Oct 3, 2017

The 80s Cartoon Character Voice Championships, The Finals

Last week, I introduced the cartoon character voice championships to the world, and the world emphatically responded with, “wha?” We’re going to ignore them and press on with the competition anyway, because there are upwards of seven of you that are eagerly awaiting the results, and they’re not even related to me.

The 80s Cartoon Character Voice Championships, The Finals
Ben Smith

If you’re confused as to what any of this actually means, then you’re going to need to read part one of this series my friend. This is part two, and part two never makes compromises or takes any prisoners. This is war, all of you late-comers would do well to understand that, internalize it, accept it. Part two has neither the time or inclination to consider your feelings. Part two wants to know the truth! It can handle the truth!

We’ve trimmed all the fat, now let’s dig right into the delicious succulent meat that remains. Yes, put that meat in your mouth. Taste it. Taste that juicy meat.

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. 



Optimus Prime, as the leader of the heroic Autobots, represents the pinnacle of what we’ve been able to achieve as a species when it comes to fictional animated action series leadership.  Peter Cullen encompasses all of that competence, strength, intelligence, and compassion in one remarkable voice.  A voice that has transcended decades.

Scatman Crothers likely lived every day as the most charismatic, smooth, and delightful person in any room that he was in, and that translated directly over to Jazz.  That, and Cullen got to say things like “Autobots roll out,” while Crothers had to sell lines like, “sorry to bust up your revival, but the Lady ain't got her heart in it!" as he saved an alien from the Decepticons because those aliens mistakingly believed Transformers to be gods.  (As a bonus, in that same episode, Omega Supreme said, “sarcasm, not appreciated.”) 



As impressive and important as being Uncle Phil is and was, I’m not entirely sure James Avery as Shredder should have beaten Krang in the first round.  The sheer Uncle Phil-ishness of Avery propelled him past the more outlandish Krang performance, in an upset that stunned an entire generation.  It’s the cartoon character voice championship bracket equivalent of the Dallas Mavericks losing in the first round to the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors in 2007.  Dare I say, it might be even more shocking than that was.

And Chris Latta was the best.



This is the ultimate showdown between ineffectual bumbling idiots leading villainous empires that accomplishe so little, it’s a wonder why they’re even given as much attention as they receive.  I’d say they both rate high on the unintentional comedy scale, but I’m not convinced any of it was unintentional.  It makes a lot of sense.  A skull-faced barbarian villain could be a little bit too intense for an after-school cartoon audience if played straight.  Same with a terrorist that always hides his face behind a faceless mask or hood, and has that ever present hiss in his voice.  However, it’s that added hiss that puts Latta over the top on this one.



Dr. Claw, while iconic and memorable, is a pretty limited and one-note performance.  Meanwhile, Alan Young had to play a central role in every episode of Ducktales as the iconic Scrooge McDuck.  It feels wrong to have Frank Welker lose this early, and it probably is, but there’s no way I can put him over Young in this case.




As much as I might want to be Scatman Crothers, how I’d love to the most charasmatic guy in the room.  The guy that can get unceremoniously axed in the back in The Shining, or voice the coolest robot in human history.  As high as that admiration might be, there’s one level above that in my book, and that’s being the character I could watch all day, every day, until the end of time.  Starscream is that character.  He’s so shady, manipulative, self-serving, and cowardly.  Sprinkle in a dash of actual competence, and you have not only one of the best characters in cartoon history, you have one of my favorite characters in all of fiction.  All of that capably given voice and life by the unimitable Chris Latta.



I’ve made the case before that Ducktales was one of the four most important and influential cartoons of the 1980s.  It’s only natural that G.I. Joe and the Transformers, two of the other three shows, also have finalists represented here (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being the fourth).  Alan Young was the backbone of the show, figuratively and literally as Scrooge McDuck.  Huey, Dewey, and Louie played important parts, but Scrooge was the main character.  Ducktales was inspired by the excellent comics written and drawn by Carl Barks, in which Scrooge was one of the most entertaining and expertly executed adventure characters ever created.  That may not have all translated into the cartoon, but enough of it did to entertain a generation of kids, and Alan Young acting work was an important part of that process.

But there’s really no way he’s beating Cobra Commander.  Sorry.




Man versus machine. Metallic reverb versus a snake-like hiss. This is the ultimate showdown, a man’s external conflict with the two sides of his being, represented in the form of a transforming robot jet, and a faceplate wearing snake-themed terrorist. It’s the struggle every man and woman was undertake and conquer, in order to function in everyday society. It’s his struggle. It’s our struggle. It’s a cosmic struggle.

As important as Starscream was to myself, and a generation of young cartoon fans, I have to give the edge to Cobra Commander in this case. Between the two, that character had the more prominent role in his respective series and while you could ultimately conceive of a Transformers series without Starscream, there’s no way that G.I. Joe series could have succeeded without Cobra Commander. (Maybe if they had focused more on Snake Eyes, one of the single most beloved characters of the entire decade, but hindsight is 20/20. As it stands, Cobra Commander had to carry the full burden and he did it as well as could be expected.)


There you have it. We all must bow down to the greatness that was Chris Latta. He played an important part in my childhood, and his voice hasn’t been replicated since. They’ve tried, many times, and failed miserably. Any questions, concerns, or disagreements, please feel free to let us know. We love a good discussion.

Until next time, “I was once a man!”

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