Robin Williams

Disney Tried to Force Robin Williams Off ‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’

What’s the problem with Robin Williams voicing two roles?

In 1992, Walt Disney Studios released the critically successful family film, AladdinThe movie featured the talent and voice of Robin Williams and was acclaimed for its animation and performances of its entire cast. Those involved with the film received numerous awards after its premiere, but it didn’t come without its share of drama. Many know that Williams fell out with Disney shortly after that was never fully resolved, but what’s rarely mentioned are the ways Disney attempted to force the famous comedian off of another film that was in production at the same time family classic: FernGully: The Last Rainforest.

RELATED:Robin Williams Turned A One-Off ‘Happy Days’ Guest Spot Into His Breakout Role

It Wasn’t Walt Disney Studios Who Made the First Move

Image via 20th Centruy Studios

Prior to the infamous contract breach between Disney and the beloved actor, the movie studios engaged in what could be best described as “studio espionage” towards Kroyer Films Inc and their production of FernGully. Their larger goal was to force WIlliams off the movie in an attempt to make Aladdin his priority, but before we add this to the list of nefarious deeds already surrounding the film and declare shenanigans on Disney, let’s take a closer look at the details of what happened during this specific moment in time.

Believe it or not, Disney didn’t cast the first slippery stone between the studios. While they certainly aren’t innocent, it was actually one of the creative minds behind FernGullyWayne Young, who had teamed up with Kroyer Films owner, Bill Kroyer, and Jim Cox, both of whom had previously worked with Walt Disney Studios as an animator and screenwriter respectively. According to an interview with Vanity Fair, Young was looking for a few extra hands to work on his first big film, so Cox snuck him into the studio offices under a fake name badge and pointed out Disney’s best up-and-coming talent he’d want to hire, which Wayne promptly did. This may not seem like a massive blow to a company of Walt Disney Studios’s caliber, but this sneaky swipe of talent was the initial blow that led to many problems behind FernGully‘s production. What followed was a relent pursuit to slow down the making of the movie, if not forcing it to shut down.

Robin Williams Wanted to Voice Both Batty Koda and Genie Simultaneously

The genie introducing himself to Aladdin
Image via Walt Disney Pictures 

Both of the Williams-voiced characters, Batty Koda and Genie, share more than just the actor in common. They were wise-cracking, pop-culture-referencing roles that were created with him in mind. However, Robin was approached by Kroyer Films first for the FernGully role and quickly signed with them as he supported the movie’s message about saving the environment and wanted to give his children something to wholly enjoy with him in it. At the same time as this happened, Disney had penned their film and began their casting also with Williams in mind. However, by the time then-Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg came knocking on the comic actor’s door with the role of Genie, he’d already started work on FernGully. Fortunately, Williams didn’t have an issue with sharing his voice and performing as both the oddball bat and Aladdin’s blue buddy. By all accounts, this would seem like a best-case scenario decision that would bode well for all parties involved with everyone happy. But Katzenberg had other plans.

Jeffrey Katzenberg Wanted to Steal Robin Williams

Image via 20th Century Fox

While it seems like this should be where the story ends happily ever after, there are some things to remember: Disney has always been a powerful movie studio, even back in the ’90s and especially at this moment in time. They’ve also never been one to immediately share their toys and talent with others and Katzenberg hadn’t forgotten that this same studio had already poached said talent. So, he began his attempt to make Disney’s movie the priority. Initially, the Disney chairman went to Williams directly in order to forcefully persuade him off of his role, telling him he couldn’t do both movies simultaneously, which only resulted in Robin adamantly standing by the Kroyer-led feature.

Not one to be slighted yet again, and especially not by the same studio, Katzenberg decided to take a different approach in stealing away Williams. He knew that Young and Kroyer’s studio were on the hunt for production space for FernGully. Given the scope of Disney’s network in the industry and that there are only so many places offering that kind of space for rent, the Disney executive began calling around, seeking out the ones that Kroyer Films was interested in and would swoop in with a better bid. This happened quite a few times and led the now desperate production company to rent out a brewery with the hopes that it’d be inconspicuous enough to fly under Disney’s radar. To the contrary, not only did Katzenberg discover which they’d rented, but he also made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the building while FernGully was being produced.

Although Kroyer Films Inc. would eventually close their doors after releasing FernGully and Jeffrey Katzenberg left Walt Disney Studios by 1994, both of their films would go on to be successful in their own rights. Aladdin was nominated for several awards for its animation, music, and performances, many of which it won. FernGully not only stands as Robin Williams’ first animated role, but also successfully sends a message of caring for the environment. Since the Kroyer Films feature’s premiere, some of its proceeds have gone to charities that assist with conservation and environmental awareness, its message has reached political platforms, and it has remained relevant as it continues to win the hearts of many. This even includes Katzenberg, in the end, as he called the producers to tell them that he loved the film.

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