When Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, all the voice actors went uncredited. Walt wanted his animated characters to be the stars, not the people doing their voices. The 15 cartoons on this list take the exact opposite tactic: these cartoons really want you to know who’s voicing their characters. Now, these aren’t Tom Hanks in Toy Story or Mike Myers in Shrek; i.e., instances where celebrity stars are still trying to perform as characters different from themselves. In the majority of the entries, the voice actors are the characters, while in the other examples the identities of the celebrity actors and the cartoon roles are so intrinsically linked, they are downright inseparable.
Seeing a celebrity guest star suddenly walk into an unrelated cartoon can get pretty strange. Cartoons built from the ground up specifically to promote celebrities are often even stranger. More often than not, this absurdity is the point; these cartoons are supposed to be weird and funny! Of course, with some older examples from the Saturday morning era, the comedy wasn’t so intentional, but that doesn’t make them any less hilarious. Let’s go through some of the funniest, most memorable and just utterly insane celebrity appearances in cartoon history!
15. MICHAEL JACKSON – THE SIMPSONS
Celebrity guest stars are so common on The Simpsons that they rarely strike anyone as weird. It would be weirder at this point if a celebrity didn’t want to be on The Simpsons! Even so, Michael Jackson’s appearance in the season three episode “Stark Raving Dad” was mighty bizarre. He wasn’t playing himself, but he wasn’t entirely not playing himself either. He played Leon Kompowsky, a white mental patient who thought that he was Michael Jackson.
The episode itself is wild, but what makes this the craziest Simpsons guest appearance is the behind the scenes story. First off, Michael Jackson isn’t credited as himself but as “John Jay Smith.” Second, while Jackson read all of his character’s dialogue, he didn’t actually sing the songs in the episode. For that, he dragged a sound-alike into the recording booth. He did, however, sing backing vocals for The Simpsons‘ single “Do the Bartman.”
14. AL GORE – FUTURAMA
Multiple 21st century celebrities showed up in Futurama‘s 31st century thanks to the magic of head-in-a-jar technology, but none have parlayed those cameos into as much goodwill as Al Gore did. Often dismissed as stiff and humorless during his time as Vice President, his multiple Futurama appearances proved he had a sense of humor. How’d Futurama get him on four times? His daughter Kristin Gore being one of the show’s writers certainly helped.
His first appearance in “Anthology of Interest” was as the leader of the Action Rangers, a group of nerds dedicating to protecting the time-space continuum. Gore actually used scenes from “Crimes of the Hot,” an environmentally themed episode, as part of An Inconvenient Truth. The movie Bender’s Big Score revealed the shocking truth of what happened in the Florida recount. Gore’s final appearance was in “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.”
13. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC – BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
You could fill this whole list with just times Weird Al Yankovic has been in cartoons (comment if you’d want to read that!). From Adventure Time to Voltron, Al’s got quite the voice acting resume. Singling out just one Al cartoon part for this list, it had to be one where he plays himself (and not just a parody of himself like in Transformers Animated, though that was still pretty crazy) and it had to be the sort of place you wouldn’t expect to see him (so Simpsons is out).
The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!” more than lives up to its title. Weird Al gets involved in a Batman/Scooby Doo crossover, a spoof of the old Scooby TV movies’ reliance on celebrity guests. In another segment of the episode, Al voices Mr. Star, a jewelry show organizer in the Bat-Manga universe.
12. RUSH LIMBAUGH – FAMILY GUY
Rush Limbaugh is probably the most infamous Right Wing radio personality in America. Seth McFarlane makes no secret of his liberal politics. You wouldn’t expect these two men, both often subjects of controversy but from very different sides, to be working together. Yet McFarlane and Limbaugh have voiced their respect for each other, as Limbaugh has guest starred on Family Guy three times.
Two of his appearances were brief cameos in the Star Wars parody episodes. His role in the episode “Excellence in Broadcasting” was more significant, where he temporarily convinces the outspoken liberal Brian to become a Republican. The episode got a mixed reception. Some liberal critics found the satire “toothless,” while some conservative critics were offended Limbaugh would take part in a show like Family Guy.
11. GEORGE CLOONEY – SOUTH PARK
The disclaimer at the beginning of most South Park episodes reads “All celebrity voices are impersonated… poorly.” There have been some rare exceptions where celebrities voiced themselves on the show (PewDiePie, Elon Musk, a number of musical guests), but for the most part Trey Parker and Matt Stone prefer bad impersonations, the better to mock everyone with. So when actual celebrities want to be a part of South Park, the roles they end up in are… interesting.
George Clooney was a supporter of South Park back when it was just a viral Christmas video, and wanted to get involved when Comedy Central picked it up for a series. What part did Clooney play? Sparky, the gay dog from “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride.” He later got to read actual lines other than “woof” as Doctor Gouache in the South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut film.
10. ADAM WEST – JOHNNY BRAVO
After Batman, there was only one role Adam West could really play: himself. He became so famous for his self-mocking performances that TV Tropes refers to the practice of celebrities playing over-the-top versions of themselves as “Adam Westing.” He played himself on The Simpsons and The Critic as well as another retired superhero actor on Batman: The Animated Series, but the “Johnny Bravo Meets Adam West” episode of Johnny Bravo might be the quintessential West cartoon.
Wait, not Family Guy? What about Fairly OddParents? Well, this episode was the first time Family Guy‘s Seth McFarlane and FOP‘s Butch Hartman wrote for West, and it would set the tone of West’s future cartoon appearances. The stroke of comedic genius here? Making West an over-the-top crimefighter himself without any reference to Batman.
9. MARGOT MARTINDALE – BOJACK HORSEMAN
Bojack Horseman‘s “Hollywoo” setting makes it the perfect show for celebrity guests playing themselves. Of course, the version of these celebrities in Bojack‘s world are always a little bit off. In this cartoon, Daniel Radcliffe is a spoiled brat, Jessica Biel goes mad with power and Lance Bass is a sea bass. But no celebrity guest star in Bojack Horseman makes quite the same impression as Character Actress Margo Martindale.
Always write “Character Actress” before her name in the context of Bojack, because that’s how everyone always refers to her. She’s always willing to help Bojack with any questionable scheme… that is, when she’s not biting people’s fingers off in prison or fleeing from the police on boat. As of season 4, she’s been lost at sea and presumed dead, but who knows what havoc she’ll wreak should she made her return?
8. LARRY KING AND COOLIO – GRAVITY FALLS
Gravity Falls managed to fit an impressive roster of guest voices over the course of its two seasons. Celebrities lending their voices to characters in the show included the likes of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Weird Al (again), Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Nathan Fillion, Kyle MacLachlan, Alfred Molina, Mark Hamill, Patton Oswalt, Nick Offerman and, uh, Louis CK (…it was a different time). However, only two celebrities played themselves on the show.
Well, it was technically wax versions of themselves. In “Headhunters,” the show’s third episode, the Pines family discovers Grunkle Stan’s collection of wax figures come to life at night… and want revenge for their treatment! Most of these figures are of dead or fictional characters, but then there’s Wax Coolio and Wax Larry King, voiced by the non-wax versions of themselves.
7. MR. T – ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
Yes, Mr. T also had his own cartoon show, and yes, it’s plenty insane (he punches a shark in the opening theme!). The thing with that is, if you’re willingly watching Mister T: The Animated Series, you know exactly what sort of insanity you can expect. If you’re watching Alvin and the Chipmunks, however, you’re almost certainly not expecting Mr. T to show up. Therefore, his guest appearance in the Alvin episode “The C-Team” is the T cartoon on this list.
In the episode, Dave’s pocket watch gets stolen. After reading about Mr. T in the newspaper, the chipmunks for some reason decide to enlist Mr. T’s help in retrieving the watch. Why does this episode exist? Synergy. Ruby-Spears Productions was animating both Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mister T: The Animated Series at the same time.
6. HARLAN ELLISON – SCOOBY DOO MYSTERY INCORPORATED
Scooby Doo has a history with celebrity guests. The 1972-73 series The New Scooby-Doo Movies had a different guest each week; if for some reason as a kid you were dying to see the Mystery Gang hang out with Don Knotts or Phyllis Dyler, that was the show for you. The 2010-13 Scooby series, Mystery Incorporated, paid tribute to this tradition in a way fitting that installment’s geekier sense of humor.
If you don’t know who Harlan Ellison is, you’ve still probably got some familiarity with his writing in works like Star Trek‘s “City on the Edge of Forever”… or works that blatantly ripped off his work like the Terminator movies! He’s also notoriously grumpy, something he’s self-aware about in his guest appearance in the Mystery Incorporated episode “The Shrieking Madness.” In that episode, he concludes a lecture saying “…and that’s why nothing good has been written since the 1970s.”
5. NEIL GAIMAN – ARTHUR
PBS’ elementary school life lesson dispenser and dank meme generator Arthur has included many guests over the years from Fred Rogers to Lance Armstrong (…it was a different time). These guests are always drawn as some sort of animal. For Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed writer of Sandman and American Gods, he obviously chose to be a cat. But that’s the least strange part of his appearance in the episode “Falafelosophy.”
Is there any sentence in the English language better than “Neil Gaiman, what are you doing in my falafel?” Without explanation, it’s the perfect surreal disturbance. In context, it makes slightly more sense (Sue Ellen is imagining Neil as her muse after meeting the real Neil at a book signing)… but not much. Gaiman later goes snorkelling in a smoothie. He was clearly having fun with this cartoon.
4. MEGADETH – DUCK DODGERS
The mid-2000s cartoon series Duck Dodgers, inspired by the Looney Tunes short “Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century,” could get pretty trippy with its pop culture crossovers, bringing in the Green Lantern Corps and doing an extended Samurai Jack spoof. But it never got weirder than the second-to-last episode, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Rock,” which guest-starred Dave Mustaine and his band Megadeth.
They weren’t the only musicians to thaw out of cryogenic sleep in the 24½th century. Tom Jones also appeared in the episode “Talent Show A-Go-Go,” but that was less shocking given he also sang the show’s theme song. The Megadeth episode, on the other hand, was completely unexpected. You didn’t know you wanted Dave Mustaine and Daffy Duck rocking out together, but then you did.
3. JACK VALENTI – FREAKAZOID
An insane and, at times, inspired mish-mash of a Bruce Timm superhero idea and jokes deemed too geeky and niche for even Animaniacs, it only makes sense that Freakazoid‘s overwhelming sense of surreal would extend to its selection of guest stars. Jack Valenti, then the President of the Motion Picture Association of America, wouldn’t be the first choice of a guest star for any other kids’ show and most adult shows for that matter, yet there he was hosting the episode “The Chip, Part I.”
Why was Jack Valenti describing Freakazoid’s origin story? Why did he intersperse educational segments about the workings of the MPAA movie ratings system? And why was there so much focus on his cheeks? It didn’t make a lick of sense, but it was hilarious all the same.
2. CHUCK NORRIS – CHUCK NORRIS KARATE KOMMANDOS
Of the “live-action celebrity lends their image and voice to a stupid Saturday morning cartoon where they lead a group of kids fighting crime or whatever” genre that was so prominent in the ’80s, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos might be the best recognized of them all. This is true for two reasons: the now extremely tired/dead memes that surrounded Chuck Norris for much of the 2000s and the fact Adult Swim reran this show at 5:30AM for a while.
In this Ruby-Spears cartoon, Chuck Norris is a US government operative and the leader of a “radically diverse” team known as the Karate Kommandos fighting the evil organization VULTURE. Norris would open the show with a live-action segment and close with narration of the episode’s moral. It only lasted five episodes, though Steve Ditko (really!) drew a comic book tie-in.
1. MIKE TYSON – MIKE TYSON MYSTERIES
Adult Swim’s first original programs were mostly parodies of older Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but the network had moved away from that trend when Mike Tyson Mysteries, a riff on Saturday morning celebrity-centric cartoons, premiered in 2014. The first TV show from Warner Bros. Animation made for Adult Swim, it presents a set-up that could conceivably have been an ’80s cartoon (Mike Tyson, his adopted daughter, a pigeon and a ghost solve mysteries) but with content no kids’ show could ever contain.
Some have expressed discomfort with the show’s very existence, questioning why a man convicted of sexual assault has his own cartoon. Despite those valid concerns, the show received mostly positive reviews and decent ratings. It’s aired for three seasons so far and been renewed for a fourth.
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