HOLLYWOOD -- Celebrity voice-overs have become a central part of the animation business, changing the ways studios today promote and market their family movies.
Not only did Tom Hanks and Tim Allen receive "over scale" salaries for reprising their roles in "Toy Story 2," they're also the first stars to get their names above the title in all print advertising for the coming Thanksgiving release from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios.
"There's no denying that when you have Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, two of the big stars around, it's a huge plus for us," said Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. "It's like they're starring in the movie."
Just as with live-action movies, marquee names are particularly advantageous when it comes to positioning a title in today's increasingly competitive and overcrowded marketplace.
Casting recognizable talent enables studios to sell films like "Toy Story" and "Aladdin" as family comedies, not just animated kids' movies.
"People think of 'Toy Story' like a Hope and Crosby comedy as much as a children's picture," said Disney Studios Chairman Joe Roth.
For years, Disney liked to keep its voice-over talent out of the media spotlight so that audiences wouldn't identify the animated characters with the stars.
That changed when Robin Williams personified the wisecracking Genie in the studio's 1992 animated hit "Aladdin" and the character and the comedic star's real-life persona became inseparable.
Disney's motivation in casting someone as high profile as Williams in "Aladdin" was, in fact, an attempt to move animation into a much bigger realm.
"It opened animation to a wider audience because adults could relate to the movie," said DreamWorks' animation chief, Ann Daly, who was president of Disney's domestic home-video division from 1992 to 1997.
Since "Aladdin," virtually all major animated movies feature celebrity talent. Movie stars such as Mel Gibson, Mike Meyers, Meg Ryan and Sharon Stone, as well as popular TV personalities such as Rosie O'Donnell, are participating in press junkets and appearing on talk shows to help studios promote their animated films.
Industry standards call for voice talent to get negotiated fees of about $5,000 a recording session. Disney and other movie companies such as DreamWorks still pay their voice talent scale on animated movies.
But such stars as Williams, Hanks and Allen receive nontraditional multimillion-dollar salaries to make sequels to films that became animated blockbusters.
From a creative standpoint, director John Lasseter, the man behind the two "Toy Story" films and "A Bug's Life," said, "The actors are a big part of these movies and so much a part of these characters."
Having big Hollywood stars lend their voices to animated movies is the brainchild of former Disney movie chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who asked Williams, Hanks, Allen and others to do the gigs as a favor.
"We have big stars, why not remind people that they're back in the same roles," said Disney's Roth, noting that's no different from a studio promoting the fact that it has Bruce Willis reprising his role as John McClane in a "Die Hard" sequel.
"You use every asset you have and Tom and Tim are two great assets," Roth said.