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Robin Williams' Best Animation Roles: His Top Performances as Voice Actor
On August 11, 2014 Robin Williams lost his battle with depression. The sudden news of his death has stunned the world and triggered an outpouring of grief and tributes.
The commentary has not simply been a response to his many achievements. For many people, Robin Williams was more than an award-winning actor, a laurelled comedian or their favorite voice actor. In his stand-up specials and TV appearances he could be endearingly open and honest about his own problems and viewers loved him for it. His audience really felt they got to know him as a close friend.
In the words of his wife, Susan Schneider: "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings."
In 1978, the unknown Robin Williams became an overnight TV sensation on Mork & Mindy playing Mork, an alien who comes to Earth to observe human behavior. In 1980 he makes the jump to the big screen in Popeye. In his role as Genie in the animated film Aladdin (1992), Robin Williams upped the ante for vocal performances in animated films, proving that actors illuminate a character with just a voice.
In animation movies and on his frequent appearances on the David Letterman Show, Robin Williams would astound audiences with his broad range of voices. Human, animal or alien, any language or accent, pouring out made-up words on the spot, nothing was beyond Robin Williams.
Much has and will be written about Robin Williams's formidable career as actor, but this hub focusses instead on his awesome performances as a voice actor. I assume most people will have seen Aladdin & Happy Feet, and honestly this hub would not be complete if I left them out, but I also wanted to point out a few lesser known animation movies that you really ought to check out if you haven't already. Enjoy!
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
In what was his first role as voice actor in an animated film, Robin Williams plays the mentally unstable Batty Koda who we learn escaped from an animal testing facility. He is depicted as a large headed Australian fruit bat with big yellow and red eyes, large ears, a pig-like nose and a clearly visible antenna in his head. Because of the antenna implanted by human scientists in his head, he often receives electric shocks.
In FernGully, a man finds himself among the magical inhabitants of a rainforest and learns of the consequences of human destruction as they fight to save their home, which is threatened by logging and a polluting force of destruction called Hexxus.
Robin Williams's amazing voicing performance of the Genie steals the show in Aladdin as he launches into one crazed improvised monologue after another, impersonating Elvis Presley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Nicholson and countless other celebrities. For many fans, this will in fact have been their first exposure to Robin Williams and thanks to his out-of-this-world performance, they would not forget him in a hurry.
A sultan gives his daughter a mere three days to find a husband. Distraught, she flees the palace and runs into the street-savvy Aladdin and enchants her with his cheerful ways. Aladdin ends up in a magic cave, finds a lantern, rubs it and unleashes, well... Robin Williams! We quickly forget all about the actual fairytale...
Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)
Robin Williams reprises his role as Genie in what is actually the third film in the Aladdin series. Originally, Dan Castellaneta (best known for voicing Homer from The Simpsons) had recorded all the dialogue of the Genie for this movie, as he had done in the previous sequel The Return of Jafar (1994). These recordings were shelved when a contract dispute between Robin Williams and Disney was finally resolved and he agreed to reprise his role as Genie.
In The King of Thieves, Aladdin is about to marry Princess Jasmine. Despite the presence and encouragement of his friends Genie, Carpet and Abu, he is fearful and anxious. He is most worried as to what kind of father he will be, having never known his own. When the big day finally arrives, the ceremony is thrown into chaos by the unexpected arrival of the 40 Thieves who are searching for the enchanted Hand of Midas, a charm that will turn all it touches into gold. Aladdin is drawn into a dangerous quest to stop the thieves... and find his long-lost father.
In a world entirely populated by mechanical beings, idealistic Rodney is considered a genius inventor. He dreams of meeting his idol, the master inventor Bigweld, and decides to move to the metropolis of Robot City, hoping to meet him and earn a position in his corporation. However, the new president Ratchet manages the company for profit with new parts only, leaving the old robots fated to become scrap in the mill of Ratchet's mother. On his journey to restore Bigweld to his rightful place in the company he encounters Cappy, a beautiful executive 'bot with whom Rodney is instantly smitten, the nefarious corporate tyrant Ratchet who locks horns with Rodney, and a group of misfit robots known as the Rusties, led by Fender and Piper Pinwheeler.
Robin Williams voices the whimsical and sometimes melodramatic Fender. He first appears when he obnoxiously tries to scam Rodney upon his arrival in Robot City, claiming that he must buy the photo he took of him for $50. The two of them later become friends.
Everyone's Hero (2006)
Yankee Iriving is the world's biggest New York Yankees fan. Unfortunately, he is also always the last one picked when the neighbourhood kids play in the sandlot. Yankee is sad and depressed until he runs into talking baseball Screwie. Things take a turn for the worse when his father, who happens to work at Yankee Stadium, is fired after Babe Ruth's baseball bat Darlin' is stolen during his shift in the 1932 World Series.
With the Yankee's World Series run on the line and his father's job to save, Yankee goes on a quest to recover the bat. He embarks on a wild cross-country chase as Yankee and Screwie attempt to outrun the thief and return Darlin' to Babe Ruth in time to win the World Series. Along the way, Yankee learns the importance of perseverance and the true meaning of friendship.
Robin Williams voices Napoleon Cross in Everyone's Hero, but strangely enough is uncredited despite having a very distinctive voice. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but the theory is that he didn't want to get paid by his dear friend Christopher Reeves in what ended up being the latter's last project.
Happy Feet (2006) & Happy Feet 2 (2011)
In the world of the emperor penguins there is only one thing that matters: the ability to sing the heart song and attract your soul mate. When Mumble is born without any ability whatsoever to sing, what's a penguin to do? He quickly finds out that he has an uncanny ability to dance and thus resorts to some fancy footwork by tap dancing his way into the heart of the one he loves. Derided by his peers and even scorned by the elder penguins for angering their deity, Mumble persevers in his quest for love.
Robin Williams again has a relatively minor part in this animation film, but makes up for it by voicing not one but two characters: Ramón and Lovelace.
Many actors reprise their roles in Happy Feet Two from the first film, including Robin Williams, Elijah Wood and Hugo Weaving.
Mumble and Gloria have started a family of their own and their young son Erik, like his father, is having difficulty finding his footing among his fellow emperor penguins. Reluctant to dance, Erik runs away and encounters The Mighty Sven - a penguin who can fly! The Master of Tap has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model. Meanwhile, a dire new threat thrusts their future in jeopardy. Just when it begins to look as if all hope is lost, Mumble brings together the penguin nations to put things right and dance the darkness away.