Disney Needed a Brainless Rooster for ‘Moana,’ So It Called Alan Tudyk
‘Moana’ rewrite meant bringing in Hollywood voice-over maestro
The Wall Street Journal by Adam Thompson Updated Dec. 8, 2016
Late in the process of making the Disney animated film “Moana,” the filmmakers had a problem. The title character’s companion, a rooster named Heihei, was too clever. They rewrote him as what one of the directors, Ron Clements, has called possibly “the dumbest character in Disney history.”
Before long, Alan Tudyk was hard at work in a sound studio. In a behind-the-scenes video published by Disney, Mr. Tudyk can be seen making 10 seconds of dingbat clucking noises into a microphone before turning to the camera with a sheepish expression.
“I went to Juilliard,” he said.
Though he has 99 acting credits on the industry database IMDb, Mr. Tudyk, 45 years old, isn’t always recognized on the street. His normal speaking voice doesn’t ring any bells either. Since playing the voice of the villainous videogame character King Candy in Disney’s 2012 film “Wreck-It Ralph,” however, he has become something of a good-luck charm for Walt Disney Animation Studios, appearing in all of its features since then.
Alan Tudyk has been the voice of several Disney characters. Photo: Michael Tran/Getty Images
Mr. Tudyk played an arrogant internet billionaire in “Big Hero 6,” the shifty Duke of Weselton in “Frozen” and, as an in-joke to “Frozen” fans, Duke Weaselton, a larcenous weasel, in this year’s “Zootopia.” In the coming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” he plays, with the help of motion-capture technology, the sarcastic droid K-2SO, who speaks with high English diction.
“I hide in the movies,” Mr. Tudyk said. “You have to wait til the credits to figure out who I was.”
Producers say he has an astounding ability with accents and improvisation, while giving his characters an emotional core.
Researching chicken videos on YouTube put Mr. Tudyk in the right frame of mind for the Heihei role. (Interestingly, a Google search of the phrase “how to cluck like a chicken” turns up 3.3 million results.) “Find a ‘cluck’ over here, find a ‘pee-caw’ from over here and build your own rooster,” he said.
Unlike many voice-over gigs, there were no lines for Mr. Tudyk to practice with “Moana.” For each scene, he says the filmmakers would explain the circumstances and what kind of reaction it required.
Disney won’t disclose the budget of “Moana,” but major animated films typically run upward of $150 million. In the movie, which has topped the U.S. box office in its first two weeks, Heihei is an avian stowaway on the princess Moana’s quest to rescue her island from environmental disaster.
The rooster needs constant attention to keep from walking off Moana’s craft or eating rocks instead of chicken feed. When Heihei helps save the day near the end, he never even realizes it.
“It’s amazing to me that they’ve got four hours’ worth of me making chicken sounds,” said Mr. Tudyk, who took less than half a day to record his part. “How do you choose from Take One to Take Six, which ‘pee-cawwwwww’ really sells it?”
After watching a clip of Heihei’s middle-of-the-ocean moment, Richard Feldman, Juilliard’s acting director of its drama division—who taught Mr. Tudyk in the mid-1990s—says there is no shame in being a voice-over specialist. The prestigious school’s graduates should be equally adept at “Hamlet” and chicken noises. In fact, he says, the school makes young actors do exercises in which they portray animals.
“Listening to that scream he does,” Mr. Feldman said, “that’s challenging to do without hurting yourself.”
“Moana” had seemed to be the end of Mr. Tudyk’s Disney streak. All of the speaking parts were reserved for actors of South Pacific origin. After the decision was made to dumb the rooster down, however, producer Osnat Shurer said Mr. Tudyk was the only actor considered. “There was this moment of, ‘I know, how about Alan as the rooster? Alan is up for anything,’” she says.
Mr. Tudyk portrays K-2SO, left, in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." Photo: Lucasfilm-Disney/Associated Press
In New York overseeing music being recorded for the film, she made it a point to dial into his recording session for the entertainment value. When asked how he approached the role, Mr. Tudyk said, “You just save all the big screams for the end and play around with the rest.”
As he awaits his next rooster-mimicking engagement, Mr. Tudyk’s career continues along his unusual arc. He recently did voice work for the Disney XD animated series “The Adventures of Puss in Boots.” He plays a recurring character, Uli, a man with goat legs and a German accent.
Moana, 2016 ©Walt Disney Studios
Heihei (pronounced Hey Hey). If you don’t know, “Moana” means ‘ocean, or wide expanse of water’ in Maori and Hawaiian. That makes sense and is useful in understanding the character. “Heihei” (sometimes Hei Hei) in the same language, means ‘disturbance’ or an ‘interruption from the norm.’ That’s a big clue to his personality but also his place in the story.
Well, I get annoyed that chickens are always portrayed as stupid. I spent part of my youth on an egg farm and have had several pet chickens. I would never put them in a class with Border Collies, but many are actually quite clever.
Hei Hei the chicken was no mental giant, but he has a namesake in one of the Weatherwax Collies of Lassie fame. The dog in question was named Hey Hey.
I don't know how bright he was (is?) but he looks dumb as a bag of hammers. He has a very short cameo in the 2005 movie, "Lassie."
He is quite overshadowed by his two co-stars, Carter, Dakota, and Mason.
Mason was the star in the movie.. Along with Dakota & Carter (from Texas) to play the stunt dogs. Mason was flown to Los Angeles to train for 3 months and the cast was flown to Ireland, for 4 months. All the collies were trained by Mathilde De Cagny. The movie was a big success and Mason was the star, playing at least 80% of the movie. (for more on this dog, go HERE.)