Remembering Robin Williams

I can’t let today go by without a brief farewell to a wonderful man, a great comedian – who brought me (and many of you, I’m sure) hundreds of wonderfully entertaining moments growing up.

In the 7th grade, I had a pet canary named Mork.  I absolutely adored the TV show Mork and Mindy!  Robin Williams, first appearing as Mork on an episode of Happy Days, captured my complete attention – in all my young years, I’d never seen anyone like him.  Silly, energetic, creative – I admired Robin Williams’ ability to make people laugh but also to be a compassionate philanthropist and a fine dramatic actor as well.

Genie and the LampThrough the years, I enjoyed Robin Williams’ acting in a wide variety of roles including his radio DJ persona in Good Morning Vietnam, his medical antics as Patch Adams, and his unbelievably enjoyable drag gig in Mrs. Doubtfire.  I don’t know if there’s a movie that made me laugh more than The Birdcage.  None of his roles, since he first grabbed my attention as Mork, was as wonderful to me as that of Genie in Disney’s Aladdin.

Everything about Robin Williams’ roles in Aladdin – beginning as the narrator in the movie’s opening and continuing on as the incredible, incomparable Genie – was as great a demonstration of all the comedic genius Robin Williams was capable of.  The man could ad-lib so quickly, audiences could suffer whiplash trying to keep up!  Disney’s illustrators captured the actor’s frenetic energy, silliness, and big heart perfectly.  Even after seeing Aladdin dozens of times, I still find myself appreciating new things in Genie’s dialogue each time I see the movie.

I’m sad today because the world has lost a unique and wonderful man – who devoted himself to worthy causes like helping the homeless (Comic Relief), entertaining American troops, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital (among many other charitable works).  I’m sad for myself because a man who kept me entertained and laughing from middle school to adulthood has left the Earth far too soon.

Voices of Disney – Remembering Eartha Kitt

Yzma from Disney's The Emperor's New GrooveMost of the “Voices of Disney” I feature here are individuals I became acquainted with because of their association with Disney films or attractions.  Eartha Kitt (1927 – 2008) is a different story.  Remember…I’ve been around a while and Eartha Kitt’s contribution to music and 1960’s television were well-know to me long before Ms. Kitt voiced one of my all time favorite Disney villains – Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove and it’s sequel, Kronk’s New Groove.

First – what I knew before I met Yzma:  Eartha Kitt sang two songs that I particularly love:  “Where is My Man” (1983) and “Santa Baby” (1953) – both songs are alike in that they’re about a woman desiring the finer things in live and believing a man is the only way to get them!  Very typical of the times they were originally recorded (30 years apart!), the songs are fun and clever, not to mention catchy – if currently a tad politically incorrect.  Okay, do you remember Batman the TV series?  Julie Newmar was Catwoman (13 episodes, 1966/67) first – she totally freaked me out!  Very strange – I suppose in a villain, that’s good.  She was sexy and twisted and played well opposite Adam West’s Batman.  Then Eartha Kitt stepped in (1967/68) and gave Catwoman a whole new look The Secret Lab - Disney's The Emperor's New Grooveand attitude!  She had this way of moving her hands that was particularly cat-like.  And her voice!  Purrrrrfect!!!  If you’re reading this and you remember Eartha’s Catwoman, please leave me a comment! (Which Catwoman was your favorite?)

“Tell us where the talking llama is and we’ll burn your house to the ground” – Yzma

Now, what do I love about Yzma?  To begin with, I find it hilarious how much she actually resembles Eartha Kitt!  I adore Kronk and love Yzma for teaming up with him.  The two of them Kronk - Disney's The Emperor's New Grooveare so hysterical!  She’s loaded with the baggage of jealousy and unfulfilled dreams while Kronk is just an extremely dense super-nice guy who’s loyal to Yzma while managing to see the silver lining on every cloud.  He’s there to tote her baggage (literally and figuratively) while she tries in vain to triumph through a variety of ill-conceived schemes.  I don’t know about you, but I think she’s a pretty likable villain and I find myself rooting for her at times.  Her hair-brained ideas are kind of endearing to me.

Before I go, I feel the need to add that The Emperor’s New Groove is completely underrated and underappreciated.  There.  I feel better now.  To the SECRET LAB!

Your turn – Have you even seen The Emperor’s New Groove?  Are you a fan of Yzma and Kronk? 

Voices of Disney – Happy Birthday John Ratzenberger

Disney-Pixar MoviesEvery time I watch a Disney-Pixar movie and I hear John Ratzenberger’s voice, I still think, “Hey!  Cliff Clavin!”.  I was an avid Cheers fan during the show’s 11-season run on TV (1982-1993) and the show just wouldn’t have been the same without Cliff Clavin – the fact-obsessed, lovably-irritating-know-it-all postal worker.  While the character of Cliff Clavin is how I became a huge fan, John Ratzenberger’s distinctive voice has been adding fun to Disney-Pixar movies from the first.

Since today is John Ratzenberger’s birthday (born April 6, 1947), it’s the perfect opportunity to offer a salute to Mr. Ratzenberger’s contribution to some of the very best, most entertaining movies of all time.

Thank you, John Ratzenberger for these memorable characters:

Toy Story – all three movies:  the voice of Hamm the Piggy Bank.  “Pardon me. I hate to break up the staff meeting, but… they’re here! Birthday guests at three o’clock!” – Hamm, Toy Story

A Bug’s Life – P. T. Flea – the harried, stressed out circus leader.  ” [singing] I’m gonna be rich, rich, rich I’m gonna be rich, rich, rich I’m gonna be the richest flea in the land, ka-ching! The streets will be paved with golden retrievers...” – P. T. Flea

Monsters, Inc. – The Abominable Snowman / Yeti.  “Wasteland? I think you mean “Wonderland”! I mean, how about all this fabulous snow, huh? Oh, and wait until you see the local village, cutest thing in the world. I haven’t mentioned all the free yak’s milk.”

Finding Nemo – The School of Moonfish – that school of fish that stops to help Dory with directions and forms shapes in answer to her questions.  “Hey, hey! You like impressions?” – School of fish

The Incredibles – The Underminer (villain that arrives from underground at the very end of the movie).  “Behold, the Underminer! I’m always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me! I hereby declare war on peace and happiness! Soon, all will tremble before me!” – The UnderminerHamm the Pig in Toy Story

Cars (both) – Mack the Truck – Lightning McQueen’s transportation.  “California, here we come!” – Mac

Ratatouille – Mustafa the waiter –  “It was not a customer. It was a critic…  …She likes the soup.” – Mustafa

WALL-E – John – “Hey… I know that guy! It’s uh, uh… WALL-E! That’s it! Hey – WALL-E! It’s your buddy John!”

Up – Tom the construction worker – “Well just to let you know, my boss would be happy to take this old place off your hands, and for double his last offer. Whaddya say to that?” – Construction Foreman Tom

Brave – Gordon the Guard – I’m sorry I have not quote for this character, but a trivia tidbit instead:  Many people had a hard time finding John Ratzenberger in Brave because the character spoke with a Scottish accent!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ratzenberger – I can’t wait to see what you surprise us with next!

What’s your favorite Disney-Pixar character voiced by John Ratzenberger? 


Voices of Disney – Remembering Eleanor Audley (1905-1991)

IMG_2518Two of the most wicked, scariest Disney villains of all time have got to be Lady Tremaine and Maleficent.  These two were just perfectly evil!  Devious?  Check.  Arrogant?  Check.  Self-serving, power-hungry schemers?  Double-check!  Long before it was fashionable to be a snarky baddie with comedic one-liners (Scar, Ursula and Hades, for example) – the classic Disney villains were just plain rotten.

How wonderfully perfect that both Lady Tremaine and Maleficent were both voiced by Eleanor Audley.  It says a lot, I think, about what a fantastic job Mrs. Audley did in Cinderella that she got the job voicing a second, dare I say scarier, Disney villain nine years later.  Lady Tremaine and Maleficent have a lot in common, but were completely different in the skills they used to pursue their own agendas.  Both characters inspired such dislike in viewers, their influence and fame live on today in more places than the original films.

Personally, I’m excited to see Maleficent (the movie) in May – I’ll be curious to see how true to the original character this version portrays Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis.  I’m also excited to see, also in May, Lady Tremaine and her darling daughters, Anastasia and Drizella  at 1900 Park Fare’s character dining experience (at Disney’s Grand Floridian).  These memorable (if not beloved) characters would not be so famous and so Maleficent on Sleeping Beauty movie coverpresent today had Eleanor Audley not done such a tremendous job on their first appearances.  The facial features of both villains were based on Mrs. Audley as drawn by Marc Davis.

So, we know that Eleanor Audley did sinister really well – she even voiced Madam Leota (originally) for the Haunted Mansions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but did you know she also appeared in many well-known TV shows of the 50’s and 60’s?  I won’t bore you with an exhaustive list, but the number of different shows for which Mrs. Audley appeared as a recurring (or one-time) character is mind-blowing!  Here are the ones that surprised me the most:

  • Father Knows Best (1956) – bit parts in several episodes
  • I Love Lucy (1957) – two episodes, different characters
  • The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1956-1958) – Four appearances as different characters
  • Dennis the Menace (1960) – One episode
  • Perry Mason (1958-1960) – Two episodes
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1963) – Bit part, one episode, Mrs. Billings in three episodes.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1964) – Three episodes as Mrs. Millicent Schuyler-Potts
  • The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1965) – One episode
  • Hazel (1961-1965) – Different characters in four episodes
  • Green Acres (1965-1969) – Played Mother Douglas in 14 episodes – Isn’t this GREAT?!!! Awesome!
  • My Three Sons (1969-1970) – Mrs. Vincent in 9 episodes

Well, there you go!  If you grew up on reruns of these shows like I did, isn’t it unbelievable that the lady who voiced Lady Tremaine and Maleficent appeared in so many of these programs?  Did Eleanor Audley’s appearance in any of these surprise you?