I came online this morning to the news that Benedict Cumberbatch will be voicing Shere Khan in Andy Serkis’ adaptation of “The Jungle Book” for Warner Bros.
To say I was overwhelmed was putting it mildly. “The Jungle Book” was amongst the first movies my mother ever took me to see. I was fascinated by the dark velvet tones of George Sanders’ voice as Shere Khan. It left me with a life long love of deep male voices, and a fascination with vocal acting.
It also left me with a preference for animated movies over live action. With live action, quite often the actors can be chosen for their looks. In animated films their voices damn well need to be up to the task.
“The Jungle Book” still remains my favourite. The rich tones of George Sanders, the slight softer, but still rich voice of Sebastian Cabot. The vultures with their Liverpudlian accents. Phil Harris’ lively, but laid back tones as Baloo.
My second favourite is “Robin Hood”. Phil Harris giving voice this time to Little John. But the really outstanding vocal talents in that movie are Peter Ustinov as Prince John and Terry Thomas as his sidekick Sir Hiss.
To my way of thinking, voicing an animated movie, or doing a radio play, is the true test of an actor’s talent. No-one can see your face, so your voice has to do the work for you on so many levels.
The same goes for audio books. Almost the worst mistake that can be made is for an author to read their own work. A fantastic book can be reduced to the most appallingly dull drone. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and Sir Derek Jacobi are all brilliant readers of audio books. Each of them have voices with layers of tone and richness which makes them an aural treat like no other. I don’t know if Roger Allam has ever done audio books, but he needs too. His Douglas Richardson in the BBC radio show “Cabin Pressure” is one of the highlights of the show.
In animated movies, radio plays, and audio books the actor’s voice should flow softly into your ear like warm honey. Swirl around your mind and settle in to your memory. George Sanders did that to me over 40 years ago. I am hoping that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Shere Khan will do the same.