If I had to choose Canada’s most distinctive voice in comedy right now, it would have to be Will Arnett. Sure, his baritone rasp has become something of a trademark, but Arnett is also a talented comedic performer in his own right, which no doubt lends to his near omnipotent presence in mainstream television and film.
Arnett has notably earned countless roles in animated film and television throughout his illustrious career, partly due to his aforementioned voice, which is so distinctive that he is one of those rare talents who requires little more than a change in cadence from one role to the next. With all this being said, Arnett has delivered many notable performances in live-action comedy also, being an ever-welcome presence regardless of the role’s significance.
Normally, when I do a list of an actor or actress’ best roles, it’s a Top 5, but with Will Arnett my approach will be somewhat different. I will instead limit his list to being a Top 3, though that is anything but a concession. On the contrary. Roles like Franz Van Waldenberg in Blades of Glory and Devon Banks in 30 Rock deserve honourable mentions of their own, if I were to name two, but it is because his greatest roles are of such notable significance when compared to the others, that they deserve to be discussed at greater length than usual.
So instead of needlessly justifying my approach any further, I will let my list of Top 3 Will Arnett Roles do the talking.
- The Lego Movie Series – Batman/Bruce Wayne
Since the days of the late Adam West, numerous actors have taken up the mantle of the Caped Crusader. Some have been more memorable, with the likes of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale setting standards that have come to overshadow the brief tenures of Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Ben Affleck lies somewhere admirably in the middle, and the jury is still out on the admittedly smart casting of Robert Pattinson in the role.
The most recognisable voice of Batman over the years has been that of Kevin Conroy, who first loaned his talents in the superb animated series of the 1990s. From there, Conroy set the benchmark for voicing the Dark Knight’s animated adventures…that is until 2014’s The Lego Movie. Wow, it still feels weird to say that!
The Lego Movie is a flat-out masterpiece of animation from the infinitely creative minds of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, not only paying full respect to Lego’s foundation as the world’s greatest toy, but also somehow thematically personifying its true meaning with a heartfelt story.
This is thanks in no small part to its eclectic cast of characters, led by Chris Pratt’s ingeniously generic lead Emmet Brickowscki. Amid all this brilliance, however, Will Arnett’s Batman still managed to steal the show. Wonderfully written, Arnett perfectly embodies Batman/Bruce Wayne’s more familiar trappings with a fresh comedic edge, while scampishly borrowing from Christian Bale’s gravely-voiced rendition of the character.
Arnett’s Lego Batman was so well-received that he even went on to feature in his own solo film, which might not have necessarily reached the dizzying heights of the original film, but still stands as one of the finest, most nuanced adaptations of Batman that even amidst all the zaniness, never forgets about his core humanity. In the process, Arnett ultimately solidified his place amongst the greatest to have ever donned the cape…figuratively speaking, of course!
- BoJack Horseman – BoJack Horseman
One might think that after showering so much praise on Arnett’s vocal delivery of Batman, there is surely no way it could be outdone, but you would be wrong.
Intriguingly, the most human role of Arnett’s career has been voicing an animated anthropomorphic horse. But that’s part of the ironic brilliance of BoJack Horseman, as it’s a series populated by humans and humanoid animals alike, that, aside from it’s consistently funny puns, is one of the most devastatingly relatable television shows on-air right now, period.
BoJack Horseman may be an unflinching analysis of Hollywood (or in this case Hollywoo) culture that is somewhat beyond the grasp of everyday life, but its characters possess everyday problems. Issues of depression, drug addiction, commitment, childhood trauma, racism and sexism are but a number of the subjects the show deals with, and tends to do so in a crushingly emotional manner whose edge is in no way blunted by its frequent bouts of satirical hilarity.
Arnett’s BoJack is the tragic centrepiece of the show, where the actor blends his usual slapstick or outright comedic shtick with a level of insecurity that grants the character a dimension transcending its excellent writing. While an impressive cast that includes Alison Brie and Aaron Paul, amongst many others, each deliver strong performances of their own that should in no way be overlooked, it is difficult not to single out Arnett as the standout of the show.
Although reviews for the show were initially mixed and decidedly premature, BoJack Horseman has proven time and again to be a relevant and insightful examination of modern celebrity culture and the undue pressures placed upon those within it. But more than that, it’s an uncompromising analysis of the human condition, crucially brought to life by Will Arnett, and of course those behind the scenes.
- Arrested Development – George Oscar “Gob” Bluth
Arnett’s most accomplished role, then, is in what is without doubt one of the greatest comedy shows of all time…for its first 3 seasons at least. But regardless of its revival’s undeniable decline in quality, Arnett depicts arguably the best character on the show, and certainly my favourite.
George Oscar “Gob” Bluth, simply put, is an idiot. But he is a loveable idiot, and Arnett played a huge part in making him so, carefully straddling the lines of ignorance, greed and selfishness without making Gob (phonetically pronounced “Jobe”, for those of you who haven’t seen the show) a distracting annoyance. We revelled in his utter failures as a father, son, brother, boyfriend and magician. In fact, the only magic he ever truly evoked was of the comedic variety. Rarely have we rooted for a protagonist’s failure so often, but only because the results were always so damn hilarious!
Writers, producers and directors deserve an enormous amount of credit for bringing the character to life, but all would have been for naught had they cast the wrong actor in the role, and because of this Arnett was, and still is, an indispensable part of the show, or what is left of it at least.
Arrested Development’s decline was in some ways inevitable, as many of the cast members found great levels of success following the show’s premature cancellation, consequently maintaining chaotic schedules, and thus writers had to find ways around these issues, which ultimately was to keep the bulk of their stories separate.
For me, it didn’t work. The whole cast brought their A-games, but some characters, like Jason Bateman’s Michael, were criminally mischaracterised in the revival, doing away with the subtle narcissism that made his character so engaging, in favour of explicit and uninspired douchery.
Conversely, in spite of all the issues with scheduling and misguided writing, Gob never lost his edge, with his segments being the equivalent of a Tyrion chapter in A Song of Ice and Fire (and that’s a huge compliment, for anyone who has neither read the books nor seen Game of Thrones). Arnett, of course, was in typical form to deliver some of the season’s biggest laughs, being the one to remind viewers of the days of yore when the show was not just at its own peak, but indeed the peak of television comedy as a whole.
What are your favourite Will Arnett roles? Leave a comment below.