You know the names, you know the songs… but do you know the faces behind the voices? These 10 unassuming actors provided the vocals for some of Disney’s most iconic animated characters…
Paige O’Hara – Belle in ‘Beauty And The Beast’ (1991)
A dyed-in-the-wool Broadway star, O’Hara trod the boards for many years before she auditioned for the voice of provincial town girl Belle at the age of 30. As both the talking and signing voice of Bellle, O’Hara has enjoyed all the benefits of the movie’s continued success, and although she was officially replaced as the voice of Belle in 2011 (her voice had changed significantly by then) she’s still a Disney legend.
You might even have spotted her in the fictional TV soap opera in Disney’s live-action ‘Enchanted’ movie, along with other Princesses of Disney’s past.
Robby Benson – Beast in ‘Beauty And The Beast’ (1991)
Turns out Beast really does have piercing blue eyes. Benson voiced the eponymous Beast in 1991, putting his stage training to good use. He made his Broadway debut aged 14 in ‘The Rothschilds’ and starred in coming-of-age movie ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ in 1976. Since ‘Beauty And The Beast’ won hearts (and a Best Picture Oscar nomination), Benson has been busy teaching the arts as well as practising them: he’s worked as a professor at NYU’s School of the Arts and Indiana University. He has two children called Lyric and Zephyr.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas – Young Simba in ‘The Lion King’ (1994)
Squee! Women of a certain age no doubt had posters of Taylor Thomas on their wall, given his heartthrob status in the early nineties thanks to the success of sitcom ‘Home Improvement’. The young actor provided the voice of young Simba in Disney’s hugely successful 1994 animation – until puberty kicked in and he became Matthew Broderick – but he also voiced Pinocchio in a non-Disney 1996 live-action movie. Taylor Thomas was recently reunited with his ‘Home Improvement’ co-star Tim Allen in Allen’s new sitcom ‘Last Man Standing’, but it’s unknown if he’ll play any role in the new live-action ‘The Lion King’ movie announced earlier this year, directed by Jon Favreau.
Jodi Benson – Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989)
Another Broadway star, Jodi Benson secured the role of Ariel via her friendship with producer Howard Ashman, who passed on her ‘Part Of Your World’ audition tape to Disney execs and landed her the gig. It’s a job that’s served her well ever since: Benson reprised the role of Ariel in two direct-to-video ‘The Little Mermaid’ sequels plus three seasons of the 1992 animated TV series, not to mention her recent performance in the Hollywood Bowl’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ concert in June 2016. She also voices Barbie in the ‘Toy Story’ movies, and was inducted into the Disney Legends Hall of Fame in 2011.
Scott Weinger – Aladdin in ‘Aladdin’ (1992)
Not many men have bounced back from Police Academy, but Weinger is one of them – he made his acting debut in ‘Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach’, but still went on to enjoy a full and varied career. It was his part on TV sitcom sensation ‘Full House’ that led to him being cast as the titular street rat in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ in 1992, a role which he inhabited throughout the sequels and subsequent TV series. Now a writer/actor, Weinger has written scripts for several Disney TV shows aired on ABC, including medieval comedy ‘Galavant’ and the critically-acclaimed ‘Black-ish’.
Linda Larkin – Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ (1992)
Surprisingly, the voice of Arabian princess Jasmine is not a woman of colour. Linda Larkin was hired as the Princess of Agrabah with just TV work on her CV, boasting parts in the likes of ‘Doogie Howser, MD’ and ‘Murder, She Wrote’. Larkin has voiced Jasmine in every official ‘Aladdin’ product since, including the sequels ‘The Return of Jafar’ and ‘The King of Thieves’, the animated TV series, the tie-in videogames and various spin-offs. Weirdly, the only non-‘Aladdin’-related product she’s lent her voice to in the last eight years is ‘Grand Theft Auto V’. What would Uncle Walt say?
Irene Bedard – Pocahontas in ‘Pocahontas’ (1995)
The Native American actress has a close connection with ‘Pocahontas’, Disney’s 1995 journey to a new world: born in Anchorage, Alaska, Bedard is of Inupiat, Inuit and Cree ancestry. She provided the foundation for Pocahontas’ look as well as her voice, but that’s not her you can hear on ‘Colors Of The Wind’ as Pocahontas’s singing voice was provided by Judy Kuhn. Interestingly, Bedard would go on to play Pocahontas’s mother in Terrence Malick’s 2005 take on the same subject matter, ‘The New World’. She can currently be seen in Netflix crime show ‘Longmire’ alongside Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Ming-Na Wen – Fa Mulan in ‘Mulan’ (1998)
It’s rare that Disney will hire someone whose voice is as famous as their face, but Ming-Na Wen is well known for many projects, not just the Mouse House’s Asian adventure. Before ‘Mulan’, the Chinese-born actress found critical acclaim in 1993 movie ‘The Joy Luck Club’, had a recurring role on ‘E.R.’ and played Chun-Li in the ill-fated live-action ‘Street Fighter’ movie alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme. You probably now her best now for her role in ABC’s Marvel universe TV series ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, where she’s played Agent Melinda May for four seasons. She recently reprised the voice of Mulan in an episode of Disney Junior show ‘Sofia The First’.
Tate Donovan – Hercules in ‘Hercules’ (1997)
Donovan has built up quite the body of work in his 30+ years in Hollywood. He got his start in teen cult classic ‘SpaceCamp’ and made further appearances in ‘Memphis Belle’ and ‘Love Potion No. 9’ before landing the role of Hercules in Disney’s 1997 animation (and the TV series that followed). Perhaps best known for his recurring role as Rachel’s boyfriend Joshua in ‘Friends’, Donovan has several acclaimed movies on his CV, including Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winner ‘Argo’, George Clooney’s Oscar-nominee ‘Good Night, And Good Luck’ and Kenneth Lonergan’s 2016 Oscar hopeful ‘Manchester By The Sea’.
Phil Harris – Baloo in ‘The Jungle Book’ (1967)
A legend in his own right before Baloo ever came calling, Phil Harris was a radio sensation and an expert jazz musician – that’s why Baloo has such mad scat skills. In fact, Harris voiced several Disney animated characters: not only ‘The Jungle Book”s rump-shaking bear, but ‘The Aristocats” feisty feline Thomas O’Malley and ‘Robin Hood”s Baloo-a-like Little John, too. Harris was to voice Baloo in the utterly bizarre 1989 ‘Jungle Book’ spin-off animation ‘TaleSpin’ – in which Baloo was now a WWII-era cargo pilot – but he was replaced after a few recording sessions. He died in 1995.
Brian Bedford – Robin in ‘Robin Hood’ (1973)
Classically-trained actor Bedford was a man for whom a role in a prestigious Disney classic was but one feather in his cap. A graduate from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he had just the right posh twang to voice man of the people Robin Hood in fox form. A huge practitioner of Shakespeare, Bedford performed in the likes of ‘The Tempest’ opposite John Gielgud and played the starring role in ‘Richard III’. Tragically he died of cancer in January 2016, survived by his husband Tim MacDonald, his partner since 1985.
Watch the trailer for the live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ below…