When you’ve worked in the animation business as long as I have you know there will always be characters who will explode off the screen. These are characters that capture the hearts of the audience and you can’t imagine a time when they didn’t exist. Such was a character introduced to audiences many years ago in the Disney animated feature film, “Aladdin.”
Naturally, I had heard about the work being done on the animated feature film and I even paid a visit to the Glendale animation facility during production. Actually, I arrived at a rather bad time. It was a time when the film was not going well and many changes were being made. Hardly a surprise to this old timer. Such was the story of my life and career in the animation business. However, there was one bright spot, and a very bright spot it was. Comedic actor Robin Williams had been selected to do the voice of the Genie in the animated film. Better yet, Eric Goldberg would be bringing the cartoon character to life. I do not exaggerate when I say it was a match made in heaven. Suddenly, with each iteration we realized something magical was happening. From storyboards to story reel. From rough sketches to full animation, the character of the Genie practically blew off the screen. Robin Williams’ performance was inspired and master animator, Eric Goldberg captured that special magic in his inspired sketches. What we saw on screen was quite frankly - jaw-dropping. It had been a long time since anyone had seen Disney animation like this and test audiences were blown away.
Not long ago, I sat in the theater audience as a rather subdued Robin Williams accepted his Disney Legend award. I confess I wanted the gifted actor to suddenly burst into one of his usual manic, comic routines. But, now his comments were restrained and understated. He accepted the award with the usual twinkle in his eye but I detected a certain sadness in the actor who always made me smile. I know little about the actor’s personal life or the demons he fought. I only know that he brought joy to millions and after all is said and done - you honestly can’t do a whole lot better than that. Robin Williams will be remembered for the many roles he played both on the small and large screen and the wonderful characters he created. However, I’ll always remember Robin Williams as the Genie. The marvelous character who was finally granted his freedom and no longer captive inside the lamp. I can only hope that Robin Williams has found his freedom as well.