Pokémon: The First Movie initially wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the voice of Ash, but the producer ultimately decided against it. Pokémon: The First Movie was released in Japan in 1998 and marked the first theatrical Pokémon film ever made. A separate English-language version was released in the United States with Norman Grossfeld serving as a producer. The English dubbed version boasted a different voice acting cast, and also a slightly adapted script from the Japanese version. Veronica Taylor ended up being chosen for the role of Ash Ketchum in the English version.
At the time that this film was being made, DiCaprio had attained international recognition for his role in Titanic in 1997. While he had an early breakthrough in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, his role as Jack Dawson in Titanic marked his transformation into a true Hollywood superstar. To this day, he is one of the most well-known and highest-paid actors in the world. Throughout the course of his illustrious career, he has mainly stuck to live-action film roles. In fact, he has yet to lend his voice to an animated film. However, it turns out he may have once been close to doing so.
As reported by CBR, in an episode of The Big Hit Show podcast, it came to light that DiCaprio was initially wanted for the voice of Ash in Pokémon: The First Movie. While searching for a studio to distribute the film, one studio pitched the idea of having DiCaprio voice Ash to Grossfeld. The studio even seemed pretty confident and adamant that they could get DiCaprio to do it. However, as the podcast host, Alex Pappademas, explained, Grossfeld turned down the idea. Check out Pappademas‘ statement below:
Whether he [DiCaprio] could have been enticed to play Ash in this movie is unclear, but either way it wouldn’t have mattered because Norman says he said no to DiCaprio in that meeting. Because, as Norman saw it, having somebody else do the voice would have been weird for the kids who’d grown accustomed to Ash sounding the way he did in the show. Pokémon had become so big so quickly that the addition of Leonardo DiCaprio–a person you generally want involved in a movie if you’re making one, and he’s available– would have taken away from it. Norman ended up making a distribution deal with Warner Bros.
Grossfeld was right that Pokémon was already a huge, established franchise by itself. It truly didn’t need to rely on a big-time actor like DiCaprio to draw audiences in. Meanwhile, DiCaprio’s voice is vastly different from what Ash has sounded like over the decades. Ash has actually always been portrayed by women in English-language versions, because he has a typically high, feminine voice. While DiCaprio’s voice might’ve been familiar to adult audiences, it certainly would’ve thrown children off to have Ash’s voice changed so drastically. Hence, even though DiCaprio was a huge star at the time, it’s easy to see why Grossfeld passed on the idea.
It is impossible to tell if DiCaprio ever would’ve even agreed to play Ash. However, the fact that it was pitched is certainly amusing. Meanwhile, with the recent recasting of Buzz Lightyear in Pixar’s Lightyear and the news that Chris Pratt will voice Mario in an animated film, Grossfeld’s argument against pursuing DiCaprio’s voice for Ash is especially interesting. It truly raises the question of whether it’s more beneficial to get a big-time actor who carries a lot of clout or to, perhaps, use a lesser-known actor – or stick with an original voice-actor – to remain true to the character. Ultimately, Pokémon: The First Movie chose the option that worked best for them, turning down one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, to ensure kids would get an Ash that they felt like they already knew and loved.
Source: The Big Hit Show (via CBR)