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Completely Unrelated: Advice for Actresses in Animated Films

Relax; I know it's April 1, but I'm not going to try to fool you again. (Cue the "CSI: Miami" opening credits.) What we have here is your basic example of what we mean by completely unrelated.

As the father of a five-year-old, I am quite familiar with the Pixar and DreamWorks oeuvres and that familiarity has led me to a conclusion, to which I shall turn following an introductory word of explanation. We begin at the beginning . . . with Jessica Rabbit.

Jessica, you may recall, wasn't bad; she was just drawn that way . . . but, more to the point, she sounded that way, inasmuch as she was given voice by Kathleen Turner in 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

Turner was at or near the peak of her popularity at that point, having been introduced to the moviegoing public in 1981's "Body Heat" and become famous through such films as "Romancing the Stone," "Crimes of Passion," "Prizzi's Honor," "The Jewel of the Nile," and "Peggy Sue Got Married." Even such less celebrated efforts as "The Man With Two Brains," "A Breed Apart," and "Switching Channels" made it clear that she had star power, due largely to the fact that, well, she was smoking hot.

Playing Jessica Rabbit did nothing to diminish Turner's reputation in that regard. She remained hot at least through 1989, in the otherwise overrated "The War of the Roses" (which, in my opinion, deserves far less credit as a dark comedy from that period than "Death Becomes Her"), and arguably as late as 1991, when she was the lone highlight of "V.I. Warshawski."

When taking on the role of Jessica Rabbit, Kathleen Turner established what was to become the rule; viz.: an actress should never accept a role in an animated film in which she provides the voice to a cartoon character who is hotter than she is.

Another iconic '80s actress, Holly Hunter, knew the rule and abided by it. As Helen Parr in "The Incredibles," the star of "Raising Arizona" and "Broadcast News" took up the challenge of playing a superhero-turned-mother-of-three, but Elastigirl mirrored that whole cute spunky Southern thing that had served Hunter so well throughout her career.

Cameron Diaz was neither as wise nor as fortunate. Diaz, who looked great in 1994's "The Mask" and (much like Marisa Tomei after "My Cousin Vinny") has spent the rest of her career receiving the benefit of the doubt about her looks based upon a favorable first impression, gets more credit than she deserves for her physical appeal, as became apparent to anyone who saw her standing next to Demi Moore on a beach in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and realized that the older actress (by a full decade) was by far the better-looking of the two.

Diaz should have learned from the shrewd career moves of Moore, who did not allow herself to be overshadowed by her 1996 animated roles as the exotic Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and as the bleach-blonde Dallas Grimes in "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" because she played those parts only at the tail end of a four-year run in which she had starred in "Indecent Proposal," "Disclosure," "The Scarlet Letter," and "Striptease," at least two of which diminished her reputation as an actress but none of which detracted from her image as a babe.

Cameron Diaz, by contrast, made the poor choice of accepting the role of Fiona in the "Shrek" movies. Granted, she was sharper than her character's green-skinned ogre persona, but let's face it . . . the human version of her princess character looks better than Diaz has in anything she's done since the first thing she did.

The latest offender is Renee Zellweger, whose principal purpose as an actress has always seemed to me to be to lend to "Jerry Maguire" the air of incredibility---Renee Zellweger over Kelly Preston? really? really?---that cost Tom Cruise's last pre-crazy movie the Best Picture Oscar it deserved.

Zellweger's latest acting turn has been to provide the voice for Vanessa Bloome, the florist heroine of Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie," who looks a little something like this:

Fortunately, Zellweger persists in making movies about chubby British gals who keep diaries and get starry-eyed over Hugh Grant, so it is highly unlikely that I will ever again have to see her in a live-action film. Her movies so totally fit the "chick flick" stereotype that it is hard to believe they aren't intended as parodies, but, as long as she continues to play Bridget Jones, you could put everyone in the picture in Auburn apparel and it wouldn't make me any less likely to see it.

Nevertheless, you have to ask yourself, "If I ever again see Renee Zellweger in a movie that isn't a cartoon, won't I find myself wishing that they'd digitally erased her and replaced her with Vanessa?" If a great-looking actress like Kristin Davis wants to lend her voice to the title role in the animated "Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends," she's not doing herself any harm, but Zellweger ought to know better.

The moral of the story is a simple one. Actresses shouldn't allow the animated damsels they portray in computer-generated motion pictures to outshine them in appearance. Those who do are setting themselves up for being remembered for how much better they looked when you weren't actually looking at them. I'm no expert, but, in an industry that puts a premium on physical attractiveness, that seems like an egregiously ill-considered career move.

Go 'Dawgs! (That is not intended as an insult to the appearance of any of the actresses mentioned above, incidentally.)