Sep 26, 2017

The 80s Cartoon Character Voice Championships, Round 1

You may be asking yourself several questions, and one of those questions might be, how did googling “naked Cheetara” bring me here?  I can’t answer that question for you friend, in much the same way I can’t help you with the deep psychological problems that you obviously have.  (Seriously, never google naked Cheetara.)

The 80s Cartoon Character Voice Championships, Round 1
Ben Smith

However, I can answer any questions you may have about what exactly the CCVC might be (that’s certainly the abbreviation it will go by once this catches on and sweeps the nation).  The cartoon character voice championship is a bracketed tournament in which I will determine the contestants and the overall winner.  Authoritarian control is the rule of the day.

Some of you non-sports fans out there might be asking what a bracket is, it’s basically the tournament structure you would see in something like the Karate Kid movie.  Two contestants face-off head-to-head, and the winner advances to the next round against the winner of a separate matchup.  This continues until one winner is determined.


I’m now three paragraphs in and haven’t even explained what the competition is about.  If you find that unusual, you’re obviously new to the Back Issue Ben experience.  Quite simply, I am going to determine the actor that produced the most iconic voice performance for any 80s cartoon character.  Now, that’s a lot of characters to consider, so I had to establish some basic filters.  First, this is a male character competition.  There will be no Smurfette here.  A female bracket could be on the way, should demand exist.  Second, the cartoon had to originate in the decade of the 80s, no Scooby Doo or Bugs Bunny.  Third, I did a limited amount of research for this, so if I missed someone, feel free to let us know.  Lastly, the character voice has to be iconic.  The kind of voice you can hear in your head as soon as I mention it.

That’s the story, so let’s get started. 

ROUND ONE




PETER CULLEN/OPTIMUS PRIME VS PAUL WINCHELL/GARGAMEL

Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime is the very definition of iconic.  Cullen admitted to basing his performance on John Wayne, which is much more noticeable in the early episodes of that original Transformers cartoon series.  Cullen was able to invoke that strong unshakeable leader so much that he was hired to continue his performance in the live action Transformer movies.

Paul Winchell’s Gargamel conveyed the right amound of menace and seediness you need in a character that spends his life trying to hunt down and eat small blue woodland creatures.  Much like his portrayal of Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races, his voice work just fits with a character that’s scheming and up to no good.  Unfortunately, he’s up against a juggernaut here.

WINNER: PETER CULLEN



SCATMAN CROTHERS/JAZZ VS CASEY KASEM/CLIFFJUMPER

The older I get, the amused I am that Scatman Crothers played a talking robot on an 80s cartoon show.  He’s too cool for the show, and that completely comes through in his depiction of Jazz.  Jazz was the calmest, smoothest character to ever appear in an action-based cartoon.  I can imagine Crothers not knowing what the hell was going on in the script, but his delivery never suffered because of it.  Jazz is one of the most beloved Transformers for a reason, and it’s because of Scatman.

Casey Kasem obviously had the kind of voice that you could earn a living from.  Anybody my age will instantly remember him from his iconic Casey Kasem Top 40 Countdown radio show.  It was a staple of pre on-demand culture.  That kind of distinct voice was bound to find work in animation, and he found his way into most of them.  (The voice actor pool seems to be pretty confined, so most of these guys didn’t have much trouble finding more work.)  However, he’s probably remembered more for Shaggy or his Countdown than he is Cliffjumper.

WINNER: SCATMAN CROTHERS



CHRIS LATTA/STARSCREAM VS EARL HAMMOND/MUMM-RA
Starscream’s voice is burned into my brain so deeply that there’s really no possible way he wasn’t going to make the list.  Chris Latta’s characters are so distinct and instantly recognizable, that even as a kid you could always make the connection back to the same guy.  For some, that may be a negative, but not in this case.  His voice is so amazing, and consistent between shows, that I really wonder if it was his regular speaking voice.  Latta was a stand-up comedian, and don’t think I haven’t searched youtube for some grainy video recording of him performing on stage.  I need that in my life.

Hammond as Mumm-Ra is my mandatory nod to the Thundercats franchise, a mostly unspectacular but effective collection of voices.  Everyone that was a kid in the 80s can at least hear “ancient spirits of evil…” in their head as old lady Mumm-Ra made his classic transformation into buff Mumm-Ra.  You could also substitute Lion’O’s “thunder…thunder… Thundercats…” if you wish, it doesn’t really matter because

WINNER: CHRIS LATTA



JAMES AVERY/SHREDDER VS PAT FRALEY/KRANG

It’s arguable that Shredder was an iconic voice on that original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, but there’s no way I was going to keep the eventual Uncle Phil off the list.  The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was an important show in the childhood of Back Issue Ben, and it provided me with no small amount of joy when I learned Uncle Phil had also voiced one of the key villains of my childhood.

Krang is the better voice between the two of these.  Krang has the better inspiration, as Fraley has admitted before that he based his performance on a Jewish mother (now you will never be able to unhear it).  Krang is the more entertaining character with arguably a far better visual.  But Uncle Phil wins.  Uncle Phil wins every time.

WINNER: UNCLE PHIL



CHRIS LATTA/COBRA COMMANDER VS NEIL ROSS/SHIPWRECK

I’m sure there is probably a voice actor out there with two more iconic performances than Latta, but I can’t think of one of the top of my head.  Not for the 80s.  (Frank Welker by sheer volume of excellence probably can top it somewhere.)  (Cranky Editor Man chimes in to say that Lorenzo Music was both Peter Venkman and Garfield the cat. Speaking of, how fitting was it that when they cast the voice for the Garfield movie, they picked Bill Murray?) Every kid knew who Starscream and Cobra Commander were, and what they sounded like, and that it was the same guy voicing both.  Even if you weren’t that big of a fan, you knew the voice.  That’s iconic.

Ross as Shipwreck, was inexplicably a major character in the G.I. Joe animated series.  Plenty of ninjas to go around, classic leading man types like Duke, Flint, or Stalker.  No, let’s put the guy from the Village People into a leading role.  Ross played him with the perfect amount of smarm and punchability too.  Whatever, I’m just going to be honest.  I only picked Ross because he also voiced Springer, and I needed another opportunity to remind everyone that Ultra Magnus was a far superior Transformers character to the overrated Springer.  No slight to Ross.

WINNER: CHRIS LATTA

ALAN OPPENHEIMER/SKELETOR VS JOHN ERWIN/HE-MAN

I don’t know why, but I was amused to learn that a guy named Oppenheimer voiced Skeletor.  Skeletor is the voice and the character that launched 1000 memes, while He-Man is similarly burned into the brain of any kid that grew up in the 80s.  However, I mostly only remember Erwin for his “power of Greyskull!” tagline.

(Cranky Editor Man's favorite Skeletor line is "I don't like to feel good! I like to feel evil!")

WINNER: ALAN OPPENHEIMER 



ALAN YOUNG/SCROOGE MCDUCK VS ZACK HOFFMAN/ZARTAN

Ducktales was a special cartoon for a lot of young kids in the late 80s, and Young’s performance of Uncle Scrooge provided the perfect amount of strength, smarts, and Scottish.  After all, he’s supposed to be tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties.

Hoffman as Zartan nailed the otherworldly vocal component of a character that changes color in the sun and wears people’s faces convincingly enough to frequently gain access into top secret areas.  Seriously, you think the military would add an extra level of verification at some point.

WINNER: ALAN YOUNG



FRANK WELKER/DR. CLAW VS DON ADAMS/INSPECTOR GADGET

Frank Welker is arguably the most versatile and accomplished voice actor of all time. (Cranky Editor Man wishes to whack Back Issue Ben upside the head for disrespecting Mel Blanc.) His career spans decades and pretty much every significant animated series ever produced.  All of that is to say that there were a handful of iconic performances to choose from, but I went with Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget over Megatron or Soundwave.  I never got to see much Inspector Gadget for whatever reason.  I don’t think we had Nickelodeon back then, is probably why.  And yet, I still knew that legendary Dr. Claw voice, so full of evil and menace.  His mystique made all the more impressive by never seeing the character’s face.  Only that iconic shot of his metal clawed hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, Don Adams perfectly embodied the voice of a bumbling detective character that stumbled his way to victory on the back of his far more competent niece and her trusty dog Brain.  Don Adams was the perfect choice for the character, and he nailed it perfectly.  But I can’t pick him over Welker, I just can’t.

WINNER: FRANK WELKER

There you have it boys and girls, the winners of round one of the, I hesitate to say, most important online bracket competition ever created.  Come back next week to see who wins the whole enchilada.

Mmm, enchiladas. 


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