Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Know That Voice

I Know That Voice
Dir. Lawrence Shapiro

3.5 out of 5

When an actor undergoes a physical transformation, it’s a conspicuous change that sometimes piques the interest of award voters – think of Jared Leto portraying a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club or Christian Bale’s Batman physique melting into his American Hustle pot belly.  But in the world of voice acting, where the boundaries of not only gender and body type, but also age and species are far more mutable, it’s simply par for the course.  That’s just one of several intriguing observations made by I Know That Voice, a fun and inviting new documentary that pays tribute to a large community of performers whose presence is very rarely seen, but most definitely heard. 

Directed by Lawrence Shapiro and executive produced by John DiMaggio – best known as Futurama’s Bender and Adventure Time’s Jake the Dog – I Know That Voice presents an overview of the voice acting profession, as told by some of the industry’s most familiar names.  It’s quite a broad topic for a 90-minute documentary, and the pacing is brisk as DiMaggio and Shapiro try to cover the business from as many angles as possible.  Some of the segments – particularly ones about legendary voiceover directors, the rise of voice work in video games, and the world-within-a-world of dubbing (discussed only within the context of anime) – warrant further exploration.  However, the goal here is to impress upon audiences the diversity of the field and the myriad differences between “doing a funny voice” and the skill of voice acting.

I Know That Voice is unquestionably by and for actors, filled with career advice and tips on technique that will appeal to people looking to break into the business.  The good news is that bloviating is kept to a minimum.  Even the driest shop talk segments don’t last very long and benefit from the interviewees’ laid-back, collegial nature, a quality that many actors credit to relatively low profile of voice work.  Animation enthusiasts will also appreciate the film’s many playful cul-de-sacs.  Planted firmly at the heart of the film – though never hogging the spotlight – DiMaggio possesses an infectious enthusiasm.  The best moments in I Know That Voice are ones that capture the joy of the profession, as when several actors relate how famous voices were born as failed impressions (Hank Azaria’s Simpsons bartender Moe is a bad Pacino, for example) or in a montage of actors reading a monologue from As You Like It as a succession of their most famous cartoon characters.

Though skewed towards talent from animated television series, I Know That Voice gets the most out of its abundant personality and the obvious passion that DiMaggio and his peers have for their jobs.  All of them take the “actor” portion of their job description seriously, but Shapiro and DiMaggio show a community filled with cut-ups: a quirky, back-slapping, generous subculture filled with the kind of people you’d like to meet.  In this way, the film cultivates affinity as well as respect for these versatile and prolific talents.  Not unlike its subjects, who trade the fruits of onscreen fame to toil (somewhat) anonymously on projects and with people they genuinely admire, I Know That Voice has a perfectly humble sort of ambition that’s both refreshing and worthy of appreciation.

This review was originally posted to Screen Invasion

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