Actors have a way of drawing audiences into unbelievable stories, into the minds of quirky, creepy, joyous characters, and making us forget for a moment what’s real. Worlds we never thought existed become believable; characters we never thought we’d love, touch our hearts. Actors create these experiences for their viewers with actions, expressions, and most importantly, their voice. Sometimes, that’s all they can give, but sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Over numerous decades, The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios have released over fifty animated films, won numerous Academy, Golden Globe, and Emmy awards, and hired some spectacular (and wealthy) actors to breathe life into a plethora of quirky, creepy, and joyous characters. These characters once only lived on paper; were seen only by animators, writers, creators; that is, until an actor was cast and a star was born. Thanks to these actors, we are now privy to hearing the sweet voice of Cinderella; the goofy laugh of a toy cowboy; and the inner thoughts of a one-eyed fun green monster.
The following is a list of some of the highest paid Disney voice actors; and rightfully so. To portray such quality, deep, and three dimensional characters, Disney and Pixar did what they had to do and hired the best of the best. From Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal to Mandy Moore and Matthew Broderick, these actors are some of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. True, not every Disney movie featured such well-known stars. Some of Walt’s earliest movies like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella cast young, unknown singers and actors at the time. However, because of the creation of the VHS, these actors made names for themselves, whether for good or bad, by suing Disney for millions of dollars.
However, whatever they’re known for, and however they earned it, each actor listed here is one of Disney’s highest paid voice actors around.
10. Mary Costa – Aurora in Sleeping Beauty
Born in 1930, Mary Costa is an American singer and actress, best known for her role as Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Costa was hired in 1952 to record the voice of Aurora and signed a contract for $100 a day. The movie, which was released in 1959 and later came out on VHS in 1986. Due to Costa’s initial contract, restricting Disney from using her voice for any recordings, she sued Disney for $2 million over royalties from VHS sales. Costa and Disney settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
9. Peggy Lee – Various Voices in Lady and the Tramp
Peggy Lee, born in 1920, was an American jazz and pop singer, songwriter, composer, and actress. Specifically, Lee voiced several roles in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (including Peg the dog, Siamese cats Si and Am, and Lady’s owner, Darling) and collaborated with Sonny Burke to write several songs for the movie as well. Lee originally earned $3,500 for her voice and $1,000 for her songwriting; however, in 1991 Lee sued Disney for releasing the 1955 movie on VHS tape without her permission. She won $3.8 million.
8. Ilene Woods – Cinderella in Cinderella
Born in 1929, Ilene Woods was an American singer and actress. She won the voice of Cinderella after recording the songs, “So This is Love,” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” Once the songs were presented to Walt Disney, he asked her to be the voice of Cinderella. An honor, after all, since 300 others auditioned for the part. However, like Mary Costa and Peggy Lee, Woods sued Disney for $20 million over VHS voice rights and like Costa’s case, it was settled outside of court.
7. Mandy Moore – Rapunzel in Tangled
Cast as Rapunzel in Disney’s 50th animated film Tangled, Mandy Moore, though well-known for her acting and singing, wasn’t handed the role of the heroine. Instead, she chased hard after Rapunzel, auditioning twice and beating out stars such as Reese Witherspoon, Kristin Chenoweth, and Idina Menzel. Co-director Byron Howard said Moore was selected because she “has this great soul to her voice,” and “this down-to-earth, girl-next door quality that makes her everything you could hope for in a Disney heroine.” Moore grew up loving Disney movies and today her net worth is $23 million.
6. Owen Wilson – Lightning McQueen in Cars and Cars 2
Released in 2005, Cars was nominated for two Academy Awards and won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film. Might it have something to do with the star of the film, Owen Wilson? Quite possibly. With his quirky, recognizable voice, Wilson introduced the world to Pixar’s Lightning McQueen, a charismatic race-car whose love of fame gets him (and some new friends) in a bit of trouble. It was said Wilson earned $2.5 million for Cars 2, which hit box offices in 2011.
5. Billy Crystal – Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc. and Monsters University
Having originally turned down the role of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, Billy Crystal was not about to do the same when Pixar asked him to voice the one-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc. and Monsters University. Good thing too because both movies did stunningly well. Monsters, Inc., released in 2001, pulled in $562 million worldwide, while the 2013 prequel Monsters University made $742 million. This actor, writer, director, producer, and comedian definitely made the right choice accepting this role.
4. Matthew Broderick – Simba in The Lion King
Known for his roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Broadway’s The Producers, Matthew Broderick was cast early in production for the role of Simba in Disney’s The Lion King. The 32nd animated Disney film went on to earn over $987 million worldwide and became the highest-grossing hand-drawn movie, the highest-grossing 2D animated film in the U.S., and the 19th highest-grossing feature film of all time. Plus, it won two Academy Awards for music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
3. John Travolta – Bolt in Bolt
Most people recognize John Travolta from his popular roles in Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Pulp Fiction. However, a new generation might know him for his vocals in Bolt, as the lovable, loyal, and heroic dog, Bolt himself. The 48th Disney animated feature earned over $309 million worldwide. Plus, Travolta lends his vocal chops on the movie’s soundtrack, singing a duet with Bolt’s other star, Miley Cyrus (Bolt’s owner, Penny). Their song, “I Thought I Lost You,” was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
2. Tom Hanks – Woody in Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3
Tom Hanks captures audiences by believably and genuinely telling characters’ stories, whether he’s a soldier, captain, astronaut or toy cowboy. Cast as one of the most loveable Pixar characters in history, Hanks lit up the screen with his performance of Woody, the loyal toy cowboy of Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. Toy Story director and co-writer John Lasseter said Tom Hanks “…has the ability to take emotions and make them appealing.” And that he did. Hanks earned $15 million for his role in Toy Story 3, while the movie itself made $1 billion worldwide.
1. Walt Disney – The Original Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse
No surprise here that the highest paid Disney voice actor is Walt Disney himself. He not only co-founded Walt Disney Productions (later becoming The Walt Disney Company and earning $45 billion in the 2013 fiscal year), but he also received four honorary Academy Awards, won 22 Academy Awards, (the most awards and nominations given to any individual), and seven Emmy Awards. On top of all, Walt was an animator, screenwriter, director, philanthropist and voice actor. That’s right. Walt voiced the original Mickey and Minnie Mouse.