Lynnwood native Tom McGrath arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, in 2018. (Associated Press)

Lynnwood native Tom McGrath arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, in 2018. (Associated Press)

Lynnwood native is the voice of Skipper in ‘Madagascar’

Meadowdale grad Tom McGrath is an animator, director and screenwriter with A-list credits on his resume.

You may know him best as the voice of Skipper, the leader of the penguins in “Madagascar.”

Tom McGrath, 55, is a Hollywood voice actor, animator, film director and screenwriter with A-list credits to his name. Of course, there’s “Madagascar” and its sequels. But he also worked on “Shrek the Third,” “Puss in Boots,” “The Boss Baby” and “Megamind.” Stuff that makes hundreds of millions at the box office.

He’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Alec Baldwin, Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Ron Howard is one of his mentors. Benedict Cumberbatch, praised for voicing Smaug the dragon in “The Hobbit” trilogy, has complimented McGrath on his voice acting.

Oh, also: He hails from Lynnwood.

McGrath is much more than the voice of Skipper in the “Madagascar” franchise. He also is credited as a director, writer and creator of the movies, and is a creative consultant on the television show.

The penguin squad of Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico from the Central Park Zoo perform various paramilitary missions in the films and TV series. (Fun fact: McGrath named Kowalski after a Meadowdale High School classmate.) McGrath voiced Skipper’s catchphrases: “Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.” “You didn’t see anything.” “Cute and cuddly, boys. Cute and cuddly.”

McGrath not only directed the hit animated film “Madagascar” but also voiced Skipper, the leader of a comical squad of commando penguins. (Paramount Pictures)

McGrath not only directed the hit animated film “Madagascar” but also voiced Skipper, the leader of a comical squad of commando penguins. (Paramount Pictures)

The thing is, voicing Skipper was never the plan. McGrath lent his voice to the blue-eyed penguin during test animations, but he actually envisioned veteran actor Robert Stack (“The Untouchables,” “Unsolved Mysteries”) as the leader of the comical squad of commando penguins. Alas, Stack died before he could be hired.

All was not lost. McGrath had done such a good job channeling Stack’s on-screen persona that the CEO of DreamWorks Animation offered him the part.

“I love being a goofball,” said McGrath, who now lives in Burbank, California. “I have to say, when you hear your voice … booming throughout the theater, it’s really an existential experience.”

TOP: Voice actors (from left) Conrad Vernon, Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights and Chris Miller record dialogue for “Madagascar.” BOTTOM: The penguin squad includes Kowlaski (left), named for one of McGrath’s high school classmates. (Associated Press)

TOP: Voice actors (from left) Conrad Vernon, Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights and Chris Miller record dialogue for “Madagascar.” BOTTOM: The penguin squad includes Kowlaski (left), named for one of McGrath’s high school classmates. (Associated Press)

Growing up in Lynnwood, McGrath was all about putting on a show. Magic tricks. Parody films made on Super 8 film and projected on the neighbor’s house. Stop-motion shorts. Pranks at Meadowdale High School.

One of his pranks at Meadowdale? He built a 12-foot-long submarine replica and sneaked it into the high school’s biology pond. His brother, John, of Edmonds, still laughs at that one.

It’s just one of the McGrath brothers’ fond memories of growing up in south Snohomish County.

As children, they built a home movie theater in which they projected cartoon reels with a View-Master. Each screening they put on for their parents was complete with a red carpet and tickets. (Another fun fact: The entire family walks the red carpet at Tom’s Hollywood premieres.)

One particularly memorable McGrath Brothers production was a Super 8 spoof of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — theirs was called “Cheap Encounters of the Cheapest Kind.”

John, now 56, also remembers watching Tom work for hours on stop-motion animation using action figures and his own drawings.

“He always had projects going on,” John McGrath said. “From an early age, he was a really talented artist. He could draw exceptionally well.”

Tom McGrath studied industrial design at the University of Washington in 1985 before enrolling in the character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1986. He graduated in 1990.

When he found out that a Cal Arts degree could lead to a career with Disney, McGrath made a portfolio of his work and drove the 1,137 miles to Los Angeles. The admissions office was floored by McGrath’s obvious talent. Needless to say, McGrath was accepted.

“I guess they looked at him like, ‘Are you kidding?’ ” John McGrath said. “Tom was floored. We were all floored.”

New to Hollywood, McGrath worked mainly as a storyboard artist and animator for both television and film: “Cool World,” starring Brad Pitt; the popular series “The Ren and Stimpy Show;” “Space Jam,” starring Michael Jordan; the live-action film “Cats & Dogs” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” starring Jim Carrey.

Tom McGrath (far right) poses with colleagues (from left) writer-director Eric Darnell, actors John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch, and director Simon J. Smith at a 2014 event in San Diego. (Associated Press)

Tom McGrath (far right) poses with colleagues (from left) writer-director Eric Darnell, actors John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch, and director Simon J. Smith at a 2014 event in San Diego. (Associated Press)

McGrath’s still at it. Right now he’s working on “The Boss Baby 2.”

He said “The Boss Baby” has the most meaning for him — and not because it received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The film, starring Alec Baldwin (about a cuteness war between babies and puppies), is based on McGrath’s relationship with his brother.

No matter how many times they fought growing up, McGrath said, John and Tom never stopped loving each other.

“That’s family in a nutshell,” he said. “We can fight like cats and dogs, but there’s no one closer who can defend you.”

In making “The Boss Baby,” “My whole goal was to make John cry at the end,” Tom McGrath said.

Yep, his brother cried.

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com, @ByEvanThompson.

Tom McGrath’s career

In film

“The Thing What Lurked in the Tub” (1988)

“Cool World” (1992)

“Space Jam” (1996)

“Hercules and Xena — The Animated Movie: The Battle for Mount Olympus” (1998)

“Herd” (1999)

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)

“Cats & Dogs” (2001)

“Madagascar” (2005)

“Flushed Away” (2006)

“Shrek the Third” (2007)

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” (2008)

“Monster vs. Aliens” (2009)

“Megamind” (2010)

“Puss in Boots” (2011)

“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (2012)

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (2014)

“Penguins of Madagascar” (2014)

“The Boss Baby” (2017)

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” (2017)

“The Boss Baby 2” (2021)

In TV

“The Ren & Stimpy Show” (1994-1996)

“KaBlam!” (1996)

“The Penguins of Madagascar” (2008-2015)

“Merry Madagascar” (2009)

“Madly Madagascar” (2013)

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

A guitarist keeps rhythm during Lovely Color’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Black Lab in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No matter what music you’re into, Fisherman’s Village has a hook for you

From folk to psychedelic pop to hip-hop, here’s a quick guide to artists you might want to check out in downtown Everett.

Patterson Hood (left) and Mike Cooley perform with Drive-By Truckers at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in 2018. (Ben Flanagan / AL.com)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Take in the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in downtown Everett and get a close-up look at unique aircraft at Paine Field.

Paeonia Itoh Hybrids "Lolliepop" in the spring garden
Bushy with big blooms, Itohs blend the best of herbaceous, tree peonies

A bit spendy, this sought-after hybrid, with its multi-colored flowers and lush foliage, offers plenty of bang for your buck.

A child gets some assistance dancing during Narrow Tarot’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Lucky Dime in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fisherman’s Village 2024 casts a wide musical net in Everett

From Allen Stone to a local musician showcase at Zamarama Gallery, get ready for it to get loud downtown.

Gnomes, per lore, are more than garden decor. This guy’s ready to travel.

In fact, his atypical attributes — a blue cap and total lack of garden tools — make this pottery gnome all the more valuable.

Primula denticulata is native to the Himalaya Mountains of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma, and China. The habitat is wet meadows from 5,000 feet to 14,500 feet. (Richie Steffen/Great Plant Picks)
Great Plant Pick: Drumstick primrose

What: This primrose, also known as Primula denticulata, is quite like a… Continue reading

How to save water both inside and — with summer coming — outside your house

It’s always a good idea to limit your water usage, but it is especially important now, amid a statewide drought.

Spring cleaning shouldn’t hurt our planet. Here’s how you can clean green

From baking soda and dryer balls to recycling and composting, it’s easy to get the job done without creating waste.

Road Scholar downgrades traveler from business to economy

While booking Maureen Kelleher on a different airline, British Airways also downgraded her. Is she entitled to a refund?

With history, markets and beer, life is good in Germany’s biggest village

Walking through Munich, you’ll understand why it is consistently voted one of Germany’s most livable cities.

What should parents do about a noisy child disturbing others in public?

Although there’s no single right answer, here are some guidelines parents might consider when out with their youngsters.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.