Disney is the most celebrated and beloved animation studio in the world with a rich history in motion pictures that dates back to the 1930s. Disney’s animation has always been among the most beautiful and eye-catching in the industry, and its knack for telling engaging stories that resonate with audiences is second to none. Over the years, they have provided us with some of the most memorable characters to ever grace the screen, from Disney princesses and their animal sidekicks to fantastical creatures and villains.
A good voice performance is essential to bringing the characters to life and elevating them to new planes. A wide range of emotions need to be conveyed, with the voice alone being able to express where the character is from, their personality, and how they’re feeling. We take a look at some of the greatest voice performances from Disney’s extensive list of animated classics.
10 Dwayne Johnson — Maui (Moana)
With multiple high-profile movie releases a year and an impressive social media presence, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is somewhat ubiquitous within the entertainment industry. Rewind six years to 2016, the year of release of Disney’s smash hit animated musical Moanaand things weren’t much different for the megastar, who was, per Forbes that year’s highest-paid actor. Although he’d had a few smaller voice roles in the past, audiences and critics alike were impressed at how well he voiced the role of Maui, Moana’s friendly but slightly arrogant Polynesian demigod sidekick. Johnson even performed his own musical number in the movie that has become a favorite amongst Disney fans.
9 Eva Gabor — Bianca (The Rescuers)
Released in 1977, The Rescuers was one of Disney’s most successful movies of the era. It tells the story of two mice, part of the “Rescue Aid Society,” who set out to rescue an orphan girl who has been captured and forced to hunt treasure for the formidable Madame Medusa. One of these mice is the glamorous and sophisticated Bianca, the Hungarian representative of the society whose personality very much mirrors that of her voice actress, the fantastic Hungarian actress and socialite Eva Gabor. Gabor’s sharp and sultry sophistication works in perfect contrast to her mission partner’s, the casual, jittery janitor voiced by Bob Newhart. Both actors returned for the sequel The Rescuers Down Under in 1990.
8 Eddie Murphy — Mushu (Mulan)
Maybe not as iconic and well known as his role as Donkey in Shrekbut Eddie Murphy’s potential in voice acting was certainly on display, here, in Mulan. Full of the usual energy you’d expect from Murphy, Mushu was a mystical mini-dragon sidekick to Mulan in the 1998 hit Disney movie. His motor-mouthed quips added a much-appreciated comedic element to the vibrant animated movie based on Far Eastern folklore.
7 James Woods — Hades (Hercules)
It’s hard to choose the best voice performances in Hercules as there is just so many. On one hand, you have: the sassy and sultry Susan Egan as Meg; there’s the legendary Danny DeVito lending his inimitable voice to Phil; Rip Torn exudes authority as Zeus; and Bobcat Goldthwaite is unforgettable as Hades’ minions Pain and Panic. It’s Hades himself, however, voiced by James Woodsthat has to be the standout performance. With Kevin Spacey, David Bowie, and Jack Nicholson all being considered for the role, Woods took the character and made it his own as the fast-talking, wise-cracking, leader of the underworld full of sass and sarcasm.
6 Idina Menzel — Elsa (Frozen)
Idina Menzel did a fine job of capturing one of the most beloved Disney princesses of not just recent times, but of all time. While her acting was definitely top-notch, it was also her amazing singing that really helped elevate her performance. Some parents might be quick to disagree with this entry, as there was a 12-month period around 2013-2014 in which this soundtrack was absolutely everywhere, and most probably sung by every child, every day. It was incredibly popular and, per PlayBilltopped the Billboard album chart for 13 non-consecutive weeks and has sold 4 million copies in the US. Despite the annoyance to numerous parents out there, there’s no denying that Frozen‘s lead single “Let it Go,” composed by husband-and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, is a great example of a soaring, catchy, anthemic, poppy show tune.
5 Vincent Price — Professor Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Professor Ratigan, the main antagonist in Disney’s highly underrated 1986’s The Great Mouse Detectiveis one of the most terrifying and formidable Disney villains to date. Who better to do terrifying and formidable than the late great horror icon himself Mr. Vincent Price. Whether delivering the spooky monologue on Michael Jackson’s megahit “Thriller” or playing the disfigured murderer in House of WaxPrice never failed to send chills down the spines of those who heard his booming, sinister voice.
4 Pat Carroll — Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
The Little Mermaid was a hugely successfully film and marked the start of a renaissance period for Disney after a string of critical and commercial disappointments. The movie was full of heart, excitement, and fantastic songs. It also has one of the most intriguing and horrifying Disney villains of all time in the shape of the sea witch Ursula. Pat Carroll voiced the role, which includes one of Disney’s greatest songs in “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” with such aplomb that she since returned to voice the character 11 more times in various sequels, spin-offs, and TV shows. Carroll had spoken often about her desire to work with Disney, but landing the role wasn’t easy. After testing several times for the role of Ursula, the part ultimately went to another actress, but a year later, she was contacted to say that things weren’t working out and finally offered the role that would go down in history as one of Disney’s most iconic villains.
3 James Earl Jones — Mufasa (The Lion King)
James Earl Jones possesses one of the most beloved and iconic voices in Hollywood. His dulcet velvety tones have been blessing the big screen since the 1960s, yet it’s his role as Simba’s wise father Mufasa in 1994’s The Lion King that remains one of his most applauded to this day. There was no shortage of talent in the film, which includes fantastic performances from Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, and Nathan Lane, to name but a few, but hearing Mufasa educate Simba on the circle of life is a work of art that — spoiler alert — makes it all the more painful for viewers to witness the horrific death of the character later on.
2 Phil Harris — Baloo (The Jungle Book)
Baloo the bear is the definition of cool. He’s fun-loving, laid back, and ultra-easy going. In order to really bring the character to life, Disney needed someone to convey that sense of freedom in the voice performance — bring in the uber cool, wise-cracking, blues-singing Phil Harris. Harris had already had a successful music career, where he gained a reputation for his charismatic performances, and was making waves in the world of acting. Disney loved his performance as Baloo in The Jungle Book so much that they brought him back for multiple projects to play similar roles, including Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats (1970) and Little John in Robin Hood (1973).
1 Robin Williams — Genie (Aladdin)
It had to be, didn’t it? Robin Williams absolutely nailed the role of the Genie in 1992’s Aladdin receiving universal acclaim across the board. Disney knew as they were writing the script that no one else would bring the character to life like Williams, writing the part specifically for him and even using some of the actor’s recorded stand-up routines to serve as the voice of the Genie during the early stages of production. Stealing every scene he’s in, Williams came with his trademark energy, humor and improvisational skills, making for the greatest ever animations voice performance in movie history. Our thoughts go out to the animators, however, who were forced to constantly change things in order to include all the improvised material that the comedic legend kept on delivering.