Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media



Emotion Capture: Vocal performances by Children in the Computer-animated Film

Christopher Holliday


Abstract: The customary practice across both feature-length cel-animated cartoons and television animation has been to cast adults in the vocal roles of children. While these concerns raise broader questions about the performance of children and childhood in animation, in this article I seek to examine the tendency within computer-animated films to cast children-as-children. These films, I argue, offer the pleasures of “captured” performance, and foreground what Roland Barthes terms the “grain” of the child’s voice. By examining the meaningless “babbling” and spontaneous vocalisations of the aptly-named child Boo from Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001), this article offers new ways of conceptualising the relationship between animation and voiceover, suggesting that computer-animated films celebrate childhood by emphasising the verbal mannerisms and vicissitudes of the unprompted child actor. The calculated fit between the digital children onscreen and the rhythms of their unrefined speech expresses an active engagement with the pleasures of simply being young, rather than privileging growing up. Monsters, Inc. deliberately accentuates how the character’s screen voice is authentically made by a child-as-a-child, preserving the unique vocal capabilities of four-year-old Mary Gibbs as Boo, whilst framing her performance in a narrative which dramatises the powers held within the voice of children.


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ISSN 2009-4078

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