A FEW MOMENTS WITH THE VOICE OF "MR. SMEE" @ 30 September 2011 06:14 PM

Jeff Bennett, voice of Smee and Bones on the series Jake and the Never Land Pirates, just released on DVD, talked with me about doing voices and acting with Corey Burton, who voices Captain Hook.

GREG: You have fan followings for quite a few of the things you do. Gargoyles has a fan following and you have also played a lot of Disney iconic roles for various projects, like Tramp, Mr. Toad and Prince Eric. Apparently you even sang for the Centipede in James and the Giant Peach.

JEFF: Yes, I happened to be at a gig one afternoon and somebody was looking for somebody to do that. They asked, “How are you at singing Richard Dreyfuss?” I said, “Well, I always thought of him as like the Daffy Duck for real, in real life.” So I sang a little bit.  He was doing a sort of Bowery Boys thing in that movie. They said, “Great, we’ll see you at Capitol Records tomorrow. So I walk in, and there’s a 60 piece orchestra the room with pictures on the walls of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin. So I was a little nervous.

GREG: When you approach a character like Smee, whose is based on a very recognizable voice [originally Bill Thompson], how do you take it beyond imitation?

JEFF: For me, a lot of it has to do with remembering what the story is. A lot of times, we will be recording, and I say, “Wait, what is it that is actually going on here?” It is really important to be aware of what the actual story is and how Smee would be involved in it. 

GREG:  You and Corey record the roles together, so you can a kind of rhythm and bounce off each other. Right?

JEFF: Oh, yeah and Corey gives 180 percent to anything he does. We sometimes say that he doesn’t even chew the scenery, he eats the entire scene!

GREG: I know that Smee is supposed to be the first mate, but what does he actually do?

JEFF: Smee does have several jobs, but mostly he’s around to placate Captain Hook. He’s the ultimate “yes man,” but in an endearing way.

GREG:  Kind of the Never Land equivalent of a Hollywood personal assistant?

JEFF: Right! That is exactly it. Smee has that bumbling way about him. He’s always trying to keep up and wants to try to make everybody happy—like the Mom who wants everybody to stop fighting and be friends and make nice and for the world to be every color of the rainbow. But every once in a while, you’ll hear—and I try not to do it too often—that little edge of “Boy, this job is really hard and I am a little tired of it.”

GREG:  Smee is in the villain category but he really isn’t a bad person.  It is almost like he just got on the wrong line at the employment agency.

JEFF: Especially in this particular show.  He likes Jake and the “puny pirates,” as Captain Hook calls them.  He actually can give a wink and a nod to them, saying something like, “They really are athletic and  great and I don’t know how they make that bouncy thing go but you got to hand it to them. They are pretty amazing.  Oops! Did I say that out loud?“ That kind of thing, which further annoys Hook. So Smee just can’t win no matter what he says. If he says what he is really thinking, he gets in trouble with Captain Hook. If he agrees with Captain Hook, then it’s not really honest.

GREG: Smee and Hook are like those classic comedy teams, where you’ve got one guy in charge but neither is really the “smart one.”

JEFF: Their whole crew barely adds up to one smart man!  Between Hook, Smee, Bones and Sharky maybe, they might go in the right direction one out of four times.

GREG:  Tell me a little bit about Bones, whom you also voice.  I watched quite a few episodes and noticed that he is a man of few words.

JEFF: Out of all the crew, he is definitely the dimmest lightbulb in the batch, for sure. He is probably the “Gilligan” of the bunch, who looks off and says the most obvious thing. He’s just out there. I don’t think he ever gets a good nights sleep.

GREG:  Do the guys who appear on camera singing also sing when the animation characters are singing?

JEFF: Yes, exactly. We don’t usually get to work with them. When each show premieres, I say, “Oh! Now I have the pieces all together, its great.”

GREG:  Do you watch a lot of the animation in which you’ve done voices? Do you find it surprising when it comes out—maybe different than you expect?

JEFF: Sometimes its shockingly surprising to me because things might just come from a story board and you don’t always know how they’ll turn out. But, with Jake and the Never Land Pirates, I knew it was going to look beautiful and I was sure that most kids would love it. It has a fun new twist on these classic characters and then throws in the groovy new kids.

GREG:  Are those singers going to tour?

JEFF: Yes, and they really are wonderful.   They have been doing this for a while.  I wish my daughter were younger, she’s twelve.  Although she probably dig it even at twelve.  I would love to see them.

GREG:  This is the first time that an animated cartoon has done this since the Groovie Goolies and The Hardy Boys cartoon. Filmation had live performers for them, too.

JEFF: I wonder if The Banana Splits ever went on tour?

GREG:  Knowing that you are part of Jake and the Never Land Pirates, that kids are watching, and when they grow up they are going to be nostalgic about it, how cool is that?

JEFF: That is kind of the ultimate cool. The fact that I get to work with Frank Welker, who was Fred on Scooby Doo and he’s still doing Freddy’s voice. Casey Kasem can do Shaggy until he is 84. I got to do the Man in the Yellow Hat on Curious George and there are kids that come up to me and say I grew up on that.  Same thing with The Land Before Time. I think it is going to be the same thing with this show.

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