Voice-over work for major animated movies was once the domain of trained, vocally distinctive actors. But in the last decade, the work has been overtaken by brand-name Hollywood stars used to drawing grown-up audiences.

Among animation studios, Pixar and Disney have done their best to avoid this trend. Kids in the Hall vet Dave Foley is among a short list of actors, including Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille), Brent Burtt (WALL-E), and Kelly Macdonald (Brave), who have carried the studios’ movies on the strength of voice talent alone. After the runaway success of Toy Story, Pixar chose Foley to lead A Bug’s Life, and he did his part to save the fledging studio from the dreaded sophomore slump.

“It’s been an ongoing relationship,” says Foley of his Pixar experience. “The company has changed a lot since A Bug’s Life. They’ve got a newer, huge campus. But their approach to moviemaking is the same: constant refinement, tearing things apart and rebuilding to follow the best idea - no matter how much work it takes.”

Foley has returned to animation for Disney / Pixar’s Monsters University, the studio’s first prequel, and monsters-university-insert.jpga funnier, more ambitious movie than its predecessor Monsters, Inc.. Foley plays Terry (with a Y), one half of a two-headed monster (attached to Sean Hayes’ Terri with an I) and fraternity brother who helps lead Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) to academic excellence.

Asked to pick a favourite Disney / Pixar project in the intervening years, Foley struggles: “It would be hard to ... Pixar has so far failed to make a bad movie, I haven’t had a bad time watching one. Maybe (key) moments — the first acts of Up, or WALL-E ... those are exceptional moments in film history.”

Despite incredible advancements in computer animation in the past 15 years, Foley says that Pixar’s approach to filmmaking has never favoured shortcuts. Speaking of improvisation in the booth, he says: “They’ve never shied away from it, even for A Bug’s Life, if something came out of a voice session that they really liked but it meant bringing in other actors to re-record their own parts. Even partially animated stuff could get thrown out. So the freedom was always there for the actors, because they gave it to us.”

He recalls his first audition for A Bug’s Life, an experience that perhaps foreshadowed Pixar’s increasing emphasis on story construction: “I went in and (director) John (Lasseter) acted out the entire movie for me beforehand, from start to finish.”

While the movie’s G rating and college / fraternity setting might seem incongruous, Monsters University wisely avoids an excess of risque jokes and more overt references to movies like Animal House. Besides, Foley had no particular experience in college or NSFW anecdotes to draw from.

“I dropped out of high school!" he says. "So my only experience with fraternities was performing on campuses with Kids in the Hall. Maybe if a frat like (the movie’s nerd clique) Oozma Kappa existed, I’d be in it, but I’d never fit in with (typical) frat boys.”

Despite the Kids in the Hall troupe having answered fan calls for a reunion in 2010 with the CBC miniseries Death Comes to Town, anticipation for more material continues.

“For the last year we’ve been trying to figure out what to do next, whether it’s another movie ... I’d love to do another miniseries," says Foley. "I had a lot of fun with Death Comes to Town. And all the guys will be making appearances on a sitcom I’m doing now. That will give us time to think about the next project.”

Monsters University opens everywhere today via Walt Disney Studios Canada.

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