Upon agreeing to write this piece, I was as yet blissfully unaware of the passing of the great Robin Williams. That’s what happens when you decide to recklessly sleep while social media buzzes on. Countless articles have since cropped up focusing on the circumstances surrounding his death and his enduring struggle with depression.
For now, however, I would like to focus on his legacy and the remarkable performances he enriched our childhoods with. To journey through adolescence in the era of some his most memorable roles was truly a blessing. Kids these days just have the dying remains of Adam Sandler’s career.
Here are my personal top five:
5. Jack (1996)
Daring to take on an unusual role, Williams plays Jack Powell, a young boy with the appearance of a middle-aged man due to an abnormal aging disorder. If you haven’t seen Jack, it’s like a mix between Big and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In one of many dramatic ventures, Robin discards his mask of comedy to portray a young misfit, dubbed a freak by his fellow classmates, with remarkable vulnerability.
Although many critics blasted the film for its shaky plotline and their unwillingness to accept the comedian in a serious role, it has a universal message for its younger audience. It illuminates beautifully the feelings of being an outsider in a classroom where the teacher is your only friend.
‘You know, I just don’t shave for a day and I look like I’m fifty.’
Undoubtedly the best character from the animated classic, the Genie roared onto our screens in a cloud of smoke and speedy quips. Disney gave Robin free reign to express his creativity and essentially, be himself in a blue outfit. He ad-libbed his way into the voiceover hall of fame, creating nearly 16 hours of recorded material and paving a new platform for celebrity voiceover work, which has now become the norm for animated features. So high was the volume of his own comedic input that the adapted screenplay was not eligible to be considered for an Academy Award. Trying to put words into Robin William’s mouth when his are funnier must be like trying opening a door with a key made of jelly.
‘First, that fez and vest combo is much too third century. These patches. What are we trying to say? Beggar? No. Let’s work with me here.’
3. Jumanji (1995)
How do you know you’re truly a nineties kid? Robin Williams made you petrified of a board game. With orphaned kids as the heroes of the tale and a stampede of jungle animals through your hallway, Jumanji already has all the elements of a perfect kids movie. Williams is just the icing on the cake. As Alan Parrish, he nourished your wild childhood imagination and brought things, quite literally, to life. The comforting familiarity of his very nature makes him the ideal shepherd to Peter and Judy, encouraging them to summon courage in the face of danger.
‘I’ve seen things you’ve only seen in your nightmares. Things you can’t even imagine. Things you can’t even see… Afraid? You don’t even know what afraid is.’
2. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
In a show-stealing performance, Williams’ plays the dual role of Daniel Hillard and Euphegenia Doubtfire. The film accurately portrays the tragic reality of divorce and the extraneous lengths a father will go to, just to see his kids. It’s also an excuse to watch the hairiest man in Hollywood blossom into an English nanny.
Robin does what he does best and juggles tear-jerking sentiment with laugh-out-loud comedy. Whether you’re welling up at his court scene speech or wetting yourself at the cake face dripping off, this is arguably one of his finest roles. He also does a great impression of a hot dog.
‘Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth.’
1. Hook (1991)
Combine one of the most loved children’s tales with an equally loved actor and BANGARANG! Movie magic. Williams’ stuffy lawyer turned boyish adventurer is such a memorable character. His chemistry with his younger co-stars is undeniable, as they serve to retrieve the lost boy trapped inside a grown up’s body. With his twinkling eyes and innate childlike wonder, Robin is so perfectly cast for this role, it’s spellbinding. On screen and in real life, he inspired the inner Peter Pan in every child and grown-up alike. I want to pro-create just to pass on this gem to a fresh mind.
‘All you have to do is think one happy thought, and you’ll fly.’
Honourable Mention: What Dreams May Come (1998)
It’s not one of his most prolific roles, nor does it invite a younger audience, but Williams’ role as a dead man searching for his wife in the afterlife is one of the most poignant performances I have ever seen from an actor. The spectacularly colourful scene where he wanders through the meadows of heaven is a lasting image, and the first one I conjured up upon hearing of his demise.
‘After life there is more. The end is just the beginning.’