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Matinee Blog

Animation Films of 2013 Part 2 – The voices behind the characters featuring in Turbo, Monsters University and Free Birds

We’ve been looking at the voices behind some of the biggest animation films of 2013. This week’s article features Turbo, Monsters University and Free Birds.


DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo is a film about a garden snail who dreams of becoming a racing champion. It’s basically a fantasy about every stereotypical boy’s favourite things – snails and cars – which presumably appealed to the inner child of the predominantly male cast (Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L Jackson and Snoop Dogg).

Theo the snail from Turbo

It’s not just the subject matter that drew the stars to the project, though. Reynolds has talked enthusiastically about the film’s theme of chasing impossible dreams, which he could relate to as an actor.

Reynolds was keen to do the film despite having just been voted Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine. Presumably he can have his pick of parts – so why would he choose an animation project? Well, though he doesn’t have children of his own, he does have “an army of nieces and nephews” who he loves to take to the cinema… so perhaps he’s got his sights set on being Best Uncle Alive too.

Snoop Dogg – not famed for his child-friendly output – also wanted to get involved in something that children could watch. In an interview with EUR, he said: “I’ve wanted to do a family movie for a while now. Being able to watch a movie with my family and some of the kids from my Snoop Youth Football League has always been a goal of mine.”

Monsters University

Pixar’s Monsters University is a prequel to the highly successful Monsters, Inc, in which Billy Crystal and John Goodman get to reprise their roles as Mike and Sulley – as college students this time.

This is a great example of the magic of animation – where two older actors not only get to play the same characters they played 12 years ago, but even younger versions of them. The age of the actors just doesn’t matter when you can’t see them – it’s all about the voices – giving them access to a much wider range of parts than they would otherwise have.

Image of Monsters University

The Monsters films are unusual in that Crystal and Goodman recorded their parts in the studio together, so that they could bounce ideas off each other and improvise. Animated films are hardly ever made this way – usually voice-overs are recorded separately. But when big names are involved in a project, they get to put their own ideas in – and this is how Crystal and Goodman wanted to work.

In an interview with Buzz Sugar, Crystal said: “We did everything together – the scenes we were in together, we did them together. I made that happen on the first movie… It really is to me the only way to do a buddy movie like this. And I think that’s why they [the characters] are really funny and touching together.”

Free Birds

Free Birds, from Reel FX Creative Studios, is an example of an animated film that looks great on paper – with an interesting premise, great cast and so on – but has been almost universally panned. Critics have complained about its slow story, lack of humour, and “borderline offensiveness”.

The film tells the tale of two turkeys who try to change history by travelling through time to the origins of Thanksgiving. The stars involved – Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler – did their best with the material they were given, and clearly enjoyed being part of the project.

Image from Free Birds

It was Harrelson’s first foray into animation, and he has talked about the appeal of diverging from his usual, darker film roles. He told Popsugar: “I feel so lucky to be able to do totally different types of projects and characters. It’s great – keeps it interesting.” Intriguingly, he and Wilson tried to record their parts together in the same way that Crystal and Goodman did – but they messed around too much and were split up!

So the actors obviously had fun making the film – and the idea of time-travelling turkeys was suitably daft – but it just goes to show: no matter how famous your voice-over cast is, a great film still needs a great story.