There is a major demand in American animation and voice acting for “authentic” voices for child characters when possible. Sometimes, child actors go back and forth between voice and on-camera acting. Other times, they specialize in voice acting and maintain lifelong voice-acting careers. In this list, we’re featuring the best child voice-acting performances we’ll never forget. By “young,” we mean children under the age of 16!
Top Child Voice-Acting Performances in Disney Movies
Auli’i Cravalho as Moana in Moana (2016)
Moana’s character deserved a great child voice-acting performance, and Auli’i Cravalho didn’t fail to fill the role with spirit as she took the role in 2016. Moana is the strong-spirited daughter of a chief of a Polynesian village and is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess.
She puts her life on the line to save her people, but at the same time, there’s a vulnerability that she reveals in her most challenging moments. Auli’i captured both sides of Moana beautifully, even adding a powerful singing voice. What made this child voice-acting performance more impressive was the fact that Moana was Auli’i’s first professional voice acting role. She even earned an Annie Award for it!
Alexander Gould as Nemo in Finding Nemo (2003)
This young clown fish and his character growth will always remain in our hearts. Alexander Gould played Nemo, the initially rebellious, hyperactive, and stubborn son of an overprotective father. Because of his actions, he’s captured by scuba divers and taken far away from home. Despite Nemo’s impulsiveness, Gould’s vocal work stirs sympathy as he becomes more determined to reunite with his family. During Nemo’s adventure, he manages to encourage others with his wit and enthusiasm. It’s a lot of character to fit inside of a tiny fish, but Gould absolutely delivers.
Bradley Pierce as Chip in Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Chip, the little teacup, charmed us all from the moment he met Belle. Bradley Pierce lent his voice to the teacup filled with innocence and kindness instead of tea. Originally, Chip was only going to have one line in the movie. After the creators heard Pierce’s child voice-acting performance, they decided to add in more lines to his role. The movie wouldn’t have been the same without Chip hopping from scene to scene.
Daveigh Chase as Lilo in Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Daveigh Chase already did an excellent job voicing Chihiro in the English dub of Spirited Away in 2001. But she managed to top her own child voice-acting performance the following year with her leading role in Lilo and Stitch. Lilo is the quirky Hawaiian girl with a deep appreciation for animals and Elvis. Although she is a bit of a loner, her care for the pesky alien, Stitch, proved she had a big heart. Chase’s child voice-acting performance is a roller coaster of energetic highs and heartbreaking lows. Critics were happy to go along for the ride as the actress earned an Annie Award for her starring role. The king would be proud.
Jordan Nagai as Russell in Up (2009)
Russell is the first Asian-American figure in a Pixar movie, and Asian-American voice actor Jordan Nagai became a worldwide sensation after he lent his voice to the character in the 3-D computer-animated comedy adventure Up. The then 9-year-old Nagai impressed millions of hearts through his sweet, innocent voice and became a star overnight. Director Pete Docter has said, “[a]s soon as Jordan’s voice came on, we started smiling because he is appealing and innocent and cute and different from what I was initially thinking.”
Sadly, Nagai has not acted in anything since. In 2015, Nagai’s parents revealed that while he has expressed interest in continuing his acting career, his parents have kept him from doing so out of fear him becoming “spoiled” by Hollywood fame and wandering down the wrong path from where there is no return. However, they would be more than happy if Jordan pursued his dream after his studies, when he becomes old enough to distinguish right from wrong.
Mary Gibbs as Boo in Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Monsters, Inc. came out when Mary was just 5 years old and in kindergarten. Although she barely remembers the days of recording, her character and child voice-acting performance warmed hearts for years. Fans even went as far to claim that the reason Monster’s University wasn’t as good as the original was because there was no Boo. Although Boo didn’t have much lines, Mary Gibbs managed to make the toddler an iconic character everyone misses.
Mary’s dad was a storyboard artist for the film, and the director asked if anyone had a little girl they could sketch and use for scratch dialogue. Boo was originally going to be older, but they wanted to explore different age possibilities. Since Mary Gibbs was already comfortable around everyone, the director ended up using her voice for the actual movie.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba in Lion King (1994)
Jonathan Taylor Thomas starred in this Disney classic as Simba, a lion cub with the heart of a king. At times, Simba was a bold and cocky prince who daydreamed about the day he’d take charge. But he was also a naive lion who aspired to find his place in the world. Taylor Thomas’ Simba is full of personality and raw emotion. Admit it, you still tear up when he tries to wake Mufasa up. Taylor-Thomas ensured the performance behind the lion was worthy of royalty.
Jeremy Suarez as Koda in Brother Bear (2003)
This movie could have been both your favorite and most traumatizing Disney film growing up. The underrated film Brother Bear has become a classic movie because of its dramatically different style than former Disney productions, while keeping the hilarious and soulful elements for the whole family to enjoy. Koda was a rascally little bear with a big heart and even bigger curiosity, but all the while, he didn’t realize that he was teaching Kenai not only how to be more than a bear but also a brother.
The creators originally planned Koda to be an adult bear named Grizz, who’d serve as an older brother figure to Kenai, voiced by the late Michael Clarke Duncan. However, this did not work out so well. As a result, the character was changed into a young bear cub. Jeremy Suarez did an incredible job giving justice to the production’s decision.
Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel in Coco (2017)
Twelve-year-old Los Angeles native Anthony Gonzalez had a breakthrough role in the movie voicing Miguel. Miguel is a young Mexican boy with musical dreams who has a wondrous adventure in the Land of the Dead, where he’s in search of an important relative. Accompanied by his dog, Dante, Miguel encounters a vast world of music he has never known. Along the way, he meets his musical idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz, as well as many of his ancestors. “Me and Miguel are both persevering and we never give up and we want to do what we love,” says Gonzalez, who auditioned for Coco when he was 9 and finally won the part two years later.
Enjoyed our list? Check out these best child actor performances that aspiring young actors can learn from!