I grew up watching ‘Aladdin‘.
It was on this set of video cassettes which also housed ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, ‘The Little Mermaid‘, ‘The Jungle Book‘, and ‘101 Dalmations‘. And all those movies.. their sequences, their songs, their jokes.. they’re just about etched in my memory (as well as my sister’s; she probably loved those movies even more than I did). Then, of course, there were the Christmas Special movies that aired… of which one of my top picks (at that age) was ‘Hook‘.
And thus I came to recognize Robin Williams: in my mind, he was the only child-like man who could have brought Pan to life 1. Did I know, at the time, that Robin Williams also voiced Genie? Not in the slightest. All I knew was that as much as I enjoyed watching these movies, there was someone behind the screen who enjoyed doing those voices and that dialogue even more. Channeling an inner child who was really having fun during all of this.
A few years after my incessant watching of ‘Aladdin‘, one of my more distinct memories is of my dad and my uncle taking me out with them – fitting the “older” kid that I was then – for a Grown-Up Outing. We caught the train to VT, made our way to Regal Cinemas, and walked into a show of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire‘. At the time, the places where you could catch a Hollywood movie were mostly relegated to that triumvirate near VT, so this was a real Trip and a Big Deal (for me anyway). ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘ remains a movie that I can happily sit through to this day (I actually skipped through it recently). I have a distinct memory of acting out the entire movie with my cousins later that week, probably barely doing the genius of Williams’ comedy any justice at all.
The point of this correlation? I grew up watching Robin Williams and his movies. I also have vague memories of watching ‘Jumanji‘ (another recent watch: 90s CGI at its worst), ‘Patch Adams‘, ‘Flubber’, ‘Bicentennial Man‘, and ‘Robots‘, among others (thanks, cable TV). In hindsight, I dare say that this set probably barely hold up as 90s movies, though Williams is clearly (still) enjoying himself in them.
Skip forward a few years more and I eventually discovered my inner movie nerd and got down to the more serious Hollywood fare. And this was a Robin Williams I didn’t know could exist. ‘Insomnia‘, ‘Dead Poets Society‘ 2,’Good Will Hunting‘. Dark, deep, inspiring.. and not even the slightest hint of the cackling funny man I had grown up watching.
Very recently, I watched ‘Toys‘ and ‘Popeye‘. ‘Toys‘ is likely one of the weirder movies Williams ever did in his career, and doesn’t quite work… maybe because the character falls in between the dark and light extremes that Williams could do so well. But ‘Popeye‘ is as pitch-perfect a recreation of the cartoon as it gets.. basically propelled by RW in his début role, nailing every little mannerism perfectly. While it’s a complete co-incidence that things came in such a full circle (honest!), I cannot help but reflect on how much more I might have loved ‘Popeye‘ as a kid — I “required” less from my movies. More obviously, watching 80s movies as an adult in 2014 is a very different experience from watching these movies as a kid in the 80s. But still, there was something there… something about the little bon mots Williams muttered under his breath that hooked in me as an adult, but he was clearly playing the part for the sake of the kiddie audience.
And so, reading about RW’s death this past week hit a lot closer to home than I expected. It’s a little hard to believe such a constant fixture of my childhood has passed on. Not just that a fine talent has met a sad end, but more selfishly, it made me feel like my own childhood was somehow retreating even more into the mists of time. A vague disappearing act is slowly being enacted because the actor who brought those parts to life is no more. I’m sure watching ‘Aladdin‘ or ‘Hook‘ will always trigger something in me.. but should one really stay fixated in the past, even just to relive that ‘being-a-kid’ feeling? Which reminds me of how much time has passed since I was a child.. among other things, well, I have a child now.
A little ‘un who’s just beginning to discover so many things around her.
Hopefully, among them she’ll happen upon something with the Robin Williams brand of humor, zaniness, and child-like fun that I grew up with.
Which, even years later, never fails to remind you of that inner child you can so easily forget.
1. In retrospect, ‘Hook‘ does not hold up as well as it should. But I am always transported back to being a kid watching Williams re-learn how to fly. Just so much fun.
2. Incidentally, this movie is more than a little tarnished by the fact that I kept thinking how badly ‘Mohabbatein‘ riffed off it.