Call this list the John Ratzenberger Award, if you’d like. The former Cheers actor has lent his vocal talents to every Pixar movie ever created and while that feat alone doesn’t make our list of the 11 best Pixar vocal performances, his impressive feat embodies the kind of talent Pixar uses in their films.
Ellen DeGeneres Dory, Finding Nemo
She’s so lovable, yet so lost. Dory and her frantic self prove believable as Ellen DeGeneres fluctuates almost poetically—is that even possible in an animated vocal performance?—between aloof and anxious. We love Dory because she can sound like a whale and mimic fish all while talking to herself. And can she ever repeat a line until it sticks in our heads forever: P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.
Billy Crystal Mike Wazowski, Monsters, Inc.
Pure funny: the perfect pitch of a sidekick. Billy Crystal manages laughter as well as any animated character in the history of Pixar, using precise timing and quirky delivery to shell out humor in heavy doses.
Kevin Spacey Hopper, A Bug’s Life
This actor can always project menace, but this grasshopper offers his presence fearfully—at least for fellow grasshoppers and ants alike—nimbly switching on and off the dictator-like persona, lulling you in with his reasoning and then shutting you out with his shouting.
Tom Hanks Woody, Toy Story
Tom Hanks shows range. Wyoming ranch-sized range. We’ve heard his vocal talents so many times throughout his career, from Cast Away to Forrest Gump, but he takes us on that ride every time he straps on his Woody-styled cowboy hat.
Bob Peterson Dug/Alpha, Up
Just listen. Bob Peterson has viewers in stitches as Dug, a talking dog. With the use of some fanciful collar, Dug’s voice turns into something almost human. That’s where the genius comes in, with Peterson turning comedic lines into some quirky mix of fluid, mechanical and robotic perfectness.
Tim Allen Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story
You simply can’t talk Pixar vocal performances without thinking “to infinity and beyond!” (At least most normal Pixar-loving folks can’t.) What Tim Allen did with Buzz was give us excitement, energy and a sense you’re always on the edge of adventure. As one of the original voice kings—along with Tom Hanks as Woody—Allen set a standard for combining the powerful adventure that children crave with the timing necessary to keep a performance on pace.
Andrew Stanton Crush, Finding Nemo
As voiced by Stanton—director of Nemo and Wall•E—Rush, the surfer-styled sea turtle, offers up some of the most memorable lines of the movie, providing some vocal comic relief at the right time. His over-the-top surfer mentality plays so well against the frantic pace of Albert Brooks’ Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory that we can all relax, dude.
Dave Foley Flick, A Bug’s Life
Childlike playfulness with that ever-earnest tone bleeding through defines this lovable ant. Flick so badly wants to help his fellow ants, right the wrongs of the world and not continually jack up the entire thing along the way. Dave Foley expertly gives us this raw emotion in his voice, imparting the longing and desperation you’d want from every ant out to save the hill.
Craig T. Nelson Bob Parr, The Incredibles
There’s a sense of realism that Craig T. Nelson brings to Bob Parr, almost an honesty as he lives his life as a father and husband of a superhero family. On par with his performance is Holly Hunter, using her distinctive voice for additional drama as Helen Parr. But it comes down to Nelson’s ability to span natural emotions that give us a grounded feel of life as an animated superhero.
Patton Oswalt Remy, Ratatouille
How would you give voice to a rat, giving it personality and character along the way? There aren’t a lot of manuals for that, but we fall in love with Remy as Patton Oswalt presents the character’s eagerness for discovery and passion for all things food and friendship.
Paul Newman Doc Hudson, Cars
There’s just a little life left in Doc Hudson. And underneath that tired voice Paul Newman first introduces us to we find a spark, an inner tire screeching and waiting to come out. Newman proves masterful in showing us so very little of Doc Hudson—originally presenting just age and anger—and later catapulting the character to new places. While Owen Wilson’s performance remains stellar (even with a shout-out to Larry the Cable Guy’s playful staging of Mater), pacing so many of the scenes with his youthful gusto, Newman slows us down. And then gives us his passion.