The holiday season opens up all kinds of nostalgia, but the most reminiscent moments are the times from childhood spent watching our favorite cartoons and animated movies. Recently, I began running through a mental catalogue of my favorite animated characters. Doesn’t everyone blackout into useless thoughts when they have real important deadlines? That catalogue turned into “a list of the best major animated movie voices of all-time that just so happen to be black,” which then transformed into “Fat Crow, Brer Fox and Uncle Remus: James Baskett The Most Controversial Black Voice In American History.”James Baskett is a legend and a controversy. On one hand, he busted down Hollywood’s doors. Baskett won a 1948 Academy Honorary Award. That made him the first black man to win an Oscar. Not only did he breakthrough the Oscar barriers, he was the first lead non-comic black male actor in a major audience Hollywood film. Even before the Hollywood success, my man was dominating the New York stage scene with Louis Armstrong, Bojangles, Nina Mae Mckinney and other black stars. So, why do I feel hesitant to add him to the “top major animated movie voices of all time” list?
Baskett won his Oscar and mass fame after playing Uncle Remus and the voice of Brer Fox in Disney’s 1946 film, “Song of the South.” We all know we cannot mention Disney without running into some type of controversy. Just like 100 percent of Hollywood in the mid 1900s, Walt Disney was as racist as an undercover white supremacist at a Trump rally. Disney developed the Uncle Remus character from white American author Joel Chandler Harris, who took a compilation of Brer Rabbit stories from African Americans on plantations, who adapted folktales passed on to them from generations in West Africa. You see how the culture was taken and monetized?I’m just saying, not much has changed. Uncle Remus was a stereotypical happy-go-lucky smile from ear-to-ear wide-eyed “yes boss” negro, and black folks weren’t too proud of that character. Regardless, James Baskett gave an award-winning lead performance for a film whose premiere he couldn’t even attend. At the time, the Atlanta Fox Theater was segregated.
Pretty much, James Baskett took the worst happy black plantation worker stereotype and added depth to the character. Some people would call his act cooning, but does that take away from his skill and accomplishments? Today, a character like Uncle Remus could only be taken seriously in a satire. Truthfully, a James Baskett could not exist in today’s world. He would be dragged further than Chrisette Michelle before the 45th presidential inauguration. But would there be a “top 10 best major animated movie voices of all time that just so happen to be black” list, if there had never been a James Baskett? I say, no.We have to celebrate James Baskett because he took a slick “L” so that the rest of the voices on this list wouldn’t have to. And for those wondering about my animation ranking credentials, I’m a grown woman who has been watching animations since I was a kid. I just saw My Little Pony: The Movie, a few weeks ago, so you know I'm legit.
I'm sure someone major has been left off this list, so feel free to let me know who I missed. Also, let me reiterate, these are not just some of the best black voices in animated film. These are some of the overall best voices. Period.Alas, here are the — disputable, yet close to accurate — top 10 best major animated movie voices that just so happen to be black.
1. James Baskett – Dumbo, Fat Crow
Yes, Dumbo is another covertly racist Disney classic, but I have to put James Baskett on the list and I never really liked Song of the South. Before my woke days, I definitely watched Dumbo a few times, and the crows were my favorite characters because they taught Dumbo how to fly. I used to enjoy "When I See an Elephant Fly," but now, I dunno.
2. Samuel E Wright – The Little Mermaid, Sebastian
Wright stole the show as the Caribbean crustacean in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I mean that “Under the Sea” performance is the best part of the whole movie. Anyone can close their eyes, hear a line from the movie and point out Sebastian. Plus, I heard that over half of his ad libs made it into the movie.
3. James Earl Jones – The Lion King, Mufasa
Jones went from King of Zamunda in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, to the king of Pride Rock in Disney’s The Lion King. He has the perfect commanding deep authoritative voice for these royal roles. My favorite line is, “Simba, you deliberately disobeyed me. And what’s worst, you put Nala in danger.” I can seriously recite that entire movie.
4. Eartha Kitt – The Emperor’s New Groove, Yzma
“Pull the Lever!” Eartha Kitt killed it. Her voice embodies the wicked royal adviser Yzma so well. She is evil, yet hilarious and the way she yells Kronks name is iconic. “Kronk!” Even though she is a villain, she steals the show and is the best part of the movie.
5. Robert Guillaume – The Lion King, Rafiki
Yes, our favorite TV butler, Benson, played the voice of Rafiki! Probably one of the most mimicked characters from the movie. You all know the lines. "Follow Rafiki, he knows the way" and "Correction. I know your Fahda." He narrated The Lion King read along, and won a Grammy for that beautiful voice of his. This list wouldn't be legit, if his name wasn't on it.
6. Tone Loc – Bebe’s Kids, Pee Wee
Whoever decided to match the rappers deep bass to an animated baby, made a hilariously great decision. Plus, he gave us the most iconic line from the movie. “We don’t die, we ... multiply.” I should note that Tone Loc also played the giant lizard who tried to eat Zak the human in FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
7. Eddie Murphy – Mulan and Shrek, Mushu and Donkey
Mushu is like the best friend who pushes you to take risks, but turns around and says, “I told you we shouldn’t have done this,” when things go wrong. Donkey is willfully ignorant and annoying, but sweet. Eddie Murphy executes both roles brilliantly, creating two memorable characters.
8. Jenifer Lewis – The Princess and the Frog, Mama Odie
Jenifer Lewis proved that even as an animation she is the “black mother of Hollywood.” She did not disappoint as the blind, yet all-seeing voodoo priestess, Mama Odie. She put on a Nawlins drawl and completely switched her voice up. She gave Mama Odie life. Plus, "Dig a Little Deeper" is one of the few songs I really remember from the film.
9. Chris Rock – Madagascar, Marty
Chris Rock has an animated voice, so it’s no surprise he would be on this list. While Marty's character is not iconic, if you close your eyes while watching Everybody Hates Chris and envision Marty the zebra narrating the television show, you'll get a good chuckle. For that, I have to put him on the list.
10. Ken Page – All Dogs Go To Heaven, King Gator
This was a minor role, but Ken Page’s voice is so distinguishable that I have to add it to the list. Before The Princess and the Frog had a gator floating down the bayou trying to join a New Orleans’ jazz band, All Dogs Go to Heaven had a bass singing New Orleans witch doctor gator who sang, “Let’s make music together, baby. Let’s make sweet harmony.” Ken Page is also the voice of Oogie Boogie from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Honorable Mention: Whoopi Goldberg – The Lion King, Shenzi from the Hyena pack
Whoopi voiced the leader of Scar’s evil sidekicks. This wasn't a lead character, but I feel like Whoopi Goldberg has the talent to lead a classic animated character. Another one of my favorite parts is when Shenzi and Banzi go back and forth on how Mufasa’s name makes her shutter. “Mufasa” “Ooooooo! Say it again!”
Honorable Mention: Kevin Hart – The Secret Life of Pets, Snowball
This movie might not ever become an animated classic, but I have to give Kevin Hart his props. He was the most notorious white fluffy bunny I’ve ever seen, and I love the way he yelled, “Tiny dog!”