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Toonzone Interviews Bill Farmer, Michael-Leon Wooley, & Jennifer Cody @ D23 Party

by on March 20, 2010

D23 Anniversary Party (photo by Jeffrey Harris)

On March 10, the Walt Disney Company held a private party for D23 members at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim to commemorate the first anniversary of D23. After the park closed, Disney held a special ceremony at the magic castle. Then the Disney staff allowed members to enter Fantasy Land to visit the rides and attractions and enjoy fine food and beverages. In addition, Captain Eo was open as a special sneak preview at Tomorrow Land. Disney animation voice actors were also on hand, and Toonzone was able to catch up with them for some very special interviews:

Michael-Leon Wooley is a Broadway veteran and the voice of Louis the alligator from The Princess And The Frog. Wooley was one of the many special guests who attended the D23 Anniversary Party at Disneyland. Wooley was nice enough to speak with me and answer some questions during the event:

TOONZONE NEWS: How do you like this D23 event?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: I just came in just a couple minutes ago but so far it’s great. I’m excited to meet some more people, and get on some rides, and eat some sweets with Mickey Mouse ears on them.

TZN: It’s great talking to you because listening to you I can just hear Louis—

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: You can hear Louis. Louis the Alligator!

TZN: So how did you get the role?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: I got a call from someone at Disney…gosh it’s like 3 years ago, asking me to send in a video tape of me saying a few lines and singing a song for a Disney project. They actually saw me in the movie Dreamgirls and that’s where it began. A couple months later, I went into New York to audition, and I sang for them and read for them and then they flew me out a couple times to LA for some tests. It took about a year and a half and they finally offered me the job. But it’s been a great ride, you know. I got to record at Disney Studios, Studio B, Walt Disney’s original soundstage and that was a lot of fun. Very surreal. Very, very cool.

TZN: When you play Louis, he’s an alligator that wants to be a human so he can play his trumpet and play the blues.


TZN: I heard the original concept for the character was that Louis was conceived as a character who started as a human who was turned into an alligator.


Jennifer Cody and Michael-Leon Wooley
Jennifer Cody and Michael-Leon Wooley

TZN: Had you started working on the movie yet when that was the concept? Or, when you started working on the movie, had the concept already changed?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: That was before I came in, but I know they were throwing around that idea. But when I came in, they were trying to decide exactly what Louis was going to be. At one point he was a germ-a-phobe and didn’t like germs, and he lived in the swamp and how’s that going to work? Still a little bit of a scaredy cat. At one point he was Cajun, like Ray the firefly, but Ray they decided was enough. So I’m just really more Southern. But it took a long time to finally figure out what they wanted from Louis to play with the rest of the movie.

TZN: So did you put a little bit of Louis Armstrong in there?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: There’s a little of it in the song, in one of the lyrics of the song – Louis Armstrong! I do a little Louis. And the trumpet playing is very like Louis Armstrong.

TZN: I really liked the casting for this movie in going with actors like you, because it really felt like you became these characters.

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s one of the things they were trying to do along with 2D animation. They wanted to go back to using real actors who sang and they came to Broadway to look for us. Half the cast – more than half the cast has done Broadway shows and we all sing our faces off and act crazy.

TZN: Did you ever imagine or want to be like a cartoon character?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: It still seems surreal to me. At times I can’t believe it. An unreal, surreal moment came when I was doing my second test at the studios. They’d flown me out a few months and I had done some stuff. They flew me back and before I began the session, Ron [Clements] the director goes, “Would you like to see 5 seconds of animation that we’ve begun with your voice to Louis the alligator?” It was just pencil drawings, it was about 5 seconds, but it was amazing. It was great.

TZN: Favorite line as Louis?

MICHAEL-LEON WOOLEY: (In the voice of Louis, click to listen) GATOR DOWN! GATOR DOWN! That’s my favorite line.


Before working as the voice of Charlotte in the Oscar nominated film, The Princess and the Frog, Jennifer Cody’s main acting experience was stage work on Broadway. Cody recently received an Annie Award for Outstanding Voice Acting in a Feature Production for her work in The Princess And The Frog. Ms. Cody graciously set aside some time to speak with me to answer some questions:


TZN: How do you like this party, Ms. Cody?

JENNIFER CODY: I just got here, I have never been to Disneyland, so I’m a little overwhelmed by the whole thing.

TZN: Wow. Never been to Disneyland?

JENNIFER CODY: I’m from New York, and I worked at Disney World – so this is my first time here, and I’m overwhelmed.

TZN: How did you get the role of Charlotte?

JENNIFER CODY: I auditioned for about a year and a half. I sang and read constantly, and every few months they would bring me in again. By the time I got it, “I’ve been auditioning for so long!”

TZN: What I really liked about Charlotte was that even though she was a rich, privileged girl, she was really a good person even though she was a princess type. She was a very nice, likable character and I liked that she was there for her friend, Tiana.

JENNIFER CODY: Yeah, I like to think I had a little bit to do with that because the original script was not that and as I recorded, I think they realized, “Oh, well she actually could be sweet.” I don’t think of her as spoiled as much as I think of her as determined. Tiana knew what she wanted, and I knew what I wanted. They were just very different. I just wanted to marry a prince. I just went about it as strong as I could just like Tiana did.

TZN: And she got with a prince at the end.

JENNIFER CODY: That was a scene written at the last moment because I think that the audiences that had seen the movie were upset because Charlotte was a kind person at the end and got nobody. So I went in at the very last moment and recorded that scene.

TZN: The casting for the movie was very good in going more for good actors rather than big movie stars and celebrities. I think it adds a more organic quality in listening to the characters. What’s your opinion on that?

JENNIFER CODY: I think it’s amazing and I actually just won the Annie Award, and I was nominated with a bunch of stars. I thanked the casting director for taking a chance on someone when I know a lot of stars would’ve loved to have play this part. It was a great part.

TZN: Do you have a favorite line as Charlotte?

JENNIFER CODY: (click to listen) Umm…during one of the scenes, I improv’ed “Cheese and crackers!” And that was just my line and it’s kind of my favorite thing.


Bill Farmer and Friend
Bill Farmer (courtesy of the Disney Legends website)

While traveling through Fantasy Land, I ran into Bill Farmer. I had personally met Bill back in 2004 at a function called the Hollywood Seminar, a college program to introduce University of Texas undergrads to the entertainment business in Los Angeles. At that time, Bill and his lovely wife also hosted a party at their home and graciously invited me to attend. It was an absolute pleasure to meet and speak with Bill again about playing Goofy. Bill has been Disney’s sole voice for Goofy and Pluto since the 1980’s and plays both characters in every project that involves their voices.

TZN: How do you like this event Bill?

BILL FARMER: Oh, this is great. We just got here and it’s just like Fantasy Land here. People milling about and I’ve been eating too much sugar, but other than that I’m having a great time.

TZN: So how’d you get started playing both Goofy and Pluto right?

BILL FARMER: I’ve been doing the voice for about 23 years now, since about 1987. I was a stand-up comic and I came out to Hollywood to try my luck at animation and as luck would have it, Goofy was my very first animated character audition. (In Goofy’s voice, click to listen) Gosh, guess it sounded like me because they’re still usin’ me! (chuckles)

TZN: Had you ever met or talked to the other voice actors for Goofy?

BILL FARMER: No, I never got a chance to. Pinto Colvig died in ’67, so way before I came out here.

TZN: The voice of Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine, recently passed away. Were you friends with him?

BILL FARMER: Oh, great friends. Wayne and Russi [Taylor, the current voice of Minnie Mouse], and Tony [Anselm, the current voice of Donald Duck] are family. We have been for twenty years. We’ve gone and done hundreds and thousands of events and cartoons and been working together – so it’s like working with your friends. It’s like losing someone in your family.

TZN: I’m very sorry.

BILL FARMER: Yeah, there will never be another one quite like him. He was marvelous.

Man and mouse
Walt Disney and Friend

TZN: Do you know who the voice of Mickey is?

BILL FARMER: Bret Iwan, but I just call him Bret. He’s a kid from Kansas City, young guy, late 20’s and he’s got a real good voice. Sounds a lot like Wayne, and as he goes through it he’ll get the acting down a little bit as he comes along because doing all the things that Wayne did takes a little bit of time.

TZN: How do you find Goofy? What do you do?

BILL FARMER: Well, he was my favorite Disney character when I was a kid, and I used to do all sorts of different characters when I was a kid. I think when a lot of people do the voice, they try and make him sound dumb or something. I just think of him as a simple, optimistic kind of guy, and (in Goofy’s voice again, click to listen) He’s got that kind of Midwestern thing going on. Ahyuck. It just comes out.

TZN: I’ve heard you also do a good Kermit the Frog. Have you done any other characters besides Goofy and Pluto?

BILL FARMER: (click to listen) Oh, I’ve done a lot of them over the years of course, (In Kermit The Frog’s voice) Kermit the Frog, a very exciting voice. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of Warner Bros. characters. On an episode of Robot Chicken I did Bugs and Daffy. (In Bugs Bunny’s voice) Oh brother, ain’t I a stinker? (In Daffy Duck’s voice) Listen here, brother! You know, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam. For Disney, Horace Horsecollar, who I’m the original voice of, so he never spoke until Prince and The Pauper.

TZN: Playing Goofy, you’re not just Goofy in the cartoon shorts—

BILL FARMER: Everything.

TZN: That means the books, the toys, anything that has Goofy’s voice in it, that’s you doing it.

BILL FARMER: Yeah, someone asked how many times I’ve done Goofy, and right now I figure about 3,000 times on different projects throughout the years.

TZN: And you did that new theatrical animated short with Goofy installing his TV, right?

BILL FARMER: Oh yeah, (In a big formal voice) How to install your home theatre!

TZN: How did that come up?

BILL FARMER: They wanted to just bring back some shorts and that was one of the first ones that they did and I worked on it, and it came out with . . .

TZN: National Treasure 2.

BILL FARMER: National Treasure 2, and they didn’t announce it or anything. And it was so fun to be in a theatre with people—

TZN: It was old school, like you are getting the cartoons with a movie—

BILL FARMER: People didn’t know it was a cartoon until he started talking about, “and CD’s, DVD’s, and all of this kind of things.”

TZN: I loved seeing things like that again. I’m sorry to ask you this, but can you do the *Goofy yell*.

BILL FARMER: (click to listen)

TZN: Is there any new animation or shows you are working on for Goofy right now?

BILL FARMER: Right now, we just finished up Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but nothing for the big screen or anything. That’s – you never know, it might come around tomorrow. I never know until they call me.

TZN: I do sometimes watch the Clubhouse and . . . the hot dog song . . .


TZN: I’m a 26 year old college graduate, but I want to get up and sing the hot diggity dog song!

BILL FARMER: I think on YouTube there’s a lot of people doing the Hot Dog dance. (laughs)

Toonzone News would like to thank Michael Leon-Wooley, Jennifer Cody, and Bill Farmer for taking the time to talk with us. The Princess and the Frog is available now on DVD and Blu-ray disc. All still images and publicity headshots from The Princess and the Frog © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo of Bill Farmer © Disney. All Rights Reserved. Photos of the D23 Anniversary party all by Jeffrey Harris.

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