The Genie in Aladdin is one of the more iconic characters in the history of Disney's animation studio. That's in large part thanks to the performance of Robin Williams, which proved to be a comedic goldmine. In the early days of production, Disney courted Robin for the role, and even went so far as to animate the character to one of his stand-up routines. Ultimately, Robin agreed to take the part.
What did Disney and Robin Williams agree to?
Robin agreed to voice the Genie, but only on the condition that the Genie not be a dominant part of the marketing around the movie. Disney also agreed that they wouldn't use the fact that Robin was in the cast as a selling point for the film. Robin wasn't interested in selling anything, and that's where he ultimately came into conflict with the studio.
That thread didn’t even touch on some of the craziest 😂 He was so regularly in the fashion police, we could’ve wallpapered his closet pic.twitter.com/vSssdOjNhb— Zelda Williams (@zeldawilliams) March 31, 2020
Ultimately, Robin felt that Disney had not held up their end of the bargain. Although they had run all of the marketing materials past his wife, the actor felt that the studio had used him and his character to sell the movie, even though the Genie is a supporting character in the film. Disney also argued that they had never agreed to anything in writing, which was true, but ultimately soured the relationship between Robin and the studio.
Disney tried to make it up to Robin Williams.
After Disney reneged on their deal with Robin, they tried to make it up to the actor by gifting him a Picasso painting worth more than $1 million. Robin began to criticize Disney openly in interviews, explaining why he was upset with the studio.
“You realize when you work for Disney why the mouse has only four fingers,” he said at the time. “Because he can’t pick up a check.”
In the sequel to the film, which went directly to home video, Robin refused to reprise his role as the Genie. Instead, Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer Simpson, took over the role. Robin did return to the role for the third film, though, which suggests that tensions may have eventually cooled between the actor and the studio.
A tribute to Robin Williams by Eric Goldberg (Supervising Animator of Genie): pic.twitter.com/hZOiwNMZgz— Disney (@Disney) August 12, 2014
'Aladdin' began popularizing the trend of celebrities in animated movies.
Before Aladdin, there were famous people performing voice over roles, but it wasn't nearly as common as it is today. The Genie was one of the first examples of a studio using a celebrity name to market an animated movie. Now, that trend has flourished, with a variety of famous actors taking on virtually every role in an animated production, even though kids don't typically care whether their cartoon characters are voiced by famous actors.
It seems like one of the things that Robin was most concerned about was exactly what happened. He worried that celebrities would infect the world of voice acting, meaning that people who work as voice actors would get less work. Instead, famous people are playing roles that in the past would have gone to people who specialize in acting for animated films.