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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Robin Williams Movie Retrospective Decades: The 1990s (Part 2)

By Waiching Liu

Part 1 here

'Up, Up & Away'

If there is one thing about the 1980s insofar as Robin Williams's career goes, it is that his film choices in The World According To Garp, The Best of Times, Popeye, The Survivors, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society reflected a stage whereby Robin was experimenting with different avenues of work and he was still settling into his role as a movie star, after his success on TV on Mork & Mindy in 1978-1982. Up until Good Morning, Vietnam, he hadn't seen much progress or success, but right after 2 successive hits in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, which truly opened doors for Williams's career to flourish even further, after a decade of experimentation, diverse and left-field movie and character roles & choices, Williams decided to open himself up in the mainstream film scene. And with that, he aimed to appeal to a cross-generation of fans, & in particular garnering younger fans and family audiences, as well as recapturing that wacky sense of humour he'd originally brought to the role of Mork that became synonymous with viewers, but this time through his comedy films.   

He entered the start of the decade with a low-key comedy effort, Cadillac Man, which wasn't well-received, but his dramatic efforts once again flourished with Penny Marshall's medical offering, Awakenings. Williams's portrayal of the neurologist, Dr Malcolm Sayer, who is based on the British neurologist, Oliver Sacks, was so completely unlike his previous roles, as he is at his most restrained, without the hysterics and comical silliness one would usually expect from Robin Williams. With that, his performance was a revelation.           
Yet his career in the '90s really took off in 1991 when Robin played an adult Peter Pan & Peter Banning in the Steven Spielberg film, Hook, although he said he had to shed 20 lbs in weight for the role. Hook was the third release from Robin Williams and one that came after The Fisher King. The adaptation of the Peter Pan story was met with harsh & mixed reviews and criticism & thus, it didn't do as well in the U.S - but that didn't stop Hook from grossing over $300 million worldwide. With an all-star casting of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Bob Hoskins, even with the polarising views, it became a huge smash, nonetheless. Other subsequent movies that he appeared in the same year were Terry Gilliam's fantasy-based drama, The Fisher King, where Williams secured a Golden Globe, and a cameo in the Kenneth Branagh directed thriller, Dead Again.  

A year later saw two animated voice-over roles as the beloved Genie in Disney's successful, Aladdin, which also became the highest-grossing film of 1992, along with Robin winning a Golden Globe & Batty Koda in the not-so-successful eco-friendly, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and a starring role in the box office flop, Toys, which was directed by the same person who did Robin Williams' Good Morning, Vietnam, Barry Levinson. After a mixed 1992, Williams bounced back with the global cross-dressing comedy phenomenon that is Mrs Doubtfire in 1993, which amassed huge fanfare and became a favourite for even many non-fans of Robin Williams. He played a struggling actor & divorcee, who disguises himself as a Scottish nanny so that he can become closer to his children. The film also took advantage of Williams's hyper-kinetic improvisational comedy skills which he applied for the first time in a live-action movie, since 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, whilst also incorporating physical slapstick.  
1994 was a relatively quiet period for Williams, but a year later, he returned to the big screen with the fantasy adventure, Jumanji, which was another hit for him. He starred in comedies, the American remake of The Birdcage of 1996, based on the French comedy, La Cage Aux Folles, with Nathan Lane as his onscreen partner. The remake was well-received, whilst with Jack, the Tom Hanks 'Big' - like premise was pretty much slammed by critics. Robin Williams played a boy who ages 5 times faster, due to a chronic disease. 

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly voted Williams the funniest man alive. Film-wise saw the releases of Fathers' Day, another French remake in Les Compares with Billy Crystal as Robin Williams's straight man in the comedy farce about a mistaken case of 'who's the daddy?', as two men find out who is the biological father of a child, of whom belongs to a former girlfriend of theirs, that has gone missing. At first, Robin didn't want to do this film, but after some persuasion by his close friend, Billy Crystal, he eventually got on board. It was met with derision by critics, but I personally loved it. This is one of my absolute favourites of his and is yet another comedy effort wherein which Robin's physical and improvisational comedy skills are put to use. It is also a comedy that I think would have fared better, had it been released today, rather than back in 1997. 

In addition, there came the remake of Disney's Flubber, which was a hit, Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry and Good Will Hunting, which became both a critical and box office success. In Good Will Hunting, Robin finally secured his first, and only Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor as Sean Maguire. 

1998 and 1999 saw him wrap up this period with the saccharine-laced Patch Adams, the dreary What Dreams May Come & the even mawkish Bicentennial Man.

Nonetheless, by going the distance, the 1990s marked what was to be Robin Williams at his prime and the most successful decade in and of his career, without a doubt. Not only did he land some of the biggest and major films and roles of his career, but these same roles and films became the commercial big-hitters and successes and the sheer appeal and volume that each of them evoked, had fans and audiences clamouring for them & in rushing out to see those films. Each film he released in almost every year became a commercial smash and box office hit: Hook, Flubber, Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji raked in millions of dollars worldwide, whereas Awakenings, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting further demonstrated his acting credentials in serious adult roles that won him plaudits, all-round. & it was these types of projects, and financially successful ones also, which really bolstered his marketability, his all-around appeal and his popularity to the masses. If you were born in the 1990s or were around during the 1990s, one couldn't have noticed how much Robin dominated that decade. No other comedic actor had racked up a consecutive number of movies, nor dominated Hollywood as Robin did in the span of 1990 up until 2000. If the 1980s belonged to Eddie Murphy, then the 1990s most certainly belonged to Murphy's Saturday Night Live alum, Robin Williams. Sure, there was Eddie Murphy, but his career at this point had its share of disappointments and flops, Steve Martin's '90s offerings just weren't of the calibre of his previous movies, whereas Jim Carrey just took off in the early 1990s with Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber & his show, In Living Color. But very few of Williams's comic contemporaries managed to match up with him and of whom were as commercially successful as him. 

Robin Williams never had it better than during the 1990s; he pretty much had hit-after-hit with each subsequent release, well, but for Toys, Cadillac Man notably. Most of my favourite films of his are from this period; even in Toys and Ferngully, which whilst they weren't amazing, I still find them watchable in places. There can be no doubt that the '90s were Robin's most prolific and most commercially viable and successful decade & he produced more movies of his that I enjoyed watching from this decade, more so than in any other. Irrespective of the mixed and negative reviews they received from some or most of them. At this point, his star value had skyrocketed to astronomical levels, he became a household name in pretty much every part of the world and he chose the projects that not only suited his talents, but ones that would harness and stretch them also, & where he was able to unleash his fullest potential. Which they did. It felt like everything fell into place.

The '90s decade was kind to Robin, but also from a fan's perspective and in reminiscence, it was a really great one in more ways than one too. He was on the up, Robin was on a roll, he pretty much peaked at the right time in the mid-late 1990s, and with that, I enjoy watching so many of his films from this era.

This was a great and enjoyable time to be a fan of his and alas, '90s Robin Williams was just a blast.

Notable Favourites: Awakenings, The Fisher King, Hook, Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Flubber, Fathers' Day, Good Will Hunting, Deconstructing Harry, Toys, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest 

Notable Non-Favourites: Cadillac Man, What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man, Being Human  


Robin Williams - Film Inquiry 

Robin Williams - Wikipedia 

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