Adam Riske: I feel terrible about the passing of Robin Williams. I think that one of the aspects that made him divisive as a performer was that he always seemed to be wearing his heart on his sleeve. He was a very sympathetic actor even when he took on darker roles, such as in One Hour Photo or World's Greatest Dad. My favorite performance of Williams' (and one I'm sure many people will share) is that of Sean Maguire, the therapist trying to navigate Matt Damon's title character out of rocky waters in the terrific 1997 drama Good Will Hunting. The movie is great all around but Williams (in the role for which he won an Academy Award) is the heart and soul of the movie -- a broken man who can only heal himself by helping others. It's a sensitive, funny and moving performance. It's a real shame that his life ended so prematurely. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.
Hook as the first time my young mind was able to cogently identify a bad movie, it was a different Robin Williams vehicle released the very next year that enlightened my only slightly older mind as to how movies that are good came to be that way.
At 7 years old, animated kids' movies made up the overwhelming bulk of my film intake, which would have made it very easy for Aladdin to fall in line with the rest of the queue as generally enjoyable fare that appealed to me because there were bright colors, simple themes, catchy songs and readily identifiable jokes. But when I arrived home from the theater after seeing Aladdin, I knew something was different, and I immediately knew why.
The answer, as you can no doubt surmise, was the performance of Robin Williams as Genie. I’d seen any number of animated films with affable comic relief characters that served the purpose of leaving me entertained, only to be discarded into a nondescript pile of enjoyable memories. To ask me to say what I liked most about The Jungle Book’s Baloo, The Sword in the Stone’s Archimedes, The Little Mermaid’s Scuttle or any number of Disney jesters compared to one another would be an exercise in futility. But Williams’s Genie changed the game. There was such a persistent energy that was impossible to ignore, a commitment to the jokes and the songs that transcended anything I’d seen to that point. It was that point that I became appreciative of the craft of animated films in a way that was previously unimaginable to me. It was a flawless comedic exercise.
Maybe I still can’t even articulate the appeal 22 years later, but it surely has something to do with the fact that, much like the movie’s most iconic musical number, you wanted a friend like Genie. At the time, and now more than ever, I have always interpreted that sentiment as transcending beyond the fact that Genie could give you whatever you wanted. Sure, that’s what the song is about, but mostly I knew I wanted to surround myself with people who were loyal and supportive and could make me laugh with every breath they could muster.
I recently rewatched the movie and my amazement stands as firm as ever. I hesitate to say something so hokey, but the energy Williams brings to every scene is palpable. You can literally feel the timbre of the film ascend sharply every time Genie enters the frame and you miss him when he is gone. I guess that’s how I feel about the man behind Genie as well.
"It's not your fault." Over and over again. I cried. And sure, maybe my response was a mix of his performance and some personal bullshit baggage, but whatever. At that moment, I rethought the man who I previously only rolled my eyes at.
Mike: I was prepared to write something about how my favorite Robin Williams performance was from Good Will Hunting -- about how the scene in which Williams discusses his dead wife to Matt Damon, pointing out their idiosyncrasies, destroys me every time I see it. How at the time I saw it, his performance meant a lot to me and still does. I was prepared to go into more detail, but then my six-year old daughter walked up to the computer while I read another obituary. This one had pictures of Williams throughout the years, including one of the Genie, the larger-than-life character he voices for Disney’s Aladdin. Evie noticed the picture as she walked up and gasped excitedly, “Dad! The Genie!” She then asked me what I was reading and I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled something like, “Oh, it’s nothing,” and she moved on. Great parenting? Probably not, but I wasn’t prepared in that moment to explain why one of her favorite Disney characters was showing up in articles Daddy is reading. But that moment did, however, force me to rethink my answer. While there are no right or wrong answers to which is your favorite Williams movie and/or role, I think mine might actually be Aladdin. It’s a character that not only has brought joy over the years not just to me, but also my wife and now our two daughters. It’s a manic performance that manages to reach all of us in different ways. The Genie is important to my girls, therefore he’s important to me. As tragic as Robin Williams’ death is, the fact of the matter is he was suffering. And like the Genie at the end of Aladdin, I hope he’s now free.
Melissa Henderson: Is it weird to say that Robin Williams’ humour and craziness was a key part of my becoming who I am today? He showed us that singing doesn’t have to be strictly singing, it can be a showcase of who you are, LOUD, happy and with a touch of crazy insanity, all while carrying a tune in an animated film. One of the first songs I ever memorized was "Friend Like Me" in Aladdin, and as I listen to it now, it is so ingrained in me after all these years that I can still sing along with every inflection and “HA HA HA” that makes it so entertaining to both children and adults alike. Around the same time, the movie Hook was brought into our house, so we were able to annoy our Dad with not only our imitations of our favourite Genie quotes, but with the hundreds of one liners that still haunt my childhood memories (Ru-Fi-O!). He leaves behind a legacy of humour and incredible performances, but also a bittersweet feeling that what we saw on screen was more of a “comedic mask” than the real Robin Williams. You shall be forever missed and constantly revisited. RIP XOXO
Dead Again, and Jumanji.
Like with Paul Walker's death late last year, I find myself moved by the loss of Robin Williams more than I expected. It's more than just a life that's cut short or a family suffering a horrible loss. It's that Robin Williams was truly a special person. I made more than my share of jokes about his terrible movies and uncomfortable talk show appearances, but every person who has ever met or worked with him has said that he was truly one of the nicest, best people in Hollywood. He was supportive. He was sweet. He wanted to make people happy. He's a guy who made a ton of crappy movies, and he was often bad in them -- too broad and cloying and out of touch to really be funny. But when he was on, he was really on. His work as a dramatic actor was consistently terrific. He didn't make me laugh, but that's ok. I loved a lot of his non-comic performances. Plus, he made a whole lot of other people laugh. He brought joy into their lives. He meant something to them. To me. To all of us. In that way, he left the world better than he found it.