The magic behind Robin Williams’ ingenious Genie


While the world grieves the loss of Robin Williams, it’s worth taking one more look at a singular performance, his voice role as the Genie in Disney’s blockbuster “Aladdin.”

Wikipedia describes how it came to be—and almost didn’t:

[The directors] wrote the part of the Genie for Williams, and, when met with resistance, created a reel of Williams’ standup to animation of the Genie. When Williams watched the video, he “laughed his ass off” and agreed to do the project. 

…Williams came for voice recording sessions during breaks in the shooting of two other films he was starring in at the time, Hook and Toys. Unusual for an animated film, much of Williams’ dialogue was ad-libbed: for some scenes, Williams was given topics and dialogue suggestions, but allowed to improvise his lines. It was estimated that Williams improvised 52 characters. Eric Goldberg, the supervising animator for the Genie, then reviewed Williams’ recorded dialogue and selected the best gags and lines that his crew would create character animation to match.

The producers added many in-jokes and references to Disney’s previous works in the film, such as a “cameo appearance” from directors Clements and Musker and drawing some characters based on Disney workers. BeastSebastian from The Little Mermaid, and Pinocchio make brief appearances, and the wardrobe of the Genie at the end of the film—Goofy hat, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals—are a reference to a short film that Robin Williams did for the Disney/MGM Studios tour in the late 80s.

In gratitude for his success with the Disney/Touchstone film Good Morning, Vietnam, Robin Williams voiced the Genie for SAG scale pay ($75,000).

However, all was not sweetness and light for Williams and Disney. Read on. 

Meantime, you can check out the results of this unique collaboration below.

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Thinking about his remarkable career this morning, I realized that there are so few figures whose talents are just irreplaceable—people who put their own singular stamp on the work they do, and do it in such an extraordinary and indelible way, that you can only marvel, “There will never be another quite like that.”  There was only one Chaplin, one Sinatra, one Pavarotti, one Brando. And there was only one Robin Williams. It breaks the heart to realize a man with such gifts is gone—all that energy, imagination, exuberance and wonder gave so much to so many.

My wife and I prayed for him and his family last night. Our troubled world is a sadder place without him.

God bless him.

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