The moment Disney fans hear the voice of the late Robin Williams come out of the Genie in Disney’s new short film Once Upon a Studio is even more meaningful than people might realize.
Around the three-minute mark, Josh Gad’s Olaf from Frozen is spotted humming “Friend Like Me,” Robin Williams’ classic tune from 1992’s Aladdin, while sketching the blue Genie. The larger-than-life, phantasmagorical wish granter then bursts right off of the page in all his hand-drawn animated glory. “I haven’t seen a fall like that since Rome,” the Genie says over a knocked-over Olaf.
Eric Goldberg, as well as Once Upon a Time filmmakers Dan Abraham and Trent Correy, spoke about the care and attention that went into this impactful scene with Robin Williams, knowing how beloved both the actor and the character have become over the years. “I grew up with that movie,” Trent Correy says of Aladdin. “It is one of my earliest memories. Having worked with Josh Gad over the years on Olaf as a character, knowing that Josh looked up to Robin Williams and was inspired by the Genie, that’s very special to me.”
The piece of audio used for Genie came from one of the actor’s many unused outtakes that he recorded years ago for Aladdin. Dan Abraham sifted through 16 hours of archived recordings to pick the perfect soundbite. “We got the approval of the Robin Williams estate very, very early on,” he says. “We told them what we wanted to do and they were like, ‘Yep, this is great.’ Using original dialogue of his was very important to us.”
Eric Goldberg was the other piece of the puzzle. Artists from across the hand-drawn and CGI animation spectrum came to work on Once Upon a Studio to maintain each character’s distinct look — and the original Genie animator was one of them.
He remembers sitting in on one of Williams’ first recordings as the Genie to get inspiration for the character. It didn’t go quite as planned. “I was 3 inches from him, and if I started to laugh, I’d kill the recordings,” he admits. Still, the animator says he wanted to make the Genie “as broad-ranging as his vocal cords.”
Nowadays, he adds how the Genie is “a guy who just kind of flows out of my fingers. It’s not that I don’t have to think about it, but it’s a comfort fit.” After Aladdin, he returned to draw the Genie multiple times over the years for various special occasions — like Once Upon a Studio. “The Genie and I have been friends for many years,” he adds, “and to revisit him in this film is always a joy.”
Once Upon a Studio is now available to stream on Disney+.
Written by: Yanika