• Golden Globe Awards

1993: Robin Williams, A True Comic Genius

In 1993, an actor got an award for an invisible role. If that sounds highly unusual, it isn’t, considering who the actor was: the incomparable Robin Williams.
His role, of course, was the Genie in Disney’s animated movie Aladdin. Escaping from a bottle in “the Cave of the Wonders,” he starts his unforgettable, shape-shifting, showstopper introduction with a quip: “Ten thousand years will give you such a crick in the neck!” Off he then goes, alternating through voice impressions with rapid-fire speed.

How extraordinary and even history-making Williams’s voice acting was, describes the film’s co-director, veteran Disney animator Ron Clements, in a 2021 interview with Variety: “On the first day of recording we had script pages written in Robin’s improv style, and storyboards illustrating some of the visual metamorphosing. He started out recording the script as written a few times, then took off in a multitude of directions. The original scene was meant to be about three minutes long. For each take, Robin would add and embellish, so by the 25th (and last) take, the scene had expanded to about 20 minutes long! And he was consistently hilarious.”
“At one point,” Clements continues, “we had to remove the Genie’s lead animator, Eric Goldberg, from the recording stage because his uncontrollable laughter was messing up takes. Robin’s energy was incredible. By the end of that first four-hour session, Robin was dripping with sweat, completely drained. To this day, it’s one of the most incredible vocal sessions I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a very fond memory of watching a true comic genius at work.”

Williams would add half a dozen more four-hour sessions of similar intensity. His performance changed the way animated films were both made and perceived. His satirizing of public personalities was not necessarily geared toward kids, the traditional audience of animation. His introduction of an adult perspective had been almost anathema before. But with Williams, it worked.
Until Aladdin, it was also common practice to hire mostly voice actors. But Williams changed that too. Following his success, A-listers were hired for animation productions and featured prominently in their subsequent marketing, including Tom Hanks in Toy Story, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in Shrek, Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo, and Jerry Seinfeld in Bee Movie.

In 1993, Golden Globe voters faced a dilemma. They recognized how creative and skillful this performance was. But could they reward an actor behind an animated character? Finally, a compromise was found: Williams was honored with a Special Achievement Award, the only honorific of its kind in the history of the Golden Globes.
In addition to his Special Achievement Award, Williams received 10 competitive Golden Globes nominations in his career. Four times he won, beginning in 1979 with his breakthrough role in the TV series Mork & Mindy, followed by Good Morning, Vietnam (1988), The Fisher King (1992), and Mrs. Doubtfire (1994). In 2005, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association also honored Williams with the Cecil B. deMille Award.