Now out on DVD for your viewing pleasure is Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania, the follow-up to the 2007 animated Oscar-nominee that took a behind-the-scenes look at the Penguin World Surfing Championship. In Surf’s Up, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) joined the party as a most unlikely character: the surfing fowl, Chicken Joe. Heder and his chill character for the sequel–which is a first for Heder–that introduces WWE Superstars John Cena, Undertaker, Triple H, Paige, and Mr. McMahon as members of the wave-riding crew, The Hang 5.
In celebration of the movie’s release, I had a chance to chat with Heder about the film and his acting career in general, with a focus on his animation and voice-acting experience. You might be surprised to learn, as I was, that Heder actually started his career by studying animation in college. It was his big break in Napoleon Dynamite that opened up other acting opportunities in both animation and live-action, but he’s always had a passion for all things animation.
Whenever I talk to someone working in the world of animation, I like to ask them to think back to their childhood and tell me the first few cartoons that pop into their heads. Often they’re the expected, popular shows from whatever era they happened to grow up in. Heder’s, however, were deep cuts.
The Hobbit, do you remember the animated The Hobbit? I’m listing some of my favorites of all time. When I think 80s and Saturday morning, I go straight to Heathcliff, I remember watching that. And The Littles, I think they were called. It was a family of little people but they had tails, and I don’t know why but that just popped into my head. These are 80s, that was my childhood.
Try this one on for size: It’s called Wizards by Ralph Bakshi. Holy cow. That is a trip. If this is for a kids’ publication, don’t even publish that. It is not a kids’ movie. But it does not hold up. I think my mom rented that for us from the video store when we were kids, thinking, “Oh, it’s an animated film. It’s called Wizards. Why not?” Watch it, and if you know who Ralph Bakshi is, he does not do kid-friendly stuff. I was disturbed. There’s like nude elves in it, weird creatures with machine guns popping bullet holes through little woodland creatures … it was like, “What is this?” It does not hold up, by the way. These are just some random things that pop up when thinking of my childhood.
I’m a hardcore animation guy, but being honest, first thought, things that I saw when I was a kid that I can’t unsee.
If and when you have the time to check out everything Heder mentioned, do yourself a favor and follow up on it. You won’t be disappointed (though you may be disturbed). As for how Heder made his way into voice-acting:
It was kind of unrelated. I graduated with a degree in animation. I was studying it and I was pursuing it. I was always into art growing up, and then I got into acting, I had a great interest in that, and then my career counselor in college said, “Hey, they’re opening up an animation program here at school. Why don’t you do that? It’s kind of a mix of both.” I wanted to get into film, and that’s actually more of what I was studying, it was less acting but acting on the side. “Art and film together, try animation.” I loved it. I loved it and I started doing that, and then I started doing acting around the same time which really helped in both ways: it helped with my animation, my animation helped with my acting because you’re bringing a character to life.
I never thought I’d be voicing, doing stuff like that, but when I got into acting, that kinda covers everything. My agents would bring me this, or “Try this out.” I guess my first acting gig was a natural segue into voice-acting because the first thing I did animation was Monster House but that wasn’t your typical animated film because it was all mocap, motion capture. That was an audition. You go in and they want to see how you move and how you sound and how you act; it was the whole experience. And so it wasn’t sitting in a booth and just talking into a microphone. We were in those mocap suits and everything. So I did that, but then I tried other things and I was always game for trying it out because I loved animation.