robin williamsWhen the news broke that Robin Williams had taken his own life, at the age of 63, it left the world reeling. This was a man whose boundless exuberance and seemingly unlimited creativity could turn the biggest sourpuss into a sloppy bundle of uncontrollable giggles. (His more dramatic turns left their own sort of impact, and were, perhaps, closer to the man Williams really was than the jittery funnyman.) For those of us that grew up at a certain time (and many more after us), our first exposure to Williams wasn't by seeing him perform at all -- it was by hearing his words come out of a giant, glowing blue Genie, in Disney's immortal animated classic "Aladdin."

This might be the role that Williams is best remembered for, just because it's the one that reaches the widest possible audience -- little kids and grandmothers alike can sing along to "Friend Like Me" (especially now that the film has been transformed, as if by magic, into a boisterous Broadway show) and everyone can find sympathy in a character who feels trapped by the limitations the outside world has placed upon them. According to "Disney War," James B. Stewart's account of Disney's highly fraught (and just as successful) Michael Eisner period, Williams agreed to do "Aladdin" because he was so thankful to the company for allowing him to do "Dead Poets Society," a small, artful film that had given Williams's career a shot in the arm. Williams was paid $500 a day for his services (in a deal brokered by Hollywood super-agent and future Disney exec Michael Ovitz). As Roger Ebert said when the film was released, "Williams and animation were born for one another." The film became one of the most successful animated features of all time. Eisner thanked Williams with a Picasso.

And the man who responsible for translating Williams's endless riffing and pop culture shout-outs into actual, honest-to-god animation was Eric Goldberg, an animation supervisor for the Genie. Goldberg still works at Disney and recently helped secure an Oscar nomination for "Get a Horse," the studio's brilliant 2D/3D hybrid that ran in front of "Frozen" last winter. Williams's frantic delivery meant that Goldberg had to somehow animate faster, which isn't exactly an easy feat. But Goldberg developed the Genie's rubbery physicality and rendered the character in the curlicue style of New York cartoonist Al Hirschfeld (Goldberg would push this aesthetic to the limit in his wonderful "Rhapsody in Blue" section of "Fantasia 2000"). Williams breathed life into the Genie; Goldberg made him sing.

We reached out to Goldberg last night and he got back to us. If you don't already have a hanky handy, now might be the right time to reach for one. Here's what Goldberg had to say:

"I am beyond devastated. I cannot express how influential and important Robin was, and will continue to be, to me and countless other animation artists. Robin gave those of us who worked on the Genie so much humor, inspiration, and just sheer delight, that we were always spoiled for choice whenever we came back from a recording session. Like the Genie, Robin's immense talent could not be contained in the lamp. I think we all knew, as the world does now, if there was ever a person who was tailor-made for the medium of animation, it was Robin."

Goldberg went on:

"We have lost not just a great voice, though. We have lost a warm, human, miraculous person whose numerous and amazing talents will continue to inspire people for generations upon generations."

Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

CATEGORIES Movies