Animated Shorts - Actor Lends Voice to the Joker Legacy

Animated Shorts - Meet the Latest Joker

The list of names that have played Batman’s #1 nemesis is a pretty impressive one. On the live-action side there was Cesar Romero on television, and on film the legendary Jack Nicholson and, of course, the late Heath Ledger, who won an Academy Award for his turn.

The animated front holds its own quite well, too. Everyone knows about Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill, but Michael Kevin Richardson put his own stamp on the animated versions of clown prince of crime. So did the legendary Frank Welker during the Super Friends era, and Larry Storch (of F Troop fame) before him.

Another interesting bit of trivia. Voiceover master Jeff Bennett worked on about every animated Batman series out there since Bruce Timm took over. He was still basically an unknown when he was HARDAC in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992.

“I lucked out,” Bennett admits. “I got in just when animation just started to take off. I think Prince Valiant was the first cartoon I ever did. I was a steady character in the days when they did series with 65 episodes upfront, no question. James Bond Jr., with Corey Burton, was another job like that. What was important was we got to be a lot of different characters in both those shows. It was a great workshop for guys like me. We would come up with all kinds of different voices for all the different villains. Shows like that really had only three or four actors doing all the voices. Literally. They would hand out the script and then ask who would want to play which character. From there, the director would pick which voice sounded good, switch people around and somehow we get it all done.

“HARDAC was one of my first animation roles, too. That was back in the days we used to record in the old Sound Castle, just before we started doing Animaniacs. Efram Zimbalist Jr. was Alfred. That’s funny because I can’t remember what I did two weeks ago. Thank god my resume is listed somewhere. For instance, I don’t remember a lot of the Gargoyles stuff. Then some fan comes up with a little reminder and it call comes back to me.”

By 1996, he would be one of the truly hot voiceover actors, thanks in large part to his role as Lexington on Disney’s Gargoyles.

Still, it would be in the next incarnation of the animated Dark Knight, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, where Bennett would have a resounding impact. In that series Bennett was cast against Hamill’s Joker in the titular role of the episode “Beware the Creeper.” Bennett was the yellow-skinned hero with the daring fashion sense who had the Joker and Harley Quinn begging Batman to arrest them. A young, up-and-coming animator on the project named James Tucker never forgot it.

While Bennett climbed up the ladder as an actor, Tucker rose up the ranks of WB Animation. The latter is now the supervising producer of Batman: Brave & Bold. When it came time to cast someone for the Joker, in the two-part “Deep Cover for Batman/Game Over for Owlman” mini-arc, he was having trouble finding the right person for the job. Then Tucker remembered Bennett’s version of the Creeper.

“I came about it in a great way,” Bennett recalls. “Simply, Andrea Romano called me and said ‘I want you to do the Joker,’ and all I could say was ‘Well…OK.’ She then said she’d see me Tuesday. What was different was the first shows I did were ADR. They were tracks that had been done by somebody else. I replaced the original voice. I was sort of a last minute choice or something like that. So I didn’t really get to create my Joker on those two, or at least the rhythms I wanted to put into them, because I was trying to match to animation that had already been done.”

Not that Bennett didn’t end up with his own particular spin on the former Mr. Napier. Actually, Bennett mixed and matched quite an eclectic crew.

“Now with the Joker, I sort of came through the back door,” says Bennett. “I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I just came in and decided that I was just going to do my take on it and we’ll see what happens. The thing is I didn’t really feel different. I didn’t feel any pressure. I know there are people who loved what Mark (Hamill) did. There are also people who loved what Kevin Michael (Richardson) did. Of course, Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson still stand.  

“I admit I do develop characters from little parts of things I’ve seen others do. The Creeper was like ten years ago or something like that. Now there’s always something about the really weird characters to truly love. My work is usually more comical effects. I’ve always enjoyed playing those kinds of creepy parts anyway. The way TV is today, I don’t get much chance to do them. I also enjoy doing the Joker when he gets a bit darker and over the top. Now there are always going to be moments where you are going to do the hysterical, manic/depressive thing. It’s usually more manic than depressive.

“So I thought a little bit of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lechter and Christopher Walken. You have that thing that Anthony Hopkins does when he goes into his monotone that’s really creepy. There’s also something really strange with the way Christopher Walken talks. The way he would laugh at any time. He pauses at the strangest times. Hopkins and Walken were my main influences, with a touch of retro polish.”

There was another interesting element about Bennett’s work on the Joker. When we fans first see the character, it’s as his alternative universe good guy persona, Red Hood. Combine this with having to do dub work before adding his own personal touches, and Bennett had his work cut out for him.

“I treated Red Hood as if he was kind of like if the Joker thought he was Gene Kelly,” says Bennett. “The Joker is the kind of guy who can wear purple, green, and red and get away with it. That’s why I added a bit of retro to the voice. When I did finally get to see him, one of the first things I thought was this was how he looked like when I was a kid. They wouldn’t always let me do it, but I did also try to get in a little bit of the Joker being a New Yorker. There’s a little bit of that in his voice. I think that’s what made me think of Chris Walken, too. I will admit I liked the look. Definitely. It’s still not too over-the-top clownish.”

If his work on the two-part “Batman/Owl Man” is any indication, Bennett has come up with something. Tucker thinks enough that he has Bennett returning for a third episode as the Caped Crusader’s #1 rogue.

You’ll also be hearing him in a number of other roles across the TV dial.

“I remember in the 90s being amazed at the number of projects that were going on,” says Bennett. “I’m amazed that it’s happening again, especially with this economy. These days there always seems to be an audience, thanks in large part to the Matt Groenings and Seth MacFarlanes in the world.

“Then you see the Pixar stuff or some of the things Nickelodeon are doing right now. Penguins just debuted and I’m Kowalski. That show is just incredible. I know you’re interviewing me about something else, but who knows what is going to be coming down as animation? We just don’t. Look at Doctor Manhattan on Watchmen. I don’t think you can call that simply animation anymore. The technology has gotten so sharp. I can just sit and watch something like Penguins without the voices and just laugh. They are Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin-type comedy.

“So many of the Disney people I used to work with are also working on Penguins. It all comes full circle. That’s why I love getting into the faces of those who put down voice acting. This is really the best job in the world. You don’t know how many celebrities I’ve gone into recording sessions with who first are kind of weirded out by us freaky voice over people, then when the day is over they want to stay. They haven’t had that much fun acting in ages. It’s hard to have any attitude about it.”

 “The three young gargoyles were Bill Fagerbakke, Tommy Adcox and myself. Tom was Lexington. Corey Burton was also a Gargoyle, just not a main one. Bill is now Patrick on Spongebob and all of us got together again for Transformers, which sadly is not going to happen anymore. Then again, I was golfing with Frank Welker last Friday and he was Freddie on Scooby Doo 40 years ago, and he’s still doing it. I won’t be surprised if I do Johnny Bravo again when I’m 84. You never know.

“When you get down to it, there’s been a lot of different Batmans, a lot of different Jokers. It’s a lot of fun to go through the catalogue of them. In its own way it’s an interesting take on history.”

And no doubt we’ll hear Bennett working on them in some capacity as well.

ORIGINAL SPIDEY SWINGS ON MARVEL’S WEB

Marvel.Com announced they are airing the original 1967 edition of the animated Spider-Man. They will then put up new episodes every Thursday.

First airing on ABC in 1967, the series was originally produced by Grantray-Lawrence, with John Romita Jr. as a consultant. Known for its extremely limited animation, it was still far superior to the other Marvel/G-L Production of the day, The Marvel Superheroes.  Grantray would eventually produced 39 episodes that totaled 20 half-hours (The first Mysterio adventure was a full 24 minutes while the others were half that). Grantray-Lawrence would go bankrupt in 1968, and Krantz Productions and the master himself, Ralph Bakshi, would take over with the second season.

Still, one has to admit the series had one of the absolutely greatest opening themes of all times. While the animation was crude, the dialogue was sharp as kids TV could possibly be in the day. Thus the show is now considered a Saturday morning classic.

Episode 1 features "The Power of Dr. Octopus" and "Sub-Zero for Spidey." You can find it at: http://www.marvel.com/news/moviestories.7478. For more Marvel video—from complete episodes to original Marvel.com productions, go to http://marvel.com/videos/

FUNIMATION CREATES NEW HOOKUP WITH TOEI

FUNimation Entertainment and the Toei Animation Co. have entered into a digital content partnership in which the U.S. anime leader will distribute seven series from Toei’s catalog.

English-subtitled episodes from Air Master, Captain Harlock, Digimon Adventure 02, Fist of the North Star, Galaxy Express, Pretty Cure and Slam Dunk will be offered in the U.S. by streaming via FUNimation’s online video portal, www.funimation.com/video.

Totaling more than 500 episodes, these seven series launch with Fist of the North Star. One complete series will be added each week for seven weeks. This is worth it for Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock alone.

PIXAR TO RE-DISTRIBUTE BOTH TOY STORIES

Disney/Pixar announced they will be sending both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to the theaters October 2 for a limited run. Both films have been meticulously re-rendered in 3D from the original digital files using the latest state-of-the-art technology. This extraordinary double feature will play exclusively in 3D.

As just about everyone here knows, Toy Story was the industry's first-ever computer-animated full-length feature and the first feature released by Pixar Animation Studios in 1995. Toy Story 2, was the sequel that debuted in 1999. Both were both directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker John Lasseter.

"The 'Toy Story films and characters will always hold a very special place in our hearts and we're so excited to be bringing these first two films back for audiences to enjoy in a whole new way thanks to the latest in 3D technology,” said Lasseter. “Disney Digital 3D offers lots of great new possibilities for the art of animation and we will continue to use this new technology to push the boundaries in telling our stories. With Toy Story 3 shaping up to be another great adventure for Buzz, Woody and the gang from Andy's room, we thought this would be the perfect way to let audiences experience the first two films all over again. To see the movies back to back will be an amazing treat as well. This is certainly nostalgic for me and reminiscent of my youth when double features were the norm."

Originally released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1995, Toy Story went on to receive Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay, Original Score, and Original Song. It also earned Lasseter a Special Achievement Award "for his inspired leadership of the Pixar 'Toy Story' Team, resulting in the first feature-length computer-animated film."  Toy Story 2 was released in 1999, and reunited voice talents Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, in their respective roles as Woody and Buzz. The film became one of the most popular animated features of all time, and received an Academy Award nomination for Original Song.

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