How Robin Williams’ Genie Returned Without Using A.I.

In October 1923, Walt and Roy Disney began the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios. A century later, those cartoons have blossomed into literally thousands of beloved animated characters, all known across the globe. To celebrate, Walt Disney Animation has created a special short film that unites 543 of those characters, called Once Upon a Studio. When it came to the voices for the 9-minute short, Disney wanted it to sound as authentic as possible. And that included Robin Williams’ iconic turn as the Genie in Aladdin. But how to create Williams’ voice without resorting to using dreaded A.I.? The answer lay in the Disney Vault.

The Genie from Aladdin and Olaf from Frozen, in the Disney short film Once Upon a Studio.
Walt Disney Animation Studios

According to Variety, there were many unused outtakes from Robin Williams’ recording sessions for Aladdin from the early ’90s that Disney could use, enough to incorporate the Genie into a scene for Once Upon a Studio. But Disney had to get permission from his estate to use them. Once Upon a Studio directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy approached the Williams estate and said, “This is what we hope to do. Eric [Goldberg], who originally animated the genie is on the show, and he’s going to be part of it. And it was wonderful to see that happen.” Luckily, the estate agreed, and Genie appears in all his glory, sounding just as he did in 1992.

The Genie from Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams.
Walt Disney Animation Studios

It was never a sure thing that the Williams estate would say yes. Back in the ’90s, many “Talking Genie” Aladdin toys were recalled, as they used Robin Williams’ voice without his permission. He made it explicit that he didn’t want his voice used for any Aladdin-related merchandise, only the film. Because of this, Disney replaced him with The Simpsons‘ Dan Castellaneta for The Return of Jafar VHS movie. After an eventual public apology from Disney, Williams returned for 1996’s Aladdin and the King of Thieves. And Disney and Williams buried the hatchet. In any event, Robin Williams remains the Genie for this special project, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Once Upon a Studio debuted on ABC on October 15 and is available on Disney+ starting October 16.

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