Who Should Narrate the Next Nature Doc? Wrong Answers Only.
From President Obama to Kevin Costner, celebs are lending their voices to outdoor documentaries. Who would you choose to narrate yours?
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
A few times a year, a new documentary film about the outdoors appears on our favorite streaming services, purporting to explore volcanoes, or the U.S. National Parks, Mount Everest, or some other natural wonder in a groundbreaking manner. In addition to dizzying drone angles and super slow-motion footage, these projects all share a common quality: a celebrity narrator.
President Obama did one, so did Oprah and actors Jeremy Irons, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, Sandra Oh, Meryl Streep, and Queen Latifah (among many others). Michael B. Jordan and Kevin Costner both joined the narration ranks this year. Morgan Freeman has done so many that he’s probably lost count.
The proliferation of celeb voiceovers begs the question: Who should narrate the next one? While the rational, down-to-earth answer is likely “whomever is available,” we’re inclined to nominate more creative—and less pragmatic—options.
Over the years, football and baseball announcer Joe Buck has weathered more than his fair share of criticism. Some find him biased, unexpressive, and monotone. For the record, he won me over with his call of the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, but to the haters still out there, I propose that he may be better served narrating nature-docs. Take one of his most criticized moments: when he called Randy Moss’s innocuous fake-mooning of a 2005 Green Bay crowd “a disgusting act.” This comment would make much more sense applied to, say, a leech swallowing a worm. And if you find nature-watching boring, try sitting through a 3-hour baseball game! Buck has developed the patience to guide us through a predator slowly stalking its prey, and he’ll be ready with quips and facts to keep us entertained (“we saw this hawk grab a rodent from 60 yards during warmups”). Even if he still gets the usual complaints (“Joe Buck is clearly rooting for the lions!“), at least he’ll introduce some much-needed controversy to the genre. —Jonathan Ver Steegh, digital production manager
Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers
Who better than the dark-minded, chaos-loving Louise Belcher of Bob’s Burgers to tell us how some obscure fish from the depths of the ocean stalks its prey? Voiced by Kristen Schaal, nine-year-old Louise’s unique helium-laced timbre would keep audiences rapt, and her sardonic sense of humor would lend itself well to describing the brutal realities of the animal kingdom.
-Maren Larsen, podcast producer
Marcel the Shell
The problem with nature documentary narration is one of perspective. I want gonzo journalism. I want an inside scoop. Who better than a shell to tell me about the wildest marine species, or the geological history of the desert Southwest—which used to be a shallow sea? Voiced by comedian Jenny Slate, Marcel is humble, charming, and earnest. Marcel knows what it’s like to try and hack it as a non-human inhabitant of this planet we’re destroying. I’d like to hear what he has to say. —Abbie Barronian, Outside senior editor
OK—I realize that the obscure 80s jazz singer Shooby Taylor is not a celebrity, and alas, he is also dead (RIP), both of which disqualify him from actually narrating a cool film about whales or whatever. Shooby was a novelty act, no doubt, and his scat singing attempted to replicate the sound of a jazz trumpet. His voice is so off-putting and bizarre that, at some point, it becomes beautifully hilarious. I beg you to watch this clip and listen to his greatest hits here and then tell me you wouldn’t want to hear Shooby, mid-song, describe the hunting tactics of a majestic Peregrine falcon. The eagle’s large eyes spot the prairie dog and—bim, soo-di-lee dee-buh-lah-bay diddle-ay doat-und vee-bah—he takes flight and circles the rodent. —Frederick Dreier, articles editor
Perhaps you are familiar with The Room, that Z-list masterpiece of dramatic schlock that’s inspired as many midnight showings as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Aside from a couple of cameos here and there, the movie’s director and star Tommy Wiseau has mostly been eating off the notoriety of that film in the 19 years since its release. But I respectfully submit that Wiseau’s chaotic energy and unpredictable delivery—one minute scenery-chewing, the next inappropriately blasé—would be a perfect pairing for the natural world, where the lines between predator and prey are often fuzzy and the roles can be recast in a fraction of a second. Imagine late-night documentary screenings at your local independent theater, everyone dressed up as their favorite animal and shouting along to the best parts of Tommy W’s narration (“Oh hi shark”). I’d get in line for tickets right now. —Adam Roy, Backpacker executive editor
Dennis Haysbert, the Voice of Allstate Insurance
There is no better voice of god than this man, who, after a quick google search, is none other than 68-year-old Dennis Dexter Haysbert. This man’s voice sounds like room-temperature butter on a homemade sourdough toast (the kind from before the pandemic). He is home, comfort, and warmth. I would trust this man to guide me up Everest in a bathing suit. He can do no wrong. So, if wants to lull me into sweet informational bliss by rattling off some nature facts while I sink slowly into the folds of my couch, tell me where to sign. —Sierra Shafer, Ski editor-in-chief