written by Omar Castillon (@omar_castillon)
From Mork, to Mrs. Doubtfire, to a grown up Peter Pan and even the comedic styling of a mystical creature named Genie (modeled after his likeness) Robin Williams played a wide variety of characters in the world of cinema.
As much as he is known for roles in dramatic movies like Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, personally as a kid who grew up in the 90s, Robin Williams dominated a lot of my childhood memories.
For the purpose of staying with the geek culture, I’m going to talk about several movies (particularly from the 90s) that solidify my enjoyment of Williams’ style in cinema and some fun facts as well as the very real issue of depression.
The first one I want to talk about is Hook. Talk about never wanting to grow up. Unfortunately the great Peter Pan from the adventurous world of Neverland is stuck in the real world as someone who is the complete opposite of his persona, a lawyer. In a twist of fate, Captain Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his kids and it is up to Peter, the lost boys and Tinkerbell to save his children. The twist of course is that Peter has to remember how to become the Peter Pan we all know from the children’s book/ the original Disney animated feature from 1953. This was one of those films that truly sparked my imagination since it involved pirates, sword choreography and what some of us do on a regular basis, revel in youthfulness. Williams was such an active personality in the film that at the time when I watched it, I wanted to see more of Williams. I especially loved the fight scene he has with Captain Hook’s crew. From the cut out of the sail to the over-the-top backflip he does to get into position to fight off single handedly the entire crew. It’s a set piece that makes Peter Pan a badass more so than he already was.
Next is one of the more profound characters we 90s kids enjoyed seeing on screen or rather hearing on screen in the form of an animated Genie. Aladdin was single handedly the most memorable of the Disney Renaissance films next to The Lion King. I remember on Saturday mornings my tiny hands would have a grip on the big box VHS copy of Aladdin ready to pop into the VCR player in order to get my fix. Sure there was a plot involving a thief and a princess and the famous “A Whole New World” song. My reason for rewatching was Robin Williams. When Genie pops up out of the magic lamp and gives a thunderous voice announcing his exit from the lamp, we are left thinking things are about to get real bad for Aladdin, but then he is jokey and pulls references from the times to lighten the humor. Hell he made the humor possible with Aladdin. The musical number “Friend Like Me” was more memorable than the previously mentioned song. Genie carried the story and gave Aladdin some heart especially at the end when Aladdin releases Genie from his confinement in the magic lamp and is free. I cared more for their friendship rather than Aladdin trying to save Princess Jasmine. My emotions were tugged when Aladdin let his friend go. Now that’s a solid bromance. It sucks that Disney has yet to release a bluray edition of Aladdin since it is long overdue for fans of the film including myself. Get your act together Disney!
The following year, Williams starred in a film that involved an old comedic concept with a twist. The cross-dressing comedy Mrs. Doubtfire dealt with Williams’ character Daniel Hillard having to dress up as a nanny in order to spend time with his kids after a nasty divorce from his wife Miranda (played by Sally Field). The character is unique in that it deals with the unemployment aspect of the voice acting business and the hardship that follows trying to find work as well as balance being a devoted father. Of course he has to go to extreme measures after he learns that his wife is going to hire a nanny and calls his brother Frank, a makeup artist, in order to become the Scottish nanny Mrs. Doubtfire. What sticks out for me in this film is the crazy situations that the character Williams plays gets into. One in particular is the scene where he goes from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire trying to cover his tracks and juggling two characters at once was just impressive from a creative point of view. His versatility of being such a memorable character with the right intensions of wanting to be with his kids is rare to see coming from the father’s point of view. Sure Daniel was still a child at heart when he lost custody of his children and yes it seemed serendipitous for him to be discovered by the TV CEO after he was having fun with the old children’s program set, but it was all meant to push forward with the character. You feel great after he gets his own show and Miranda decides to grant him open custody of his kids. You want Mrs. Doubtfire/Daniel to evolve into a responsible parent for his kids.
At last the cherry on top for kids in the 90s and Robin Williams is the imaginative efforts of Jumanji. Holy hell did this film solidify how crazy a board game and a grizzly Robin Williams can be together. There was even a time that I had the actual board game only to realize it wasn’t the same experience as it was in the film with the animals coming to life and danger of rolling the dice (duh). Jumanji is like the Jurassic Park of board game movies (is that even a genre?) in that the two kids Peter (played by Bradley Pierce) and Judy (played by Kirsten Dunst) discover the board game in their new house which used to be the home of Alan Parrish (played by Williams) after they hear the rumbling sounds of tribal drums. The more Judy and Peter hear the noise, they go and look for the game only to find out the board game has magical powers and freaks both of the kids out when Alan jumps out after being trapped in the game for many years in order to corral a lion that appeared in their house. The rest of the movie is filled with crazy special effects that have aged but it’s that thrill of Alan, Judy and Peter trying to win the game in order to stop the insanity of wild rhinoceroses running amuck, a persistent hunter named Van Pelt (played by Jonathan Hyde) and to just be good old fashioned normal for once in Alan’s life. Williams stuck out as, again, somebody that had kept his child at heart mentality with a huge hint of survival tactics that have kept him alive for so long in the world of Jumanji.
From this point onward, Williams would star in another Disney flick Flubber as well as earning his Academy Award for best supporting actor in Good Will Hunting. 1997 was the turning point more so for Williams to move on to other dramatic roles. Sure he did Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Birdcage and Good Morning, Vietnam to name a few before Good Will Hunting, but it was that film where Williams would lean for both dramatic and comedic roles. Once the 2000s hit, that’s where we got to see a darker side of Robin Williams in the form of a creepy one-hour photo lab employee stalking the Yorkin family. This was a complete departure from the more kid friendly roles that he was in before. He even played opposite Al Pacino in the American remake of Insomnia directed by Christopher Nolan as a suspected murderer. Not only these roles but also really dark comedies like Death To Smoochy about rival kids TV stars. It wasn’t until mid way through the 2000s when Williams starred in lighter roles like RV and Happy Feet. One of the more memorable roles in recent time is his portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum films. Here it was just freaky seeing someone look almost exactly like the real deal. Robin Williams was Teddy Roosevelt and he was freaking awesome portraying him.
Williams was also known for being quite the geek when it came to video games and even anime oddly enough. There is a clip in the film One Hour Photo when Jakob Yorkin (played by Dylan Smith) runs into Seymour Parrish (played by Williams) holding a Neon Genesis Evangelion figure. Fun fact about the figure, it was part of Williams’ personal collection.
One big geek point though is the naming of his daughter Zelda Rae Williams. Her name is based off the same character Zelda from The Legend Of Zelda. There are even a couple of commercials dedicated to the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time with both Zelda and Robin Williams. He ends one of the commercials saying that both Zeldas are pretty magical. At the time of the release, it was sweet to see that father-daughter interaction. Now it is bitter sweet and heartbreaking.
Williams died Monday August 11, 2014. The cause is more than anybody can handle since it was suicide. For many years, Williams battled with drug addiction and alcoholism. This along with depression led to his eventual demise that is a hard pill to swallow after years of entertaining millions of people around the world. The fact that Williams was recently in rehab to try and cope with his alcoholism and his depression seemed like he was really trying to help himself. But depression is a terrible beast. Even Williams’ sense of humor was not enough to push away the demons that he had inside. There is a Letterman interview in which he mentions that his stand-up and comedy shows were a way to cope with those demons. He said it was better than therapy from a psychiatrist. One of the more gut wrenching moments on the other hand is an episode of the TV show Louie in which Williams and Louis CK attend the funeral of a comedy club owner. They go on an adventure tracing back to the spots the former owner used to hangout. Both Williams and Louis CK are dumbfounded by the impact the owner had on the people around him since they were the only two people attending his burial. At the end of the episode there is an ominous interaction between the two comedians where one says that they promise to go to their funeral if either of them dies. Looking back at that scene, this was the point where it was troubling to see Williams in such a dark place.
Depression is awful. Everyone has had a grim day once in a while, but it’s different when you don’t know why you’re depressed. I have personally battled with depression a few years ago to the point that yeah it gets into your mind that the only way out is to commit suicide whether it was a bullet to the head or cutting or even hanging one’s self. It’s not that I didn’t have a supporting family or even friends that can distract or even steer away from such feelings, but it’s just one of those things that neither family nor friends can help. Depression led to anger towards myself and pure disgust of being a part of something helpful. You just want to shut out people and deal with it on your own because you are afraid to speak up or afraid to ask for help. It wasn’t until after four years of severe depression that I finally looked for help in the form of my university psychologist. It takes time to face some of those personal demons and to bring a sense of closure and even a fresher way of seeing the world. Take into consideration your family and friends when depression hits. Take into consideration the traumatizing effect taking your life is for those people that you have touched and cared for. They won’t give up on you and know that you aren’t alone.
Robin Williams was a fighter. It’s just unfortunate that the fight was a loss to himself, his family and the millions of fans that wanted to enjoy more of what Williams had to offer in his later years. Oh Captain, My Captain, may you rest in peace.
ED NOTE: While the circumstances surrounding his death are indeed sad, it goes to show that regardless of personal success, wealth, or recognition; you are not immune to depression. If you feel trapped, lost, alone... please reach out and talk to someone, if not a friend try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call their toll free number:
Your life is worth it