Robin Williams almost didn’t make ‘Aladdin,’ and a generation of children is grateful that he did


Disney will air “Aladdin” as a tribute to Robin WIlliams this weekend. (Walt Disney Pictures)

As tributes large and small to the late Robin Williams continue to multiply, Disney announced one of its own Thursday. The company will air “Aladdin,” the 1992 animated film in which Williams voiced the unforgettably boisterous Genie, on its cable channels this weekend and early Monday.

The role became one of Williams’s most recognized and best loved. Yet, he almost didn’t make the movie because he had deep philosophical differences with Disney and its sweeping commercialism. Williams didn’t want to become a party to selling Disney-licensed bric-a-brac.

“The one thing I said was I will do the voice,” Williams told New York magazine. “I’m doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don’t want to sell anything — as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.”

When the studio initially approached him for the role, he sent the script back unread once he learned it was a Disney movie. The studio eventually drew him in after they sent him some animation set to one of his stand-up acts and promised not to use his voice to market the movie. They also agreed not to make Genie more than 25 percent of the posters for the movie, and Williams agreed to do the movie for union scale — at the time, $75,000. Unfortunately, none of those promises were enshrined in a contract, and when Disney realized the goldmine it had in Williams’s performance, they were quickly abandoned.

Williams fell out with the studio when executives didn’t hold up their end of the bargain and used his voice to market cross-promotional items anyway. They reportedly tried to make nice by sending Williams a Picasso then

Robin Williams graces the cover of Time in a photo from 2007. (Photo by Nigel Parry / Time Inc.)
Robin Williams graces a commemorative issue of Time, out Aug. 15, in a photo from 2007. (Photo by Nigel Parry / Time Inc.)

valued at $1 million. It didn’t work, and Williams refused to work on the sequel. He was replaced by Dan Castellaneta, the voice of  Homer Simpson. When former studio head Joe Roth took over in 1994, he publicly apologized for the way the studio had burned Williams, both in the press and by not honoring the initial agreement, and Williams agreed to do the third “Aladdin” installment. Castallaneta had already recorded the part, but Disney booted him anyway.

The New Yorker’s Ian Crouch offers a perfect summation of what made “Aladdin” and Genie so appealing to the generation who grew up to be millennials:

The Genie was a perfect container for Williams’s manic energy and allusive impersonation skills. His first appearance onscreen couldn’t have been less subtle or more exciting: he shoots out of a magic lamp, accompanied by pink smoke and fireworks. This was for me, at the age of eight, a moment of personal cinematic history, and it felt that way even then; it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. 

Here are the air times for “Aladdin”:

Saturday, Aug. 16 (9:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel
Sunday, Aug. 17 (11:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD
Sunday, Aug. 17 (6:00 p.m., ET/PT)
Monday, Aug. 18 (11:00 a.m., ET/PT) on Disney Junior

You can also watch the trailer for “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” which opens Dec. 19. Williams reprised his role of president Teddy Roosevelt. It is one of four unreleased films Williams completed before he died.

RELATED: 

On Broadway, ‘Aladdin’ cast sings in honor of Robin Williams

Celebrities post touching tributes to Robin Williams

Robin Williams late-night tributes: Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and Conan O’Brien share memories

Emmy Awards plan Robin Williams tribute

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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