15 Actors Who Played Live-Action Cartoon Characters - And Nailed It

Over 800 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 15 Actors Who Played Live-Action Cartoon Characters - And Nailed It
Voting Rules
Vote up the live-action performances that truly brought a cartoon to life.

For any actor, playing a cartoon character in a live-action movie is a massive challenge. Such characters are often designed in a very exaggerated way, both in terms of appearance and personality. They wear costumes that could look silly in real life. Some have abilities or quirks that are tough to pull off. The issue becomes how to capture the essence of a character audiences know and love, while still making it seem credible in a live-action setting.

The following actors managed to succeed at the task. Each of them hit the sweet spot between remaining true to the character's origin and bringing a little something of their own to the roles. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are great names among them, including Oscar nominees and eventual Oscar winners. Their work demonstrates palpable love for the source material. You can tell they put in the work to get things exactly right.

  • Scooby-Doo's best friend Shaggy is almost never more than a couple inches away. Despite one being a dog and the other a human, they have lots in common. Both scare easily. Both do a lot of running in fear. Most notably, both are obsessed with food. On the cartoon series, Shaggy was voiced by Casey Kasem, the disc jockey best known for his many years hosting the radio show American Top 40.

    On the screen, Matthew Lillard tackled the role, and the results were uncanny. Sharing Shaggy's lanky build, the actor looks the part, then hones the voice so he sounds exactly like Kasem. Lillard goes beyond mere imitation, though, adding a slight hint of a stoner vibe to the character. It was a long-running observation that, were it not a kid's show, Shaggy would totally enjoy partaking. Lillard emphasized that just enough to crack up adults who saw the film while still sailing the gag right over the heads of their children.

    842 votes
  • George of the Jungle was a popular cartoon character in the 1960s. He was designed as a low-rent Tarzan, muscular and handsome, yet not always terribly adept. The big joke was that he usually crashed into a tree when swinging from a vine. Brendan Fraser played the role in Disney's 1997 comedy George of the Jungle, which imagines him temporarily being taken out of the jungle and dropped into the middle of San Francisco.

    What Fraser does so perfectly is highlight the difference between George's appearance and his actions. With his muscular build, the actor certainly looks the part when he puts on the loincloth. Then he nails the good-natured, yet slightly dim-witted personality that audiences recognize. Fraser has always had a gift for physical comedy, and this role affords him an opportunity to go as broad as he wants. His movements and facial expressions are impressively cartoonish.

    721 votes
  • Fred Flintstone, the main character in The Flintstones, is a prehistoric crane operator with a blustery nature but a good heart underneath. He spends much of his time palling around with best friend Barney Rubble. Even though he can be irritated by them, he loves his wife Wilma and his children, Pebbles and Bam Bam. The whole point of the show was to portray the frustrations of the Average Joe, except it was all set in caveman times.

    For 1994's movie adaptation, John Goodman was cast as Fred. It felt almost preordained. Aside from having the same body type, Goodman specializes in using his booming voice in comedic ways. He captures Fred's demeanor and way of spouting off when something gets under his skin. The actor makes the character's joys and stresses equally vivid for the audience, really emphasizing his humanity, despite living in a time period millions of years ago. 

    690 votes
  • In the Scooby-Doo cartoons, Velma tends to get overlooked. With her glasses and weird turtleneck sweater, she recedes into the background when standing next to the more conventionally pretty Daphne. And that's totally unfair, because Velma is massively intelligent and generally the one to solve the mysteries she and the others investigate. 

    That idea was brought to the forefront in the live-action Scooby-Doo. Linda Cardellini plays Velma opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar's Daphne, making a huge impression in the process. Over the course of the movie, she turns Velma's nerdiness into a super-appealing quality. In fact, Cardellini blows Gellar right off the screen. The film even has a little fun with her “drab” appearance, allowing her to embrace her inner vixen at one point. The actress finds new sides of the character to show while simultaneously making us realize that Thelma has always rocked.

    586 votes
  • 101 Dalmatians' Cruella de Vil is one of the most famous Disney villains for a reason. Part of it is her look. She's got that dual black-and-white hair. Her physicality is intimidating, her voice stinging. And that wardrobe? It's probably safe to say that no one has ever loved fur coats quite as strongly as she does. All in all, Cruella has been creeping out kids for decades. That she wants to kidnap a bunch of cuddly Dalmatian puppies to make one of those fur coats is even scarier.

    Obviously, an actress of great stature was needed to bring this outsized character into live-action. That made Glenn Close an ideal choice. After all, she boiled a bunny in Fatal Attraction, so portraying an animal abuser is certainly in her wheelhouse. Close does exactly what she needs to, which is to give a bigger-than-life, full-of-malice performance. The actress brings real weight to Cruella. At the same time, 101 Dalmatians affords her a chance to do broad physical comedy - something audiences hadn't seen her do when the film first came out. No surprise given her immense talent, but she proves exceptionally good at it.

    571 votes
  • Love Ron Howard's live-action The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or hate it, you can't deny it utilizes Jim Carrey's rubber-faced quality beautifully. Audiences have long taken delight in the Dr. Suess story about a mean green creature who tries to ruin the holiday for the residents of Whoville. His arc of going from villain to empathetic figure is touching enough to tug the heartstrings of all ages. 

    Carrey may be buried under fur and prosthetics, but he still manages to earn laughs with his facial expressions. Contorting his features to be malicious and conniving, he recreates the vibe that has made the Grinch a staple at Christmastime. He does a fair amount of physical comedy, too, throwing his padded body around in hilarious ways. Once the Grinch's heart starts to grow, Carrey conveys how overwhelmed the miserable character is to finally experience joy. 

    739 votes