That time Disney gave Robin Williams a Picasso for being the Genie


Robin Williams was an actor best known for playing the absolute shit out of the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, a role he played so well it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it. Oddly though, despite Williams now being the most memorable aspect of the film his role was initially very limited. So limited in fact that Williams himself was surprised how much of the film he was in. Surprised and kind of pissed. The latter of which resulted in him being give a million dollar painting to stop complaining. 

You see, at the time Aladdin was made, Williams was one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood and Disney were surprised when the actor agreed to work for scale (legally the lowest amount he could be paid for a role as per his union contract), asking Disney for just $75,000 instead of his usual $8 million dollar fee. A sizeable discount he offered to Disney with a couple of provisos – mainly that they not use his likeness to sell the film or make the Genie into a central character in either the movie or advertising material. A deal that Disney didn’t really honour, immediately going back on their agreement with Williams when they realised how hard he’d owned the role.

What makes this worse is that, according to Williams, he only agreed to star in the film for so little because he wanted to leave something behind for his kids. A fact that led to Williams recording some 30 hours of material for the film, most of it improvised, so that animators would have as much stuff as possible to work with. Ironically, Williams’ commitment to the role is what ended up causing a rift with Disney because the studio went right ahead and made the Genie a central character with one person familiar with the issue quipping –

Robin went in with a trio and came out with a symphony. All Disney did was hire an orchestra to play it.

Now if Disney had just done this they may have gotten away only annoying Williams rather than actively pissing him off but they couldn’t resist also putting the Genie to shill a bunch of shit too. Using some of the lines Williams had recorded to sell stuff like toys and burgers, which, understandably, really upset the actor.

This led to Williams loudly explaining just how much Disney could go fuck themselves in every interview he gave after the release of the film. Something Disney had the gall to get upset about, trying to shift the blame to Williams and accusing him of just being salty that the film had done well. A baffling claim considering we’re talking about an animated Disney film released in the fucking 90’s.

Anyway, Disney eventually got so sick of Williams complaining that they tried to smooth things over by sending him a Picasso valued at over $1 million. A painting Williams refused to hang in his home because, and this is amazing, it clashed with the aesthetic of his house which according to New York Magazine was dripping with that mid 1990’s animal print swag.

Hell, Williams seriously contemplated up and burning the painting on live TV, only deciding against it because he recognised it’s value to other collectors without his sense of kick-ass style.

For the curious, Williams stayed pissed off at Disney for several more years, only agreeing to work with the company again when Disney finally admitted fault and offered him a full and public apology.

As for the Picasso, it presumably sat in a forgotten corner of the Williams swag-mansion to serve as a reminder not to trust Disney.