Following a poignant memoriam to the late Robin Williams at the Emmy Awards this week, Simone Lieban Levine looks back at fond memories of Williams’ best roles in children’s movies.
No list of films can perfectly give a glimpse into the career of the comic genius that was Robin Williams. At once hilarious and evocative, his performances delighted viewers of all ages. Having first been exposed to Williams’s acting while still in-utero, my mom claims my older sister was obsessed with Aladdin and FernGully since they first came out on VHS and that she was forced to watch them repeatedly during her pregnancy with me. I grew up tuned into his particular brand of humour, impeccable impressions and hilarious improvisations.
While it is sad that future generations will not be able to enjoy new films by the man who was such an integral part of so many childhoods, there is no doubt that Williams’ movies, both for children and adults will remain timeless classics to be enjoyed for years to come. Children will be captivated by titles such as Jumanji, Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook, while adults can lose themselves in iconic movies such as Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. Because Williams is considered such an integral part of so many childhoods, here are some picks for his top five movies for children.
5. Alan Parrish in Jumanji (1995)
In the late 1960s, Alan Parrish discovers a magical board game that has real-life consequences, including sucking him through a portal to a dangerous jungle until the next time a player rolls a five or an eight. 26 years later, two siblings rediscover the game and subsequently Alan, and the trio continue to play. While the CGI is pretty cheesy by today’s standards, Jumanji is a classic, but slightly scary for a children’s film. Although his character is more serious than most of his other roles in children’s movies, Williams brings his typical energy and talent to an incredibly cute story.
4. Batty Koda in FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
In this animated, environmentally-themed movie, Williams voices Batty, a hilarious but injured bat who recently escaped from an animal testing lab. The loveable sidekick of the movie’s fairy protagonist, Batty raps, does impressions, and tries to fight pollution personified in the form of the evil Hexxus, who is voiced by Tim Curry. Williams absolutely provides the comic relief in the movie, along with important lessons about acceptance of others and overcoming personal fears and limitations.
3. Peter Banning in Hook (1991)
Now a successful lawyer, Peter Pan (known as Peter Banning) has forgotten his years as leader of the Lost Boys. That is, until Captain Hook kidnaps his children and he is forced to return to Neverland to save them. Featuring a diverse and star-studded cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Maggie Smith, Hook is a touching story about family, parenthood, and growing up. Although the film is more scripted than most of his others, Williams brings the adult Peter Pan to life and expands on the world that most of our generation was exposed to in Disney’s version of Peter Pan.
2. Daniel Hillard/ Mrs. Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
After a sudden divorce in which his wife temporarily gains full custody of their children, Daniel Hillard dresses up as an elderly English nanny in order to spend time with his children. While the movie itself has several transphobic moments, after all it is a 90’s movie with a straight man dressing as a woman, Williams is absolutely hilarious as the down-on-his-luck Daniel and his elderly, feminine alter-ego, Mrs. Doubtfire.
Mrs. Doubtfire is not all fun and games though; underneath the layers of hilarity and creative improvisations are poignant messages about the meaning of family and the ability for a family and all its members to thrive despite (or because of) divorce. And unlike other movies featuring divorced parents, such as The Parent Trap and Liar Liar, it emphasises that parents do not have to get back together in order for a family to be functional and happy.
1. Genie in Aladdin (1992)
The genie in Aladdin is arguably Williams’s most famous role, at least for our generation. Complete with singing, impressions, and a personality so beautifully improvised that it got the movie disqualified for the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Academy Awards. Williams’s portrayal of genie is an iconic, hilarious and loveable character. As both the comic relief and the moral compass that keeps Aladdin grounded, the genie provides originality in a well-known story as well as a unique and interesting supporting character. While many Disney films have included a similar character and done it well – think Mushu from Mulan or Timon and Pumba from Lion King- it is safe to say that Williams’ genie is the best.