Is it cynicism that drives local voice casting in animated films? I felt it was in Shrek 2 (but then as one of the few anti-Shrek people I find almost all aspects of those films cynical). In Robots though the cynicism is probably so up-front and central that it can almost be applauded.

In Shrek 2 Jonathon Ross voices a very minor character: UK only of course. Now Mr Ross is the UK’s most watched film critic. Can he be trusted to review it fairly, clearly the personal connection makes it difficult? Looking at the list of UK voice talent in Robots it is clear that a similar policy is being adhered to. Here is list to mull on (remember none of these roles have much more than three lines and a completely peripheral to the plot)

Chris Moyles: Radio 1 Breakfast DJ
Terry Wogan: Radio 2 Breakfast DJ
Eammon Holmes: Breakfast TV Presenter
Vernon Kaye: Youth TV Presenter & DJ
Cat Deeley: Youth TV Presenter

Now none of these are film reviewers but all of them have some sort of media outlet where what they generally talk about their interesting celebrity lives. In particular when a soon to be big movie is out, they will probably refer to their minor roles, the filming process, how great the film is. This is the best kind of free publicity (especially as much of it is on the BBC). Ironically in Shrek 2 the excuse for using celebrity voices in this way is slightly more justifiable, a like for like substitution of minor US celebs for a UK equivalent (considering Shrek 2 is a stab at a celebrity parody it is vaguely forgiveable: though is Kate Thornton really the UK’s Joan Rivers?) Another excuse could be just that these are all voice artists in their own right, with distinctive and useful tones. Somehow I cannot see Pixar using this argument, but then they do not cast celebrity voices for the sake of it.

The use of actors/stars to voice animated characters is a double edged sword. In Robots (which is otherwise a charming and really rather good animated feature) the leads (Ewan MacGregor, Halle Berry) employ thoroughly anonymous voices which work well for storytelling. Robin Williams is the main bit of stunt casting, and they pretty much wind him up and let him go in his own subplot. But it is the decent supporting actors like Stanley Tucci who allow the film not to be subsumed by their star personas. Which is why hearing Terry Wogan halfway through seems all the more jarring.