Besides the story, the team also emphasized character development. With the voice talents of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Don Novello, among others, the characters they brought to life are both fun and interesting.
Atlantis in Depth
“For us at Disney, it has to be about the characters,” Wise commented. “If you’re not engaging with them, then something’s wrong.”
Additionally, Wise said, “It was really fun to create this ensemble of experts that Milo would have to join and it was fun to come up with their very distinct personalities and give them all a kind of a vocal signature.”
Wise provided some insight into the whole casting process, wherein the voices are cast typically about three years in advance of the film’s release.
“Eventually you kind of winnow it down to which voice really marries the best with the image of the character," Wise said. "When we’re sitting in on auditions for these movies, sometimes the actors are a little disturbed because we’ll walk in with the script pages and they’ll start reading in front of a microphone. Gary Trousdale and myself will be staring not at the actor, but down at the bunch of drawings that are spread out in front of us trying to avoid looking at the actor, because all we’re concerned about is whether that voice feels like it’s going to come out of that drawing. We kind of rob the actor of a lot of what he would traditionally use to try to get a part. It’s all got to be in the voice. Later, when the actor gets the role, we’ll adopt little physical traits and mannerisms that the actor brings to his performance.”
Even under those rather rigid confines, there’s always room for improvisation. Case in point: The character of Vinny Santorini. He was originally going to be a bombastic, aria-singing grenadier with a Victrola strapped on his back to play old opera records. They had a hard time finding the right voice and the idea ultimately seemed funnier on paper than it actually played out.
On a whim, a tape of Father Guido Sarducci, Don Novello’s infamous Vatican City gossip columnist character on Saturday Night Live, was played against a drawing of Vinny. They knew immediately that was the voice they wanted and the character was totally rewritten. No longer the loudmouth, he’s now a reserved character and so laid-back, he’s practically asleep – the total opposite of his profession.