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As some of you may have already heard, voice actress Russi Taylor has passed away. And as a lifelong fan of her work and the studio where she made the biggest impact, Disney, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t pay my respects to this legend.
Ms. Taylor’s career has lasted a fulfilling 30 years. In that time her voice has popped up in some of my favorite cartoons from the 80s and 90s including Muppet Babies and The Critic. She brought many of Bart Simpson’s classmates to life – particularly Martin, Uter and twins Sherri and Terri – and made Springfield Elementary’s fourth grade a more colorful place for it. But nowhere has she made a bigger impact than at Disney. In fact, Ms. Taylor was the only one of the current Fab Five to ever meet Walt Disney. She came across him one day at Disneyland when she was a girl, and when he asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said, “I want to work for you!” Walt replied with an optimistic “Okay!” Little did he know that would wind up coming true.
Kids like me who grew up with the Disney Afternoon can instantly point to her as the voice of Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby in the original DuckTales. Up until that point Donald’s nephews were played by Clarence Nash, who gave them the same gravelly quacks as their uncle. Taylor’s performance marked the first time the boys were given some distinction from Donald. On retrospect their personalities don’t stand out like they do in the reboot, but Taylor’s vocals give them some youthful innocence and playfulness that makes them actually sound like children instead of just mini-Donald clones. It was the standard by which I initially judged the new cast of DuckTales. The fact that the crew of the reboot got her to reprise her role in a fashion for the Christmas episode where she plays a teenage Donald shows how much respect and love they had for her.
But undoubtedly her biggest contribution to the Disney canon is playing Minnie Mouse. It’s no big secret that she was married to Wayne Allwine, Mickey’s voice actor from the late 70’s up until his passing. Their dynamic gave the couple they played onscreen that extra layer of sweetness and authenticity. And just as Mr. Allwine was my Mickey (apart from Walt Disney), Ms. Taylor was my Minnie. Minnie’s had several voice actresses over the decades (even Walt Disney played her at one point) but Russi Taylor’s acting is part of what transformed Minnie from a flat distaff counterpart/damsel in distress into a sassy, stylish partner with a cool head on her shoulders. Starting with the delightfully cheesy 80’s special Totally Minnie and going into House of Mouse and the current slew of made-for-tv shorts, Minnie evolved into a character in her own right, and Russi was there through it all. And honestly, the first thought I had when I heard the news of her death was the biggest consolation I can take from this is that she and Wayne are now reunited.
This passing is another devastating loss to the animation community, but I’d honestly be more upset if it weren’t for the fact that I’m still recovering from a much more personal bereavement; this past week I had to say goodbye to Tigger, my cat of nineteen (yes, nineteen) years. I never thought in such a short time I’d be mourning both a cat and a mouse. Ms. Taylor once said that she never wanted to be famous, that the characters she played were famous and that was good enough for her. I think it’s safe to say that in the end both came true, and it wouldn’t have happened without such a talented, wonderful woman.
Rest In Peace, Russi Taylor.