|By Fred Topel
In Theaters January 13
You’d probably recognize Patrick Warburton from his recurring role on Seinfeld as Elaine’s boyfriend, Puddy. But he doesn’t do much work in front of the camera anymore. Voice acting has become his thing. As the voice of TV’s Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove and its spin-offs, and Joe the neighbor on Family Guy, Warburton speaks to kids and overgrown kids alike.
“I always thought it'd be fun to do cartoon stuff, voice stuff,” Warburton said. “Just certain opportunities presented themselves at that point [after Seinfeld]. Since the success of Toy Story, you've got the Buzz Lightyear TV series. Tim Allen's not going to do that, right? So you get your poor man's Buzz. Hey, here I am! I'll do it. And around the same period of time, I read for The Emperor's New Groove, and that was fun. That was just something that I felt fortunate to have that opportunity at that point. I guess I always wanted to do a Disney movie. I didn't know what a Kronk was. They said, ‘This character's name is Kronk.’ You don't get anything from, a few pages, that's it. I don't know what the story's about. They want you to read for a character in a movie called Kronk. And I really didn't know what it was. What's a Kronk? An alien? I didn't realize that it was just a big, dumb guy a little irony there.”
But make no mistake. Even though he’s a voice in everything from Chicken Little to the Tak series of video games, Warburton is not raking it in. “I wouldn't say lucrative. I really wouldn't. There's not a fortune to be made doing voiceover work, unless you're one of the main voices on The Simpsons. There's The Simpsons, and then there's everything else. That's sort of understood in the voiceover world. You can make a lot more money doing the corporate stuff. If you're a voice of a big company, doing ads on radio, you're going to make money. But doing the cartoons, you really don't, you know. You're usually making somewhere between scale or triple scale or somewhere in that range. You don't make a fortune doing cartoons. It's a lot of fun. Iit keeps you busy. Dude, it's better than a kick in the pants, absolutely. But doing voiceover work doesn't make you rich. It just doesn't.”
Luckily, Warburton got to be the voice of Superman for American Express, so that helped. “That fell somewhere right in the middle. That was fun. I'll work with Jerry Seinfeld any day of the week. You get a nice little paycheck there, but you'd do it for free. It's just good to be associated with that man. Good guy.”
Now your kids will hear him as the Big Bad Wolf in a new twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story. Hoodwinked centers on the police investigation of the wolf’s infiltration of grandma’s house. Though it’s being released by The Weinstein Company, Hoodwinked was a much smaller project than many of those on which Warburton works.
“This is a very independent little project. I met these guys and I loved the idea, you know, Little Red Riding Hood. I love the idea of the wolf as an investigative reporter who fancies himself as like a Fletch character. Well, as Fletch, right? I mean, that was just funny to me. You go in, you record a few sessions. It's always a long process with these films, especially with an animated film. Even a studio picture, from the time when they first record some voices to the time they premiere the movie, it's like five years. This is about two and half years ago. This is supposed to go to DVD or something, but it turned out really nice, and the Weinstein Company picked it up and now it's going on 1,800 screens.”
Warburton actually knows a thing or two about wolves. “I went to Orange Coast College for a year and a half, so I did study. I watch a lot of nature shows. Wolves are fascinating. They're actually not that large of an animal. They're smaller than a coyote, like a schnauzer. But people are intimidated by them.”
Not that that informed his character. “Fletch is really dry, right? So the wolf is going to be dry, like a lot of voices I do. I'm not really a chameleon. But I really wasn't thinking dangerous or mean. He's not that dark of a wolf. He's just an inquisitive wolf, so I sort of went with that.”
Though Warburton has been doing voices consistently for five years now, his children have only just warmed up to the idea that it’s their daddy’s voice coming out of their favorite characters.
“My youngest, Gabriel, is probably got to be the one who's the most curious and interested by it all now. He's five. He's sort of discovered about in less than a year ago that that's actually what Daddy does for a living. And now, because of the culmination of all this stuff, where the last six or seven years and he's been watching it, it's like, ‘Oh, wow. Daddy's in a lot of these cartoons.’ Because he's been watching Buzz for years. In the past, if I would come into the room and do the voice of Buzz, he would turn around and tell me to be quiet. And he had this stern look in his eye. It was like I was making fun of Buzz. He didn't like it at all. And I would shamelessly try to convince him that that's Dad. Which he probably thought it was really sad. Anyway, now, with this new show I'm doing for Nickelodeon called The X's that's on, The Emperor's New Groove and all that, he's seems to be pretty interested by it all that Daddy does that. He was excited to go to the "Hoodwinked" premiere.”
Of course, Family Guy is not for the five-year-old. Warburton is even reluctant to let his 13-year-old see it. “I just started letting him watch it because I didn't want him to be the only guy in school who wasn't allowed to watch it. And so it still kind of bothers me because I find the show at times absolutely horrible. As a parent, I'm very conflicted. I have four kids, you know? And so now, my oldest can watch it, but then one of the other kids is cruising in the room, I got to kick them out. I don't know if that's right.”
Wait a minute. We laugh at Family Guy. Are we horrible? “I think there are times when they really cross the line where it's so bad. There was stuff the other night, I turned it off because it was really bad, and I didn't think it was funny either. First, you got The Bachelorette episode, and they want to see how Quagmire's date is going. And he drops a pill in this girl's drink, and she passes out. Sorry, that's when the TV goes off. That's not funny. It's happening every day. We laugh at the discomfort, right? I don't know. It's so weird. You know there's a pedophile on the show. I told my son, so we're talking about that. ‘Well, you know what? Maybe it's good you saw that. They are out there. Your grandpas are good men. They're not like this old freak. Now don't get all freaked out.’ There's just too much weird crap on there. Kids shouldn't be watching it. When we all turned 13, would I have been allowed to watch that show? Not in a million F’in' years. But times have changed. Now, from the computers and the iPods and their little flip-phone calculators - I say the word calculator. What's that? - Whatever, but they can watch a movie anywhere. You can pull a movie out of your back pocket. The media, it's all around them. We can't shelter them, so we just stepped up much better communication with our kids these days. So I'll sit down with my son, and I'll say, ‘I don't think you should watch it, but you're 13. You've got a good head on your shoulders. As long as you know the show's horrible and that it will cross every