How Disney Brought Robin Williams Back to Life, Without AI

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(R-L) Actor Robin Williams, and the Genie from Aladdin

Credit: Inside the Magic

Posthumous performances are an unfortunate yet common occurrence in the realm of film and television, but Disney might be sitting on a gold mine.

Logo for Walt Disney Animation
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Walt Disney Animation has proven time and time again what magic can be done with the medium. Forgotten film cells and storyboards are given life again, unrealized projects are given a second chance, and legendary actors can be brought back from the dead.

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The Walt Disney Company has utilized a wealth of computer technology to give vintage characters a voice for a new audience. Even Mickey Mouse himself had the aid of archival recordings to make Walt Disney speak again for the film Get a HorseHowever, recent developments have shown Disney doesn’t just have access to one famous figure.

Robin Williams Rises Again

Robin Williams wearing a pink shirt with a monarch butterfly on his nose in Jack
Credit: Hollywood Pictures

Actor and comedian Robin Williams will forever be considered one of the funniest and most talented people that ever lived in the hearts of many, and his legacy still shines even after his passing. Known for such iconic roles as Mrs. Doubtfire, Batty Koda, and Professor Philip Brainard, among many others, Williams will forever be immortalized as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin (1992).

Related: Johnny Depp Stole Jack Sparrow From Robin Williams

Although much has been done to give honor to the legendary actor, not even Will Smith could top his highly animated performance in the original role of the genie. So, how was Disney able to resurrect the character for Once Upon a Studio?

Genie in Once Upon a Studio
Credit: Josh Gad Instagram

Once Upon a Studio (2023) was an animated celebration of Disney Animation that aired on ABC to commemorate the studio’s 100th anniversary, and many Disney legends came back to reprise the roles of their classic characters, including Robin Williams as the Genie.

Related: Disney Censors ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Bluey,’ ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and More for “Woke” Audiences

Due to recent controversy in Hollywood, many will immediately point fingers at AI usage and recordings. However, this was not the case for Disney, as the filmmakers truly wanted to honor Williams and his character. So they did exactly what they did for Walt: they went to the archives.

Disney buffs already know that most of Robin Williams’ dialogue for the Genie was ad-libbed, and tons of unused recordings and impressions of the character exist in the Disney vault. The filmmakers simply reached out to his estate, got permission, and recycled the unused recordings until they had what they needed for the project.

Related: Op-Ed: Disney Animation Remains Untouched by Disney+ Purge

With the scandal surrounding the use of AI in animation and film, the idea of any technological assistance might have some already up on their hackles. Keep in mind that it was still Robin Williams making all the recordings used, and nothing artificial was created to bring the Genie back. Simply put, Disney essentially used prerecorded dialogue that would have otherwise been deemed unusable.

Not only was the character reanimated for the ultimate Disney celebration, but the studio still paid homage to the performer who made the genie so memorable. We never had a friend like him, and the filmmakers behind the short made sure to make us all remember that.

How do you feel about Disney using archival recordings? Tell Inside the Magic what you think in the comments below!

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