John Morris as Andy (Toy Story 1-3)
Why It's So Special: So many of the strange worlds and stories that Pixar ask us to fall in love with work because there’s often a child surrogate on the screen, voicing our own innocence and enchantment.
From Mary Gibbs as Boo in Monsters, Inc. to Jordan Nagai as Russell in Up , directors have coaxed effortlessly warm and funny performances from the kids – but the benchmark remains John Morris.
As Andy, Morris brought such enthusiasm for his toys that we were instantly sold on why Woody and Co were proud to be his – and why the now 25-year-old actor’s return in Toy Story 3 was such a wrenching experience.
Morris speaks: “I remember when the first film came out, I would play, and then I would leave my toys, and I would close the door, and then I’d crack the door open just to peek really quickly to see if they were moving.
Even before working on the film, I had done voices for my toys. When I started getting Toy Story toys, I would do the voices for them from the film.”
Barry Humphries as Bruce (Finding Nemo)
Why It's So Special: This is a gift that isn't delivered until the end credits. Unlikely veggie shark Bruce is none-more-Aussie (a delicious subversion of two meat-eating bedfellows) but it's hard to place the gruff Antipodean twang.
Russell Crowe? Hugh Jackman? Rolf Harris? Nah, it's only Barry Humphries, making Bruce some kind of brother to Dame Edna Everage. Only in the movies, eh?
Humphries speaks: "I'm not sure what they found in me to play him, but obviously I'm glad they did."
Sigourney Weaver as Ship's Computer (WALL.E)
Why It's So Special: After a near-silent first half punctuated only by electronic bleeping, it's a shock to hear Weaver's drolly authoritarian tones beaming out over a spaceship's airwaves.
It's also something of a ironic double-take for film buffs, considering that this is Ripley - who once battled with a feminine PC called Mother - who has become the symbol of futureshock conformity.
Weaver speaks: "I was absolutely delighted to be asked as I was a stalwart fan and very, very enthusiastic of Pixar. I was still delighted even when I found out why I was cast, which was not for my talent but because I was in Alien ...
They also really let you play around, and I told Andrew I wanted to have an arc as my character, levels etc. He was very indulgent and we had a very good time."
Brad Garrett as Auguste Gusteau (Ratatouille)
Why It's So Special: When not playing Ray Romano’s brother on hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond , Brad Garrett became a Pixar stalwart with supporting roles in A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo .
His lugubrious baritone makes him typecast as sad or stupid, which makes his role as inspirational chef Gusteau such a triumph of counter-casting. Sure, the character’s dead, but Garrett dines out on a lip-smacking French accent and is clearly having a ball.
Garrett speaks: “The writing from Pixar is better than 90% of the features out there, whether it's live action or - they just have an amazing group of writers and then every time you seen an animated film they've raised the bar again.
I mean it's just astonishing. So I would be there if he [Brad Bird] called and when he doesn't call I show up, which is alarming for him.”
Timothy Dalton as Mr Pricklepants (Toy Story 3)
Why It's So Special: Never accuse Pixar of resting on its laurels. Even in a threequel - so often in movies, more of a threat than a promise - the casting directors are continually set on surprising us.
Amongst the delights of Toy Story 3 is the off-the-wall idea of a lederhosen-wearing Shakespearian hedgehog... and the studio's innate sixth sense for the right voice led them to ex-007 Dalton, whose rich cadences are probably listed in a dictionary somewhere under 'thespian.'
Dalton speaks: "In regular movies, obviously there are really talented people who really care. Deep passion - we all care. But they're limited by time and budget and all sorts of things.
But this company seems to have been able to create committed excellence with the ability to really ensure that people get what they want."
Stephen Root as Bubbles (Finding Nemo)
Why It's So Special: Essentially a one-joke character, this crazy angelfish spends his life hoarding the bubbles coming out of a ‘treasure chest’ in a dentist’s aquarium.
Yet in scenes involving Willem Dafoe, Allison Janney and Brad Garrett, Bubbles had to hold his own – so Andrew Stanton turned to veteran scene-stealer Root, cast on the strength of the similarly anally obsessed Milton from cult comedy Office Space .
Root speaks: "You can improvise. Any line from the film, you can do five minutes on it. Whatever catches their fancy is fine. It might be the first take. It might be the 25th. You're not memorizing; you're just coming in and playing. I love playing."
Paul Newman as Doc Hudson (Cars)
Why It's So Special: Because it's such a no-brainer. The script requires an elderly but still courteous legend; a racing driver; and a mentor to a young upstart named McQueen. It has to be Newman, surely?
But it’s still an absolute joy to listen to him, still effortlessly cool and captivating into his 80s – even if the film is now tinged with the bittersweet realisation that it was one of his last roles.
Newman speaks: “I found it very vivid and invigorating because you can have a line and you can say that it’s wrong and you can just jump on it and do it 60 different ways very back-to-back...
This way is wonderful, because you can just keep improvising and improving on it or making it completely different or changing words. You just have a lot more freedom.”
Jason Lee as Syndrome (The Incredibles)
Why It's So Special: Dramatic logic insists that, for the protagonist's heroism to be all the stronger, the villain of the piece has to be super-sharp in their dastardliness.
One of The Incredibles ' most astute subversions is that the film's fallen-from-favour superheroes are now so down on their luck that they're at the mercy of weaselly wannabe Syndrome, the scorned fanboy out for revenge.
So, instead of taking, say, 'the English villain' option, Brad Bird cast wisecracking skateboard geek Lee, who teases out all of Syndrome's stunted adolescence to make the gag work.
Lee speaks: "Apparently they liked my dialogue delivery in the film Dogma , which was with Kevin Smith. The way they do it is they compare dialogue to the drawing, to the sketches, the ideas that they have for a character. And they gather other dialogue, from different movies and then make their decision, based on that."
Joan Cusack as Jessie (Toy Story 2-3)
Why It's So Special: Nothing highlights Toy Story 2 's staggering sequel ambition better than the complex characterisation of cowgirl Jessie: at once Woody's pardner in yee-haw hi-jinks, and a psychologically damaged toy with abandonment issues.
The eternally underrated Joan Cusack gets to the heart of the dilemma by finding the fragility beneath Jessie's feistiness - a girl trapped by TV-tie-in branding but whose vibrant personality cannot help but get out.
Cusack speaks: "It's a really special group. They've carved out a way to be in this industry and a way to work that's totally unique and different and imaginative with the stakes really high and the artistic, creative levels being important...
I was curious what this one would be like, 'cause how do you keep going? How do you top it? But they topped it with real caring and human dramas, but keeping it funny and entertaining."
Patton Oswalt as Remy (Ratatouille)
Why It's So Special: Stand-up Patton Oswalt, it’s fair to say, isn’t a household name in Britain. Hell, relative to the Mike Myers and Ben Stillers of the world, he isn’t all that well known in the States.
All the more fitting, then, that it’s Oswalt who brings an underdog’s charm and vitality to the tale of the rat who becomes a cook.
Oswalt speaks: “I don’t think they want you married to an image. It’s more like you be in the emotion of the moment and let the animators do the acting. I know this sounds really weird, but the animators at Pixar are great actors because like great actors, they observe how people act.”
Michael Keaton as Ken (Toy Story 3)
Why It's So Special: Pixar’s ability to keep the Toy Stories fresh is helped no end by a playpen full of real-life toys to find inspiration for...and in Toy Story 3 , Barbie’s fella Ken gets a look-in.
In Pixar’s typically original conception, this Ken isn’t the alpha male of marketing hype but a love-sick puppy constantly striving to impress the girl of his dreams. Voiced by Keaton in classic borderline-nutso mode, he’s suave, cool and close to cracking up.
Keaton speaks: "What I didn’t realize until I saw it was that Ken and Barbie, unlike some of the other toys, actually are limited. Literally. When I saw them, I was like, "Oh, that’s right. He doesn’t move. He’s built out of that plastic thing."
Actors are unbelievable in the way they think. You kind of go, "Oh, man, if I had known that ..." I can never stop working. Anything you see, you always go, "Oh, if I could’ve had another crack at that! Why didn’t think of it? Plastic! It’s so obvious!"
Albert Brooks as Marlin (Finding Nemo)
Why It's So Special: Seasoned Simpsons fans will know that "A. Brooks" is one of Springfield's most versatile guest voices, equally comfortable playing a bowling lane lothario, a self-help guru and a Bond villain.
The joy here is that Brooks drops the caricature and plays Marlin with remarkable emotional candour: a loving father who is slowly suffocating Nemo through anxious over-protection. Brooks brings real heart to the film, not least in his moving chemistry with screen son Alexander Gould.
Brooks speaks: "They make you do a line or a paragraph 70 times. It's as if Stanley Kubrick directed a cartoon. You're more tired after those four hours than in any full day in any other kind of movie."
Steve Buscemi as Randall (Monsters, Inc.)
Why It's So Special: Some fine actors have added their sinister tones to Pixar villains – Kevin Spacey, Ian Holm, Christopher Plummer – but none have been quite as terrifying as Buscemi’s lizardly whine as Randall.
Which is only right, because Randall is the monster who isn’t shy about being a monster, whose role in life is to give kids the heebie-jeebies. Mission accomplished: there's probably a generation discovering Reservoir Dogs and being more freaked out by Mr Pink than Mr Blonde.
Buscemi speaks: “Knowing that it's for kids gives you that extra little boost of energy or excitement in wanting to do a good job and not wanting to let the kids down. I remember when I was a kid and watching these films, you just wanted to totally believe it.
So even though it's a lot of fun, it's an acting job that I take very seriously because I want the character to be as real as possible, even though it's a fantasy film and you're playing a monster.”
Estelle Harris as Mrs Potato Head (Toy Story 2-3)
Why It's So Special: In the lightning pace and layered writing of the Toy Story movies, it’s hard for an actor to steal an entire movie in just one scene – especially if she’s the newcomer amongst those iconic voices.
But Harris – more or less reprising her shrill mom routine from Seinfeld – brings such wit and wildness to her portrayal of well-meaning matriarch Mrs Potato Head that she leaves you longing to see an entire sitcom of life with the Heads.
Harris speaks: "The only way it was different was that in Toy Story 2 , I was directed by John Lasseter, and this time I wasn’t. I was directed by Lee Unkrich. And that was the only difference.
It was the same process, because if you’ve got something good going, you just keep going with the good and just improve on it, but you don’t change. If they changed, it would be bad, I think."
Joe Ranft as Heimlich (A Bug's Life)
Why It's So Special: As writer and animator in Pixar's early years - he sadly died in a car crash in 2005 - Ranft is one of Pixar's unsung heroes.
But he got a shot at immortality by becoming the first crew members to voice a major character after John Lasseter realised his wife was laughing harder at Ranft's temporary dialogue during production than she did at the actor hired to voice the caterpillar.
As obese German caterpillar Heimlich, a clown who dreams of his chrysalis into a beautiful butterfly, Ranft is the stand-out circus performer - no mean feat alongside David Hyde Pierce and Dennis Leary.
Ranft speaks: "I don't know if people really understand what I do. When I say that I do story for animation, they say, 'Oh, you're a writer!' If I tell them I'm kind of a writer, but I draw, they get this puzzled look.
But when I say, 'I'm the voice of Heimlich,' the light bulb goes on and they say, 'Oh, great!'"
Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen (Cars)
Why It's So Special: It's easy to forget about Cars , the gentle, easygoing country drive next to the turbo-charged invention elsewhere in Pixar's output.
To Owen Wilson’s credit, that’s arguably because the actor nails the laidback charm of Lightning McQueen – a cocksure kid who needs a kick up the fender – so completely. It’s such a streamlined union of driver and vehicle, the two merge instantly into one.
Wilson speaks: "It does seem like these Pixar movies really enter the culture in a way that movies when we were growing up like, you know, those classic Disney films. It's like Pixar's become that, so that's cool."
Edward Asner as Carl Frederickson (Up)
Why It's So Special: Cantankerous old-timer Carl is a tough sell to a family audience: a grumpy bugger whose pain emanates from heart-wracking grief.
Asner had pulled off a similar trick in the 1970s and 80s playing grouchy but lovable Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Nonetheless, in Up he outdid himself as he located the light in Carl’s emotional shade.
Asner speaks: “I have a good voiceover agent who submitted me along with a few of his other clients. Fortunately, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson were aware of my work and they came to watch me in a one-man reading I gave in San Francisco where I was playing the part of a Holocaust survivor.
How they thought a Holocaust survivor would blend in with the concept of Up , I’m not sure!”
Wallace Shawn as Rex (Toy Story 1-3)
Why It's So Special: When casting the voice of a dinosaur, diminutive Wallace Shawn – playwright, raconteur, philosopher – probably isn’t the first name you’d think of.
But therein lies the genius of Rex: a toy so neurotic and self-aware he constantly analyses and criticises his performance as pretend predator.
Shawn doesn’t even bother altering his natural voice, which is great fun when he shows up elsewhere – like his recent cameo talking about banking with Michael Moore in Capitalism: A Love Story .
Shawn speaks: “I think that everyone else ages, but the toys themselves do not really age. That’s part of what they’re doing in continuing the series, which is very interesting. They’re measuring the change in the humans against the un-change in the toys.”
Craig T. Nelson as Mr Incredible (The Incredibles)
Why It's So Special: Unlike Dreamworks' A-list casting policy, Pixar has never been shy to dust off the "character actor" files, safe in the knowledge that the true star is the animated avatar.
That choice has never been more justified than the inspired counter-casting of Everyman Craig T. Nelson (the dad in Poltergeist , Cruiser's coach in All The Right Moves ) as America's leading superhero.
The film's best joke is that the granite facade of Mr Incredible is slumming it as salesman Bob Parr - and it's the offset between Nelson's gravelly, commanding voice and his grounded likeability that sells the gag.
Nelson speaks: "Probably the thing I didn't enjoy as much was having to run around the block and get out of breath and then come in and record. And then grunting and groaning. You can only do so much grunting and groaning and then you're done, you know?"
Andrew Stanton as Crush (Finding Nemo)
Why It's So Special: Even in a film chocka with memorable cameos, eternally exhilarated 150-year-old turtle Crush stands out.
That's largely because of the inspired decision to recharacterise Crush - originally conceived as a Dennis Hopper-style ageing hippie, a la Apocalypse Now - as a Zen-like surf dude. Director Stanton's Keanu-esque inflections proved so bodacious they stayed in the final cut.
Keeping it in the Pixar family, that's Brad Bird's son Nicholas voicing junior turtle Squirt.
Stanton speaks: "We all do 'scratch takes' for the characters, because voice actors aren't always available. I was Woody for years.
I looked for a long time for someone to do Crush, but hadn't picked anyone. Then there was a test screening and Crush got a great reaction, so everyone said 'You're staying in.'"
Jeff Pidgeon & Debi Derryberry as The Aliens (Toy Story 1-3)
Why It's So Special: So Buzz Lightyear is slowly learning of his place in the world - but what if there are toys who are so totally spaced-out they just don't get it?
The secret weapon of the Toy Story trilogy, the clueless aliens worm their way into the Top 10 thanks largely to Pidgeon and Derryberry's easily imitable, childlike voice work. Cleverly played as a benign cult, who wouldn't want to believe that "the claw is our master?!"
Pidgeon speaks: "Now that I’ve done the voice for three movies, it’s not too hard to do. The key is to sound awestruck most of the time, as if you’re seeing something incredible happening in front of you."
Ben Burtt as WALL.E (WALL.E)
Why It's So Special: Against stiff competition, Wall-E is Pixar's most unusual hero - not least because he's a robot who communicates with a severely limited vocabulary.
Striving for realism, director Andrew Stanton avoided conventional voice casting and went to Burtt, the sound effects genius who pioneered the beeps and whistles of R2-D2.
Like his earlier creation, Burtt's genius here is to give Wall-E a distinctive character and humanity...despite his robotic origins. Ironically, Burtt ended up used his own voice as Wall-E's foundation, but fiddled with it to the point where it sounds mechanical.
Burtt speaks: "What [ Stanton ] wanted was the illusion that these robot characters, the speech and sounds they made were really coming from their functions as machines...
The problem does go back, for me, to the sort of primal R2-D2 idea, which is how do you have a character not speak words or, in the case of Wall-E, just a very few words, but you understand what is going on in their head and they also seem to have a depth of character."
Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
Why It's So Special: Acerbic restaurant critic Ego is Ratatouille 's most difficult role - a professional curmudgeon who must convincingly be won over by rat chef Remy's unlikely gastronomic prowess.
While Anton's epiphany, biting into the titular dish, he's transported back to his childhood, is a visual coup, what really sells his change of heart is the warming of O'Toole's hitherto scolding tones into mellifluous delight.
If O'Toole's enchanting recitation of the climactic column doesn't move you, chances are your ingredients have gone sour.
O'Toole speaks: “I was sent this script, and I thought, 'Ratatouille ? A cartoon? Stop it!' I read it, but the dialogue is beautiful. It was a beautiful piece of writing.
We did two or three days - on the first day, there was a camera on me, on the microphone, and the next time around they'd adopted some of my mannerism and put them into the film. Beautiful. All I had to go on was the words.”
Billy Crystal & John Goodman as Mike & Sulley (Monsters, Inc.)
Why It's So Special: While Woody and Buzz encapsulate Pixar's heart, Mike and Sulley are the studio's funniest double-act - aptly, given that this is the story of two monsters realising their vocation in life is to make children laugh.
Individually, this is inspired casting - avuncular Goodman, wise-cracking Crystal - but together they're a hoot, due in no small part to Crystal pushing for shared improv time.
Crystal speaks: "I did the first two sessions alone and I didn't like it. It was lonely and it was frustrating... I said 'Why don't you get John in here? We'll do it together and we can do everything you want but we'll do it together.
Then it'll be natural. Then the editor won't be the one who has to put it all together so it sounds real. It'll just be real. Then we did it and it was great."
Brad Bird as Edna Mode (The Incredibles)
Why It's So Special: Not the first Pixar animator to 'drag up' as a female voice impersonator (that honour goes to Bob Peterson as Monsters, Inc. 's Roz) but Bird's is the definitive gig.
According to legend, Bird had his ears set on raspy-voiced legend Lily Tomlin, until he demonstrated what he wanted of dictatorial fashion dominatrix Edna. Tomlin promptly told Bird she wouldn't do the gig...but the director had already nailed it.
Bird speaks: "The reason the accent was sort of half Japanese and half German was they're two small countries that have amazing design and amazing technology. You think about the best cameras or cars or anything, they're German and Japanese....
They're small countries that have a big impact, so she's a tiny character that dominates the room when she gets into it. We tried to make her house huge and she's tiny, but she fills it, you know?"
Don Rickles as Mr Potato Head (Toy Story 1-3)
Why It's So Special: With his interchangeable body parts, it's inevitable that Mr Potato Head would find the funny in his wacky appearance.
John Lasseter astutely went straight to the top, asking revered Vegas comic Don Rickles to seal Mr Head's rep as the sarcastic joker in Woody's round-up.
A tour-de-force of one-liners, Rickles gets an inspired in-joke as he launches his most famous put-down on an unwitting toy: "What are you looking at, hockey puck?!".
Rickles speaks: "I’m a riot. The rest of the show is weak, I gotta be honest! The things I say are brilliant. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen... yeah, time-killers."
Bob Peterson as Dug (Up)
Why It's So Special: Even granted Pixar's long-standing habit of allowing animators' voices to make final cut if their recording on 'temp tracks' is up to scratch, it's still a surprise that studio big-wig Peterson has created so many of the studio's most enduring characters.
Had this list been assembled a few years ago, he'd be a dead cert for inclusion thanks to Monsters, Inc. 's Roz or Finding Nemo 's Mr Ray. But it's 2009's Up that saw Peterson rising to a new level, playing both hyper-enthusiastic canine companion Dug and his arch-nemesis, squeaky-voiced Doberman Alpha.
It's safe to say that, while Ed Asner's Carl Frederickson has the monopoly on our hearts, Peterson soars off with the film's biggest laughs. All together now: "Squirrel!"
Peterson speaks: "It was a thrill for me to voice him, mainly because I have been a dog owner/lover for my entire life. This dog collar idea let us animate Dug with true dog behaviors.
I crafted Dug's voice around how I talk to my dogs. Hiii you dawgs,' I'll say with that Dug-like voice."
John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea (A Bug's Life)
Why It's So Special: As everybody surely knows by now, Ratzenberger is Pixar's lucky charm, the only actor to appear in every one of the studio's features.
Since his cameo as The Abominable Snowman in Monsters, Inc. part of the fun of watching a new Pixar has to be listen out for Cliff Claven's distinctive, twinkling tones - and how cruel of Brad Bird to save him until the final scene of The Incredibles !
But it's his first roles that continue to justify Ratzenberger's regular paycheck at Pixar: Toy Story 's laidback piggy bank Hamm and - especially - A Bug's Life 's neurotic ringmaster Flea, a livewire performance of nervous fizz that invigorates one of Pixar's most langorous films.
Ratzenberger says: "P.T. Flea's my favorite. Because he's so irrationally volatile. And I always just laugh at people like that.
It's almost like there's some chemical imbalance. There is no gray in their emotional scale. It's either off or it's a hundred percent on. He just makes me laugh when I watch him."
Tom Hanks & Tim Allen as Woody & Buzz (Toy Story 1-3)
Why It's So Special: Three films in, and surely it’s time to acknowledge that Hanks and Allen are one of American cinema’s finest double-acts, and the nearest thing we have to a modern-day Laurel and Hardy or Lemmon and Matthau.
Intuitively, the two should have swapped roles. After all, Hanks has played an astronaut, and Allen's most famous role before Pixar was as a cowboy (of sorts) in Home Improvement .
Yet it's the irony of making Woody a boyish neurotic, and Buzz a pompously clean-cut adventurer, that makes their interplay sing.
Allen speaks: " I think their relationship works because they accept each other's limitations. Woody is honest and he wants to do everything for the group; it's always about other people. Buzz is a doer and a fixer. Give a job to Buzz and he will get it done. There is an overall respect for each other and this makes for a great relationship."
Ellen DeGeneres as Dory (Finding Nemo)
Why It's So Special : In eleven films, Pixar has created some of modern movies' most immortal characters - but surely none as irresistible as the kooky regal tang with attention-deficit issues. And that's largely due to Ellen DeGeneres.
She was cast after Stanton saw her on a talk show galloping from subject to subject, rattling off ideas without ever settling on a single, coherent point. As Dory, DeGeneres simply ramps up that side of her persona with exquisite comic timings and daft improv, namely the whalespeak scene.
What's truly remarkable is how DeGeneres - then at her lowest ebb, critically and commercially - became Dory in the popular consciousness, as even middle America embraced the one-time gay-rights pariah as a national institution.
No-one else has proved the power of Pixar in quite the same way.
DeGeneres speaks: "I like clever, silly stuff. They created the fish, and I just read the lines. They gave me the freedom to do it the way I wanted to, and I've jumped in and out of it for three years."