How many times have you walked through a room where a TV is playing cartoons, and you know without even looking what show is on? If you’re anything like us (not in small part due to little cartoon-lovers we keep around), the answer is “just about a dozen times a day.”That’s because while bright colors and beautiful animation will bring a cartoon to life, it’s really the vocal performances that make these characters unforgettable. What’s The Simpsons without Bart’s ‘tude-filled “Cowabunga!”? Or SpongeBob without his trademark lispy enthusiasm about everything in Bikini Bottom?
Voice actors bring the heat when it comes to brilliant performances, but would you recognize them passing by on the street? Here’s a glimpse of what 21 of your favorite animated TV characters “look like” in real life. Don’t be shocked if their faces don’t exactly match the characters they perform!
Doug Funnie from ‘Doug’
’80s kids grew up with Doug, an anxious but sweet kid in love with a girl named Patty Mayonnaise. The classic toon originally aired on Nickelodeon for four seasons from 1991–1994 before moving to Disney for its final three years. Accomplished voice actor Billy West voiced Doug, as well as fellow Nick character Stimpy from Ren and Stimpy. You might also recognize his voice from Futurama, in which he played Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and others.
Bart Simpson from ‘The Simpsons’
The undeniable star of the beloved animated sitcom The Simpsons, Bart Simpson is indeed voiced by a woman. And that woman is vocal powerhouse Nancy Cartwright. Just a few of her memorable characters include Mindy from Animaniacs, Chuckie Finster on Rugrats, Todd Daring of The Replacements, and Rufus from Kim Possible. You’ve probably been a fan for years — and didn’t even know it!
Jake from ‘Adventure Time’
You might relate to Finn, but Jake is without a doubt the most entertaining character on Adventure Time. Aside from being a great friend to Finn and a genius in the kitchen, he’s basically a dog that can change his shape to just about anything — how do you top that? Prolific voice actor John DiMaggio gives Jake his iconic sound. He’s had decades of voice acting roles, with over 300 credits to his name, including Samurai Jack, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, and Gravity Falls.
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Dipper Pines from ‘Gravity Falls’
Gravity Falls may have flown a little under the radar (and “just west of weird”), but the Disney show picked up a strong fan following. It centers around brother-sister pair Dipper and Mabel Pines, who spend the summer with their great-uncle, trying to uncover mysteries surrounding the small town of Gravity Falls. Dipper is played by actor Jason Ritter, whom you might recognize from Girls, Parenthood, or Drunk History.
Mabel Pines from ‘Gravity Falls’
Mabel Pines is the embodiment of positive energy and optimism on Gravity Falls. She supports her brother, but she’s no pushover. She’s played by the very distinctively voiced Kristen Schaal, who also plays Louise on Bob’s Burgers and starred in Flight of the Conchords.
Princess Carolyn from ‘BoJack Horseman’
Amy Sedaris has been making us roll off the couch with laughter for years. From Jerri on Strangers With Candy, to Mimi on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, her characters are always out there in the most hilarious ways possible. Princess Carolyn (on Netflix’s dark comedy BoJack Horseman) is no different, but we can still relate to her more than any other animated cat.
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The Brain from ‘Animaniacs’
If “Pinky and the Brain” wasn’t your favorite segment of Animaniacs, you’re not pondering what I’m pondering. The classic would-be criminal rodents were a comedic duo with the most memorable lines on the series, so it’s no surprise they had their own spin-off show. The Brain was played by Maurice LaMarche, who also lends his vocal talents to The Simpsons, The Powerpuff Girls, Rick and Morty, The Looney Tunes Show, and Futurama.
The Joker from ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
Mark Hamill might be most well known for his iconic performance as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, but comic fans (and kids in the ’90s) know him for portraying another iconic character: the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. His version of the Joker is commonly considered the best adaptation of the dark knight’s villianous rival. We couldn’t agree more.
Lois Griffin from ‘Family Guy’
Lois gets a lot of undeserved grief on Family Guy, as the mom of the show. But like any real mom, she can still hold her own. She’s played by Alex Borstein, an actress known for her work on Shameless and MADtv.
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Linda Belcher from ‘Bob’s Burgers’
Linda Belcher is an unforgettable TV mom. She sings constantly, drinks wine with enthusiasm, and has a lighthearted, no-worries approach to parenting. She’s played with whimsy and humor by John Roberts, who also voices the Belcher kids’ classmate Jocelyn.
Korra from ‘The Legend of Korra’
A spin-off to the incredibly popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra has been praised for its great storytelling and its treatment of important social issues. Star Janet Varney is also credited with brilliantly bringing Korra to life. She also cofounded the legendary SF Sketchfest and her voice can be heard regularly on her JV Club podcast.
Peter Griffin from ‘Family Guy’
You might have known that actor and writer Seth MacFarlane was the man behind the controversial animated Fox show Family Guy. You might not have known just how many voices he regularly provides for the show — and the answer is … most of them. In addition to playing the patriarch of the family (Peter Griffin), he also voices Brian the Dog, baby Stewie, and neighbor Glenn Quagmire, along with a slew of side characters. He’s got to be a very creative (and busy) guy.
Mr. Peanutbutter from ‘BoJack Horseman’
Paul F. Tompkins is a comedian, actor, and podcast host who is known for his dapper personal style. So, when his BoJack Horseman character — an eternally optimistic dog named Mr. Peanutbutter — wore a sparkly pink suit to host a game show called Hollywood Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out!, the actor had a real-life suit made to match. Perfection!
Samurai Jack from ‘Samurai Jack’
Fans of the early 2000’s Cartoon Network cult classic were excited by this year’s return of Samurai Jack. They should have been! Phil LaMarr still sounds great in the title role he hadn’t played in over a decade! The timeless talent is also known for playing Futurama‘s Hermes Conrad and ill-fated Marvin in Pulp Fiction.
Rick and Morty from ‘Rick & Morty’
Plenty of TV fans love Adult Swim’s vulgar grandfather/grandson sci-fi duo Rick and Morty, but they may not know that both Rick and Morty are voiced by show creator Justin Roiland. Roiland also has appeared on Gravity Falls as time-traveler Blendin Blandin.
Timmy Turner from ‘Fairly OddParents’
Fairly OddParents was an early 2000’s show that taught us all the dangers of getting exactly what you wish for. The main character Timmy was played by Tara Strong, a voice actress whose very long list of credits includes King of the Hill, The Powerpuff Girls, Rugrats, Teen Titans, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
SpongeBob SquarePants from ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’
SpongeBob SquarePants is – at least on the surface- a kid’s show about the wacky characters who live underwater in a town called Bikini Bottom. Some older viewers might have noticed a few ‘adult’ jokes that fly over the heads of the little kids that make up the show’s core audience. Whether you think the show is completely innocent or not, it’s definitely endearing and funny. That’s down to the brilliant performance of Tom Kenny as the titular SpongeBob. Kenny is also known for his work as Dog in CatDog, the Ice King in Adventure Time, and Heffer Wolfe in Rocko’s Modern Life.
Steven Universe from ‘Steven Universe’
The Crystal Gems are the main superheroes on Steven Universe, but their stories wouldn’t be relatable if they weren’t told through the eyes of half-Gem Steven. The goofy kid still learning to use his powers (to hilarious effect) is played by Zach Callison. The teen actor is also known for his turn on ABC’s The Goldbergs and Amazon’s Just Add Magic.
Tina Belcher from ‘Bob’s Burgers’
Fan favorite Tina is the eldest Belcher child on FOX’s hit series Bob’s Burgers. Like any average teen girl, she’s equally obsessed with horses, butts, and her school crush Jimmy Jr. What’s the most charming about Tina, though, is her deep voice and her trademark groans and grunts. The girl knows how to express herself vocally! Dan Mintz, comedian and writer, gives her that unforgettable sound that fully fleshes out her character.
Tommy Pickles from ‘Rugrats’
The quintessential ’90s Nicktoon had to be Rugrats. The babies, their funny baby talk, and the music were all so captivating. The award-winning show ran for nine seasons, and even earned its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The main character Tommy Pickles was voiced by Elizabeth Daily, who played Buttercup in Powerpuff Girls, and Steve in Curious George.
Todd Chavez from ‘BoJack Horseman’
Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul must have a thing for dark comedy. He plays the earnest flunkie Todd Chavez on Netflix’s animated series BoJack Horseman, which is the most depressing cartoon you’ll ever stream. But Paul’s character, despite being a punching bag to the main character BoJack, is often a bright spot of hope and humor in the otherwise grim show.