I started this Monday night, the instant I heard the news of Robin Williams’ death. His was the first celebrity death that really hurt deep down. Before this week, news of a celebrity’s passing was always surface-deep, a fleeting thought of “Oh, that’s sad. I really liked him.” This was a gut punch.
If I had to pick a mascot of my childhood, it would be Robin Williams. He lent his voice to two great cartoon roles that my quote-loving child brain latched onto (much to my family’s dismay): Batty from Ferngully and, of course, Genie from Aladdin. It’s a tribute to Robin Williams’ genius that the main reason Genie in Return of Jafar falls flat is not because of Dan Castellaneta ‘s voice acting (which we know from the Simpsons is phenomenal, and he did a really good job in the Aladdin TV show) but because of all the madcap improvising Robin Williams did. The constant fire of gags in Aladdin and the King of Thieves returned, in my opinion, at the same time Robin Williams did.
It’s more than just his animated work, however. One of my all-time favorite movies was Hook, which took a story I rather disliked (and a Disney movie I merely tolerate) and turned it into an unbelievable classic. I still quote that movie to this day, and it’s one of those movies I always suggest when we need something in the background when playing games and whatnot (it’s up there with Clue and Spaceballs.) In Robin Williams’ hands, Peter Pan became not just a self-absorbed punk kid but a real, vibrant, multifaceted character.
Robin did more movies over the years, but it’s those childhood movies of mine that really stuck with me. Robin Williams is my happy thought. And I will miss him.
A short note about the art… It was definitely intentional that “Oh, to be free” makes up the lamp. I think there’s a certain poignant duality there that I liked, even though the letters didn’t lend themselves to be lamp-ified. It was likewise intentional that the quote at the very center is “All joking aside, you really oughtta be yourself”, and that it is front and center and by far the biggest of the quotes font-wise. I think that’s something that a lot of comedians struggle with: self-image and depression. It’s easy to hide behind a mask of humor and your heart to be breaking inside. It’s the “tears of a clown” idea. I can imagine a kid with such a wild, manic approach to life, constantly doing impressions and cracking jokes earned a lot of scolding in school and from family to settle down, to behave, to stop being so silly. That kind of thing takes a toll on a kid, and it’s something that can stick with you for all of your life. Speaking as someone with ADHD who loved being the center of attention as a kid, I can relate. I even sang “Friend Like Me” in an oversized Genie T-shirt in a third grade talent show and was told by my teacher afterward that I should have planned out my routine better and that I was just too disorganized in my performance. That really hurt. I had memorized the entire song, word for word, and those lyrics aren’t exactly easy and they fly at a manic pace. It took me many years of trying to fit in, trying to be what I thought people wanted me to be until I realized that “you really oughtta be yourself.”
Obligatory copyright notice: Aladdin, Genie and picture text are copyright Disney. This is a work of fan art. No copyright infringement is intended.