He was more than just a comedian to many. Robin could harness a ball of energy so huge that you could feel like the whole room would explode with not just his presence but with laughter. Robin Williams was unexpected, funny, engaging but also heartwarming when he needed to be. With the untimely passing, I admit that I’m in the batch of those who will dearly miss such a comic legend. Rather than concentrate on how and why he is gone, I would to instead ask how did he become such a big name and why does Robin Williams mean so much to us.
Well, for those who saw him in his early years, they do remember his antics as the insane alien Mork from Ork in the 1970’s CBS sitcom Mork and Mindy. This was Robin at his finest acting like a little kid but in a grown man’s body. Mork was sent down to Earth because his happy spirit didn’t sit well with the other Orkians and thus is plopped on Earth to study how different it is and to keep him far away from his alien home world. Robin’s work on Mork and Mindy is truly an important place to begin. His character Mork, again, was like a grown up kid learning things for the first time. He can’t control his emotions, he’s innocent and doesn’t know who or what a true friend is but at times tries to be mature. It truly showcased the out of control and zany comedy that Robin would later place in his future roles. A notable moment is his taking soda for the first time and going on a sugar hype so huge it goes beyond the typical running around and bouncing off the walls that a kid would do.
It wouldn’t be long till he landed his first starting role in Popeye as the title character. While I have mixed thoughts about this odd musical, you can tell Robin was at his best trying to emulate the rough and tough attitude the muscle bound sailor contained. Sure, he it was hard to understand the dialogue he spoke (then again, Popeye did mutter a lot in the cartoons) but Robin carried through. He later went on to mention how much hell it was but when you see the movie, you can tell he really tried hard to bring such a difficult character to life. He muttered, sang and danced his way through. Even if the movie wasn’t a big hit, it didn’t mean the end for his film career.
It wouldn’t be till after a small selection of films that Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poet Society would launch him into a household name. This time, he balanced the amount of drama and comedy needed to bring such difficult roles to life. Most notable is the role of Professor Adrian Cronauer in Dead Poet Society who is rebellious but for a reason. To teach kids to go out and beyond the standard curriculum of teaching English and being free with what they do. Not limit themselves to what is handed in front of them but learn to be more passionate of their work and control of this own life. This is probably one of the more notable roles in Robin’s career.
As the 1990’s pressed on, he became somewhere between a bankable star and still a name many could recognize. Even for small roles like a mime instructor in Shakes the Clown or the King of the Moon in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he still manged to bring his madcap comedy to the big screen treating small parts as notable highlights. Moviegoers and fans will probably remember him better as the Genie in Aladdin which brought notice of his mad style further as his high improve skills and zany wit gave such lift to a hand drawn creation that anyone could take and make it something basic. Robin owns this role with the same style he provided before with the usual juvenile approach to Mork but far more out of control with the physical aspect of moving his voice around from comedic delivery and balancing the heart of the character who wishes to be unleashed from his lamp to experience freedom.
If I was to recommend some movies to check out to explore his talent, I would label these as the essentials of his work. While Aladdin being one, Hook brought on his ability to be dramatic for a family film. Taking on the task of being a child acting mature, Williams was able to bring the flare and whim of Peter Pan while also a side of the character we never saw. What would it be like if the boy who never grew up decided to? Sure its a predicable romp seeing Peter as a father whose a workaholic, but when you take into considering the change he has later, Peter has to learn to keep his innocent so his kids can experience the fun of being a kid. Robin is able to make that transition believable because we know the right points and times he can have fun with his comedic timing. It adds to the childish aspect of Peter in the second half as he starts to understand who he is and how to keep it rather be focusing on his career and being the stereotypical model of a cold-nosed adult bent on work and nothing more.
The Fisher King is another great choice seeing Robin acting as a crazy homeless New Yorker that had a good life but taken away by tragedy. His manic energy is fuel for when his character Henry is obsessed with a quest for a mythical artifact but warm up to him when we see how fragile and shy he is. But the bigger film that I believe left a bigger impact and is the jewel of his work is Mrs. Doubtfire. Seeing him play a father struggling to meet his kids and that father’s fake identity being a British nanny showcases how Robin is able to channel between two different characters. I’m sure a lot of people (even as we speak) are thinking of revisiting this one more and I wouldn’t be surprised. Robin Williams had a lot to work with here being a father that is trying to reconnect with his kids and acting as a false character that is trying to restore order and be the figure they need to keep control in the house after a divorce.
Even when you look pass the later films he did that where either hit or miss, Robin knew how to perform and add to a character avoiding him from being a one-dimensional being. He exploded and breathed so much life to the point you could believe the “loonyness” he gave or the innocent yet weak side of the character. He was never shy of knowing when to stop his manic power and knew when to control it and be calm. He is a wonderful human being and to see him gone is an unfortunate time. But I wish for readers out there to not think of the passing. But think of the fun you had with him. Regardless of a movie he did being good or bad, he still brought that manic energy that defined him from other standard comedians. He was one of a kind and his legacy of laughs will live on in all of us. Till then, this is Morg signing off…nanu, nanu Robin…nanu, nanu…