By Jeffrey Kieviet
Like most of us, I was deeply disturbed by the recent death of Robin Williams. And, like most of us, I wanted to say something about it. I’m not normally as moved by the death of a celebrity, but this one hit me hard. Every friend on facebook had something to say, whether it was a comment on depression & suicide or loving memories of Hook & Aladdin. There was an article on every news site and every website claiming to be a “news” site. Every thought I wanted to express has already been said by someone else, so why bother, right? Then my grandma died a couple days ago. It gave me a little perspective. I do not yet have the words for the personal loss, maybe I’ll save that for another time. But for now, for Robin, I have some things I want to say, a venue to say it, and a loyal fan base hanging on my every word. So here’s to the grown up dad who was Peter Pan, the Genie that made all our wishes come true, and all the other broken robots who came along for the ride.
I saw Robots a couple days before Robin Williams killed himself. He clearly had a pretty heavy day. There are many movies of his I love, some I’ve probably seen hundreds of times since I was a child, and they all mean a great deal to me. This flick was meant to be a light, family film full of wacky visuals and silly characters. And now it will be the last Robin William’s movie I saw for the first time before he died. I can go back and catch all his greats that I still haven’t seen, but I’ll always be watching them knowing he is not around, not going to make any more. For a moment, let’s play with the fun and fancy-free world of the movie.
It was everything I wanted it to be. A simple kids tail about how if you try real hard and do things your own way everything is going to be ok, you’ll save the town, make your parents proud, and get the girl-bot along the way. The performances are entirely adequate, mostly famous celebrities (like Ewan McGregor & Halle Berry) bringing to life colorful robots who even somewhat resemble their voices. It’s silly enough for the kids, but has some jokes (& music) for the grownups (the dad comes home late, missing the baby’s “delivery” but the mom informs him that “making the baby is the fun part,” holding up a recently delivered box of baby robot parts that they have to build & put together. Get it? Sex joke).
The best part of the film is the main city, Ratchetown or somesuch (research is for the weak). Remember those old tinker toys sets, the ones where you could create different pathways and obstacles for a marble to slide down? The whole city is like a giant puzzle that only fits together in the wildly (dis)organized brain of some benevolent-yet-ambivalent creator. And when our hero first comes to the city, he is thrown into it head first and the viewer is given an eyeful of beautiful animation. If you’re looking for a movie that’s solely meant as a feast for the eyes, look no further.
There’s also some great stuff for your ears as well. Sure, a couple original numbers play out like rejects from Disney classics, a few hummable tunes to keep the kids singing along, but James Brown & Berry White pop up from time to time, and the filmmakers’ use of Tom Waits’s “Underground” while maniacal machines make malevolent machinations is perfect! This movie was made by the folks that made Ice Age but set at the opposite end of the industrial revolution, a vast playground for sight & sound. Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Amanda Bynes who is (and always has been) super frickin’ funny. I really hope she returns to her comedy roots and gives us Big Fat Liar 2 or a big screen adaptation of Nickelodeon’s All That (because we can’t hope for original content anymore. Everything is either a sequel or remake. Seriously, check out the listings at your local multiplex).
The whole thing is silly and nonsensical full of esoteric questions about how robots are people too and the moral is far to general and impractical for a cynical adult to fully suspend disbelief, but it’s a kids’ movie for golly-gee-wiz sakes. It is meant to entertain, make people laugh & smile, it made me happy. And that is what Robin Williams did best.
I’ve seen a lot of different thoughts from people saying things like “unless you’ve been suicidally depressed you can’t talk about it” or “stop saying he’s in a better place; we shouldn’t be encouraging his actions.” It is a conversation we need to have. True, unless you’ve experience that level of depression it is hard to imagine. We’ve all been hungry, but I can’t even begin to describe what it is like to starve. And I use that term all the time (especially waiting in the long-ass drive thru line for In-N-Out), “I’m starving.” I’m not starving, I’m hungry. We live in a world where we throw away tons of food, yet have people literally starving to death in the streets. These are conversations we need to have.
For those of you who have not personally dealt with high (low?) levels of depression, think of it like food. When you are hungry, like really hungry, you think you could even eat a horse. And then you eat a Double Double Animal Style, side of fries (hopefully also Animal Style, unless you’re a freaking savage), and a large chocolate shake. Now the thought of another bite is physically revolting. But when you were hungry, you were actually thinking of eating a horse, you couldn’t remember what it was like to be full. When you’re depressed, you’re hungry, but nothing satisfies; you’re tired no matter how much you sleep; you’re exhausted from doing nothing; and you cannot imagine what it would be like to be full, in fact it seems impossible.
So talk about it, ask your friends, find out what makes people happy. Don’t dismiss anything. If someone is depressed because they just got fired, their wife left them, and their dog ran away with the spoon, talk to them. If a little kid is depressed because they just dropped their ice cream cone, talk to them. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t be depressed, just like you wouldn’t tell a starving person not to be hungry. Provide them with food for their mind. We are a society, a community, and we need to take better care of each other.
Robin Williams took care of me, and if Genie was real I would wish I could pay him back. My grandma cared for me as well; she will be greatly missed. When people are gone, we think about all the “what if’s” and “could be’s.” The best way to honor good people is to be a good person. Give smiles to the world. Give love and hugs and laughter. Give life. Remember: “To live will be an awfully big adventure.”
Directed by Chris Wedge
Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz, & Babaloo Mandel
Story by Ron Mita, Jim McClain, & David Lindsay-Abaire
July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014
Louise Kieviet Vander Baan (Grandma)
May 14, 1928 – August 17, 2014