Zenkaicon 2014: The Jim Cummings Panels Report
Jim Cummings, voice of an almost innumerable amount of characters over the years, did several panels this year at Zenkaicon. His first panel was a co-presentation between himself and convention personality Karl “Uncle Yo” Custer on the 20-year anniversary of the Disney Afternoon programing block and he later did a solo Q&A panel. Cummings provided a number of the voices for shows that aired during the block over the years, including but certainly not limited to Zummi Bear from Gummi Bears, both Montery Jack and Fat Cat in Rescue Rangers, Don Karnage and Louie in Talespin, Pete in Goof Troop, the title characters of Darkwing Duck and Bonkers, Dingo from Gargoyles, and most famously Pooh and Tigger from almost every Winnie the Pooh production since 1988. And that’s only a very small portion of his overall work in the voice acting field.
Cummings had a number of great stories about the ups and downs of being one of the go-to voice actors for Disney, among other companies. He got to do several Rescue Rangers episodes with Carol Channing, who had a habit of coming in wearing lots of wooden bangles and other bits of loud jewelry along with a heavily starched outfit that would throw off the microphones. Eventually one of the production crew asked her if there was a way to have her outfit make less noise, and she responded by stripping down and spending the rest of the session in her underthings. Cummings also got to work with Carol Channing again on The Addams Family: The Animated Series, and she had a habit of staying through a recording session from beginning to end and then falling asleep in the recording studio. His role as Monterey Jack was also one of the tougher ones he ever took on as he had very little reference for an Australian accent. The Australian accent did come in handy later when it factored into his casting as Dingo in Gargoyles. Sadly the show was canceled just after Dingo was added. Cummings was also in the old Hana-Barbera studio during an earthquake, which was apparently first noticed by the way it made all the boom mikes move at once on their own.
Uncle Yo had all of the openings from the Disney Afternoons ready for viewing, which got more than a few nostalgic sing-alongs going. It also served to play up how much all of the shows in the block figured into everyone’s collective memory and how much some of them majorly deviated from what they were based on. Talespin in particular completely changed up just about every aspect of its origins in Disney’s The Jungle Book. Cummings really got a kick out of playing Don Karnage as he got to be a more villainous character than he usually got to play, and Karnage had some incredible dialogue. As a special treat to the audience, Uncle Yo and Cummings did a little Monty Python bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Uncle Yo as King Arthur and Cummings doing Don Karnage as the Frenchman oddly placed in a castle in England. It worked fabulously in person and it will be hard to ever see that particular role done any other way again.
Perhaps second only to Winnie the Pooh, Cummings is almost ubiquitous with the name Darkwing Duck. Cummings was the voice not only of the title character, but also many of the villains as well. While it may not come as a surprise that Cummings adlibbed almost all of the “I am the terror…” lines, it was surprising to learn that he almost never recorded in person with Terry McGovern (the voice of Launchpad McQuack), as McGovern was in San Francisco and would be almost always be patched in by telephone. Cummings also shot off a couple of new Darkwing calls that Yo had updated for the modern age. Cummings also did the voice of Negaduck, which took some time to perfect as both he and the producers wanted the voice to play off of Darkwing’s voice without being too evil-sounding. Also, apparently Gizmoduck was originally called Roboduck before someone thought that sounded a bit too similar to Robocop for the producer’s liking.
Most famously Cummings is the current voice of both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in a wide variety of Winnie the Pooh productions. Cummings is still a bit chafed that the most recent Pooh theatrical movie came out the same day as the last Harry Potter film, pretty much ensuring that it would end up a bomb. Cummings felt they had really gotten the essence of the characters right with that one and hopes more people will seek it out. Cummings feels very honored to be able to play such beloved children’s characters and frequently takes things the extra mile by calling various children’s hospitals in character as Pooh or Tigger. Cummings actually ended up taking over the Tigger role because the original voice, Paul Winchell, was doing charity work in Africa in addition to inventing an artificial heart. Yes, you read that right. Apparently Paul Winchell is a saint.
Surprisingly Cummings’s first foray away from home wasn’t to Hollywood, but to Louisiana to work on a riverboat for a while, among other jobs. While not the usual path for an actor, it did give Cummings a very unique talent amongst voice actors. He can do an incredible Cajun accent, which is apparently really hard to pull off. He spent his formative years at a Catholic school, constantly getting in trouble for his impressions of various staff members. In his own words it was trouble then, but every impression that he did was the beginning of a new character. Cummings was kind enough to throw out some lines from other characters throughout his panels including Dr. Robotnik, Hondo from Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Pete from Goof Troop as Hannibal Lecter. Uncle Yo has as weird sense of humor. Cummings was incredibly gracious to the fans throughout him time at Zenkaicon and we all thank him very much for doing so much to entertain us and enrich our lives.