13 September 2017
Every year, buried deep in the Fan Expo programme book are hidden gems that are tremendously easy to overlook. Often, these are lectures, debates, or conversations with an expert applying their knowledge to fandom or sketch duels between great artists, who chat during their impromptu sketching, providing insight both into the artist and their method. This year, the event that blew my mind was a live reading of The Princess Bride; on paper, neat, but without announcing the cast I wasn’t too interested…then, days before the Expo, the cast was announced – and they were all legends. Presented by the YouTube series Twisted Toonz, the show brought together Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard of Mass Effect and Disney’s current Cinderella), David Hayter (Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid), Nolan North (Nathan Drake from Uncharted, and pretty much every video game ever. Plus he does Christopher Walken’s ADR), and the legendary Maurice LaMarche (Brain from Pinky and the Brain and most of the support characters from Futurama, such as Kiff and Hedonismbot). At first, I was just excited to see these actors read the script, but Twisted Toonz’s premise takes it one step further, having the host assign new voices to each actor and character for each scene. The result is a mix of unbelievable fantasy casting, virtuous performances, and a fun way to re-experience classic characters. Something like this is a truly unique Fan Expo experience and it’s a shame it isn’t better advertized.
Here are some scene-by-scene highlights:
- For the first scene, we had Homer Simpson (David Hayter) narrating (essentially reading stage directions), Maurice LaMarche doing a spot-on Peter Faulk as Peter Faulk, Cinderella as the kid (Hale), Mickey Mouse as Buttercup (North), and Matthew McConaughey as Wesley (Hayter). LaMarche performing live is pretty much exactly what you’d hope it would be, acting out each grand gesture. Having just re-watched The Princess Bride the night before, it was as though Peter Faulk himself were performing (though LaMarche threw in a lot more glass eye jokes than Faulk would have!), he’s truly as impressive as you’d imagine. Hale found herself in a slightly difficult position having to reconcile the kid’s lines (“Is there KISSING?”) with Cinderella’s love of all the elements the kid was repulsed by. North’s Mickey was spot on, but damn that voice gets grating fast – though it was fun watching Mickey fall in love with Wesley; “Stableboy” has never sounded so shrill. McConaughey actually works remarkably well for Wesley in the opening scene as he’s just responding with “As you wish” (with a bunch of “Alright, alright, alright”s thrown in for good measure). There were lots of small improvisiations, but it’s also just interesting from a structural perspective – you really come to realize how short and economical the scenes of the film are when played out in isolation without the visuals.
- For the second scene (the announcement by Humperdink that he will marry Buttercup), we had Daddy Warbux, Bill Cosby (Cosby impressions are apparently a running, off-colour gag in the show: Hayter gamely replied in a perfect Cosby, “I remember when Cos-play was when Cliff Huxtable gave you a Benadryl.” The room exploded into shocked laughter and a few parents with young kids in the audience saw the error of their ways and quietly exited). We also got Nolan doing Christopher Walken (as Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini, explaining why he’s starting a war), Rosie O’Donnell, Hedonismbot, and us as the crowd. Of these characters, we really only got Walken, but it was entirely worth it as Nolan has famously been recording Walken’s ADR for films for years. Apparently Walken hates recording ADR, so Nolan has the rare distinction of being Walken’s voice in many films; as one of the most imitated actors in the world, it’s a real joy seeing a literal professional tackle Walken’s bizarre delivery.
- The third scene, at sea, brought us the long awaited appearance by The Brain (as Vissini), Gilbert Gotfried as Inego Montoya, Jean Grey narrating, and Bastila Shan (Hale’s Jedi from Knights of the Old Republic) as Buttercup. Hearing The Brain face off with Gilbert Gotfried was a delight and seeing LaMarche perform The Brain live was an honour. Having spent the entire scene explaining machinations, LaMarche admitted, “I’ve never wanted Pinky by my side more than during that scene.” North then slipped into a spot-on Pinky. LaMarche patted him on the back and said, “Well, you know what they say: if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with…” North then admitted that listening to LaMarche’s performance was part of what inspired him to become a voice actor. It was a sweet moment tucked away amidst all the madcap comedy.
- As a long-time Metal Gear fan, dreams came true when Hayter was assigned Solid Snake as the Grandfather to Hale’s Dory (of Finding Nemo) as the kid. What followed was one of the most absurd scenes I’ve ever seen, as grizzled solider Solid Snake tried desperately to explain to Dory that ‘Buttercup does not die at this time.’ Dory, being inflicted with short-term memory issues, but also a working knowledge of sea creatures, merrily re-introduces herself and explains how she met an eel once. Snake is having none of it. The real challenge of the scene came when Dory as the kid needed to remind Snake as Grandpa that he’d already read that part. It didn’t make a lick of sense with the bit, but they both committed hard and it remains the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at Fan Expo (“I’m so glad you weren’t in my game,” Snake growled at one point).
- The voices got more absurd from there, with Commander Shepard narrating, Foghorn Leghorn scheming with Jason Statham and Werner Hertzog (in the climbing scene). North’s Statham as Wallace Shawn’s Vissik is remarkably on-point; if Snatch and The Princess Bride ended up in a blender, the result might be more coherent than you’d expect.
- The Duel: so, to my mind this is the most famous scene in the entire film (largely because it had been narrated to me by my Mom long before I saw the film – I came to The Princess Bride late). Our two actors for the characters? David Hayter as Sean Connery as the Dread Pirate Roberts and Nolan North as Gary Busey as Inego Montoya. Something pretty special happened here; as soon as North was ‘cast’ as Busey, both Hale and LaMarche left the stage to come sit in the aisle and watch. While the clear love, friendship, and playful chemistry these actors all have together is great in-and-of itself, it turns out North is rather notorious for doing Busey and the result needed to be seen to be believed. Inego’s monologue about the six-fingered man involved a digression about the 1970s, some thinly-veiled coke acting, and some truly committed ‘mind wanders off into the distance’ acting that had Hayter constantly trying to guess if North was doing a bit or had legitimately finished his line. His bemused Connery fit the scene perfectly and even dipped back into the classic Celebrity Jeopardy pool once-or-twice to the delight of the audience. For two actors speaking a duel it had an entirely different vibe from spry, nimble, iconic film scene, but had a twisted charm all their own. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of North’s face; his Busey was physically spot-on as well and it was a joy to watch.
Foolishly, I’d assumed they’d work through the whole film, but this is Fan Expo, after all, and one-hour slots are the name of the game. Consequently, we were done depressingly close to the Battle of Wits, which no doubt would have been a gong-show, but it also meant the gag hadn’t gone stale (which occasionally happens when voice actors read a whole script without riffing). I’ve never seen something like this performed at Fan Expo, but I absolutely loved it. Having so much beloved voice talent on hand, it makes perfect use of them and creates a truly unique experience for fans.
Would love to see more of this from Fan Expo (and less paid events such as the Doctor Who escape rooms and the Cosplay Speed Dating) – a true hidden gem that could only happen at an Expo.