Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Silly Tribute to Jim Cummings

    The internet is overflowing with lists! You've all seen them. "4 Delicious Quinoa Recipes You Have To Try Before You Die" or… "17 Things That Will Make Every Mother of Three Who Also Likes Cats Roll On The Floor With Laughter!" They're everywhere you look invading your social media like "The 5 Most Tactical Invasions in Recorded History!" They're ridiculous, pointless, and absolutely impossible NOT to click on! Well, now it's my turn!

     I haven't met that many famous people in my life. There are a few people out there, however, that I would love to meet so badly that doing so would lock me up into a silent wide-eyed grin like I was just hit with Joker gas! I’m not going to go into detail on each and every one of the people capable of doing this to me, but without a doubt, the person at the top of that list would have to be Voice-Acting Legend Jim Cummings!

     Sure, if ever I were to meet the great Mr. Cummings, I could probably try to start a conversation with him. You know, like adults do? But instead, I feel that meeting him would probably go down more like this: I'd make a couple of squeaky starstruck noises and manage to say "hello" right before I accidentally introduce myself as Jim, …which, of course, is not my name.

     Maybe it wouldn’t happen like this. I might surprise myself. Who knows? One thing’s for sure though, I would be awestruck! As far as why, well, that’s where my list comes in. In case there’s anyone out there that cares, I thought I’d try to explain my fanboy fascination with the voice-actor while listing out some of my favorite Jim characters that he’s voiced. Of course, there are already several lists out there of Jim Cummings characters, and they’d probably closely resemble mine. Therefore, to change it up a bit, I thought I’d tackle each character in the list with my own artistic spin. This’ll hopefully show how much I love these characters of his in ways that I might not be capable of expressing with words.

Wow! That sounds weird. Whatever! Let’s begin! First up:

Dumbo's Buddy Lionel

     Although I didn't know it at the time, I've been a fan of Jim Cummings throughout his entire voice-acting career! One of the very first television shows that I remember enjoying was Dumbo's Circus, which aired on The Disney Channel back in 1985. In the film Dumbo, Dumbo's best friend was a small mouse named Timothy. In Dumbo's Circus, the role of the elephant's best buddy went to a lion named Lionel. Dumbo's Circus was a live-action show with actors in costumes, so I'm guessing the character was changed to a lion because it was more believable than a human-size mouse. Not that a human-size lion walking around with a human-size koala and a flying elephant is any more believable, but hey… it’s children’s television!
     The voice of Lionel was Jim Cummings' first acting gig, and he played it pretty close to the voice of Timothy, sounding almost identical! The show is pretty crude compared to today's standards, but even when I watch some of the clips online and see Lionel bobbing around, his mouth barely moving, and hear that lovable Brooklyn accent of his, a small part of me can't help but want to be best buddies with him also… despite the fact that he's the only character on the show who is, technically, a man-eater. Again,… it’s children’s television!

Ed the Hyena

     I first took notice of Jim Cummings while watching The Lion King on VHS one day. In the film, he plays the voice of Ed, the exceptionally dim-witted hyena who brilliantly grunts and giggles opposite Whoopi Goldberg's Shenzi and Cheech Marin's Banzai. I must have said to myself, "Hmmm. I really like the way that dim-witted hyena grunts and giggles. I wonder who plays him." So, I checked the end credits. I knew I had heard the name Jim Cummings before, but couldn't, for the life of me, place a face with the name. This was because I'd never even seen his face. I had yet to wrap my mind around the concept of voice artists. I recognized Whoopi Goldberg from The Color Purple, and I knew Cheech Marin from Nash Bridges (yeah… I was a weird kid) but Jim Cummings, as brilliant as I was starting to think he was, was a total mystery!

     This was in the late 90's, so I couldn't really look him up on IMDB, or go and Ask Jeeves, "Hey, Jeeves? Who is this Jim Cummings guy?" There was, however, such a thing as a cable channel called Toon Disney, which I was watching some time later and spotted this!

     Of course! These are the end credits to some of the shows on The Disney Afternoon, the lineup of programming that not only instilled in me my profound love for animation, but practically shaped who I am as a human being! Well… okay. Maybe that's a stretch. On second thought,… No! It’s not a stretch! My entire life's goals are aimed towards actually BEING Scrooge McDuck! I loved these shows! A LOT! And Jim Cummings happened to be in every single one of them!
For example:

El Capitán

     By far, my favorite show on The Disney Afternoon was Ducktales. While Mr. Cummings didn't play any of the main cast, one of his characters has always stood out to me as a favorite. It's the sinister old conquistador known simply as El Capitán! Obsessed with reclaiming his lost city of gold, El Capitán manages to stay alive for 400 years from, as he puts it, "sheer will power!" It's a pretty far-fetched concept when you think about it, but then again, so is EVERYTHING on Ducktales! That's part of the fun! CHILDREN’S TELEVISION!

     Jim Cummings gives El Capitán this asthmatic wheeze mixed with a Peter Lorre type of madness that I love! In my opinion, it's iconic! There’s so much there crammed into (in terms of the entire series) such a small part! I kind of wish El Capitán would have reappeared a couple more times, but I guess there wasn't much reason for him to.

Fat Cat

     And then there's Fat Cat, a delightful villain from Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers that, much to my enjoyment, would reappear several times. Fat Cat had the ability to make me laugh while slightly terrifying me at the same time. I once heard Jim Cummings say in an interview that Fat Cat's voice is sort of a mix between Zero Mostel and Dom Deluise. How does he come up with this stuff? Deciding which impersonations of random people to merge into a completely different character is one thing, but then to actually have the ability to do it? And have it sound like something completely original? It's brilliant!

Don Karnage

     But as far as Jim Cummings villains go, there is none better, in my opinion, than Don Karnage! The scourge of the skies, Captain Karnage was a debonair pirate with a King of Siam-like way of always speaking incorrectly. No one dared correct him, of course, which only ensured that Karnage's mistaken way of doing things would continue. I don't know if Mr. Cummings had anything to do with this, or not, but I love how Don Karnage doesn't speak with your typical British pirate-like accent. I'm not sure what the accent is, exactly (Sometimes he sounds a little French. Other times he sounds a little Italian) but he definitely doesn't sound British. I think this is refreshingly unique and just another way that Jim Cummings is able to subtly give one of his characters a little more depth.

Darkwing Duck

As excellent as he was at playing the villain, probably the most famous Jim Cummings character from The Disney Afternoon, (or arguably his whole career) was a hero. I'm, of course, talking about The Terror that Flaps in the Night! The Something-Something that… does… Something! That's right... Darkwing Duck! Darkwing was a character that had a lot of range. He was a dark and shadowy crime fighter, a clumsy goofball, and a loving single father. Not only was Mr. Cummings able to develop a voice that unexplainably sounds like a talking duck, but he was able to take that voice and seamlessly transition back and forth through the different aspects of Darkwing's character! I think this is the perfect example of how voice-artists aren't just people that can talk funny and do really good impressions, but are genuine actors of the highest caliber!

Bonkers D. Bobcat

     I can't talk about Jim Cummings and The Disney Afternoon and not talk about Bonkers! The show followed the adventures of a once famous cartoon star who teams up with a grizzled detective. It was basically the plot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and isn't really a favorite of mine, but it is worth mentioning because Mr. Cummings played both of the show's main characters: Bonkers D. Bobcat and Detective Lucky Piquel! As was the case with the great Mel Blanc and Looney Tunes, almost every episode of Bonkers involved Jim Cummings talking to… himself! I find that mind-bogglingly impressive!

The Tasmanian Devil

     Speaking of Looney Tunes, the man doesn't just play Disney characters! Since the passing of voice-acting legend Mel Blanc, the role of the Tasmanian Devil has bounced around to a couple of different artists before sticking with Jim Cummings in 1991 on the series, Taz-Mania. Yes! An entire series devoted to the Looney Tunes character that did nothing but spin, snarl, and spit… and also spin! Thinking back, Taz’s similarly dim-witted grunts and giggles was probably what endeared me so much to Ed the Hyena.
     I loved Taz-Mania, and it's serves as just one example of how I not only followed the career of Jim Cummings every day after school, but on Saturday mornings as well.

Fuzzy Lumpkins

Oh yeah! I'm still going!
     I also followed the man on cable! In The Powerpuff Girls, Jim Cummings played the voice of Fuzzy Lumpkins, a meat-loving hillbilly and foil to the three titular super heroes. I don't really have anything to say about this particular performance of Mr. Cummings'. It was great, of course, as always! To be honest, I just wanted to draw Fuzzy Lumpkins, and so I added him to the list.

Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too

     I began noticing Jim Cummings show up more and more in interviews and at conventions ever since the release of Winnie the Pooh. The film came out in 2011, but Jim Cummings has been playing the bear of very little brain ever since the 1980's. I think he plays the part incredibly true to the original slow yet sweet performance of Sterling Holloway. Not only that, but shortly after Jim Cummings started playing Pooh, he also took over for actor Paul Winchell as the boisterous and fun-loving Tigger! This is just another example of the superb job Mr. Cummings does at playing two very different characters opposite one another in the same project.
     Plus, playing the most popular characters from the juggernaut that is the Winnie the Pooh franchise, the work of Mr. Cummings not only appears in film and television, but all across the board! There's Pooh and Tigger merchandise! Theme park attractions! Disney even went and reedited some of the classic Winnie the Pooh bits with Jim Cummings’ voice! That last one was something that the cartoon snob in me wasn't really cool with, but nevertheless, the guy is all over the place! And, he can probably still walk into a 7-11 and not get hassled. I'm not a performer in any sense of the word, but I can imagine that that would be every actor's dream.


     Last but definitely not least, is my favorite Jim Cummings character!… so far.  In 2009’s The Princess and The Frog, it’s the lovable firefly sidekick Ray that, I think, completely steals the show! In Disney films, I’ve always been more taken with the sidekicks than with the leads. They’re just more fun. Whether they’re the sidekick of the hero or the villain, their main purpose is to make us laugh. We all like to laugh, right? Ray, however, provides so much more! He gives the movie its heart. He cracks us up with his Cajun slapstick, he charms us while singing about his belle, Evangeline, and I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t incite a tear or two, as well.  Yes, the film’s writing has something to do with this but it’s Mr. Cummings’ performance, I think, that takes the character of Ray to the next level. It’s one of the only times I can think of where I felt a voice-actor was deserving of an Academy Award!

     I suppose the main reason I would theoretically break down upon meeting the talented Jim Cummings is because, in a sense, it would be like actually meeting every one of these characters that I enjoy so much. Whether it’s a slightly smaller part, like El Capitán or a more famous one like Winnie the Pooh, Jim Cummings has played the gamut of animated all-stars and, in my book, will always be up there with the best of the Hollywood legends! If I ever do meet the man, I'll hopefully at least be able to muster up a 'thank you' for the huge inspiration he's been for me.

     Now this list, of course, is just a small sample of the great many characters that Mr. Cummings has performed. Who are some of your favorites that I might have neglected to mention? I was going to list them all but then I might end up as one of the "14 Bloggers Who Don’t Know When To Shut Up."

See how I came around and tied it all back together? Nice, right?

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