basically just a American Dad-ified Richardson, with the same bald head and beard. But Richardson’s other voice credits include far more diverse looking characters, including Shredder in the 2012 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Eleanor Audley and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Danny DeVito and Philoctetes (Hercules)
Philoctetes isn’t the only cartoon creation voiced by DeVito that matches his diminutive 4’10” frame. He also voiced Mr. Swackhammer, the alien dog owner of the intergalactic theme park “Moron Mountain,” in 1996’s Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam.
Kathryn Beaumont and Alice (Alice in Wonderland)
Beaumont performed on a sound stage to create a live-action reference for the animators of Alice in Wonderland. The stage was almost entirely bare and she often worked alone, so Beaumont had to imagine where animal characters such as the Cheshire Cat or Mad Hatter were located in the space, akin to the “green screen” environments of modern films with lots of CGI.
Jane Lynch and Sergeant Calhoun (Wreck-It Ralph)
Lynch describes the final incarnation of Calhoun as “me 20 years ago with a kickass body.” Her look changed throughout the process: Lynch says all the Wreck-It Ralph characters, in fact, “started to look more and more like us because they videotaped us while we recorded our lines.” Lynch’s biggest surprise? “Sergeant Calhoun moves her mouth in a certain way, which is exactly how I talk.”
Anika Noni Rose and Princess Tiana (The Princess and the Frog)
Not only did Rose’s performance inspire the look of Princess Tiana, the animators even went the extra mile and made Tiana left-handed, just like Rose.
Eartha Kitt and Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Ed Asner and Carl Fredricksen (Up)
While there’s a definite resemblance between Asner and his Up counterpart, the character was actuallybased on Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau.
Aisha Tyler and Lana Kane (Archer)
Because voice actress Aisha Tyler was too busy to attend the lengthy photo shoot required to create the Lana Kane character, the Archer producers instead cast Kynyetta Lester, a Tyler doppelganger and Hooters waitress discovered by series creator Adam Reed.
Steve Buscemi and Wesley (Home on the Range)
Disney essentially made a Steve Buscemi caricature when they designed Wesley, the villianous cattle broker in the largely forgotten Home on the Range. The resemblance is even more striking when Buscemi’s in his full Boardwalk Empire best.
Bobby Driscoll and Peter Pan (Peter Pan)
Not only did Disney animators use Driscoll as the inspiration for Peter’s look, Driscoll and some of his fellow voice actors actually shot a live action “reference” film to help animators bring the classic to life.
John C. Reilly and Wreck-It Ralph (Wreck-It Ralph)
Reilly worked with the animators of Wreck-It Ralph to develop the look of the character. They incorporated his gestures via motion studies, which Reilly says made him truly recognize himself in the final product, especially “the secondary gestures, like picking-at-himself kind of things.”
Will Smith and Oscar (Shark Tale)
The entire cast of Shark Tale could make this list, with undersea versions of Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorcese, Robert Deniro, Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Peter Falk, and Katie Couric. One critic noted this was likely Dreamworks trying to maximize their investment: “Shark Tale was paying lavishly for a few days of Will Smith or Robert De Niro’s voice acting, so it might as well appropriate their images and histories as part of the deal.”
Irene Bedard and Pocahontas (Pocahontas)
Despite the uncanny resemblance, Bedard was just one of of many multiethnic visual inspirations for the look of Pocahontas, which included white supermodel Christy Turlington, black supermodel Naomi Campbell, and a Filipino model named Dyna Taylor, an 18-year-old art school student who was paid $200 by Disney for the modeling session.
Christopher Plummer and Charles Muntz (Up)
Much like Up’s hero, Carl, resembles voice actor Ed Asner, villian Charles Muntz looks quite a bit like Christopher Plummer. Pixar animators say they wanted Muntz to look like “a warm, loving grandfather who could become sinister at the drop of a hat,” which is also pretty great description of Plummer.
Zachary Levi and Flynn Rider (Tangled)
There’s definitely more than a bit of Levi in the character of Flynn Rider, but the directors also say they added a dash of Clark Gable and David Beckham.
Rowan Atkinson and Zazu (The Lion King)
Zazu’s supervising animator, Ellen Woodbury – the second woman in Disney history to hold that title – says Atkinson’s voice was “incredibly rich” and “listening to his readings gave me so much to work with.” She also says Atkinson’s series Black Adder “was a particularly rich source” for helping to get his “malleable” characteristics onto a hornbill.
Robin Williams and Genie (Aladdin)
Ming-Na Wen and Mulan (Mulan)
Ming-Wa Wen says several of her real-life gestures “took” and made it into the final film after Disney animators filmed her doing her voice work, including the way Mulan touches her hair in the “blossom scene” with Mulan’s father.