Hearing Robin Williams | NBC Chicago

Hearing Robin Williams

A year after his shocking death, the beloved actor's voice rings out one last time in the sci-fi movie comedy "Absolutely Anything."

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    Robin Williams, in his early years as the stand-up comedy equivalent of the whirling Tasmanian Devil, the manic alien Mork and the cartoon-come-to-life title character of "Popeye," stormed the world stage as a human perpetual motion machine – an image that stuck throughout his vaunted career.

    But it's his voice – or, more accurately, voices – that resound most, a year after his Aug. 11, 2014 death.

    Williams' malleable vocal chords provided both the vehicle and fuel for his feverish, improvisational genius – no more so than in 1992's "Aladdin," in which his riffing-and-referencing Genie burst out of the oil lamp and threatened to pop off the screen. For all of Williams' formidable physical presence, his most memorable and accessible (to young fans and likely to future fans) role came in an animated movie stolen by the most animated of comedians.

    So it's appropriate, in a bittersweet way, that Williams’ final film finds him lending his extraordinary vocal prowess to a talking dog with the ordinary name of Dennis. "Absolutely Anything," a sci-fi comedy that opens Friday in the UK (a US release date is pending), offers a welcome last opportunity to celebrate a great comic voice silenced too soon and to remember Williams with some of the humor that belies his sad, still unfathomable passing a year ago Tuesday.

    Though Dennis and Genie are very different characters, the movies are built variations on the magical-wishes-gone-haywire formula (even if “Absolutely Anything” appears far less kid-friendly than the Disney classic).

    The new film also features the voices of the surviving members of Monty Python – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin – as aliens who give a schlub of an earthling the power to do absolutely anything he wants. The flick, directed by Jones, stars Simon Pegg, whose past outings "Shaun of the Dead," Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End" show a Python and Williams influence.

    Those Pegg films proved both funny and unpredictable – terms near the top of the long pantheon of adjectives used in futile attempts to put Robin Williams' talent into words. Check out a preview of "Absolutely Anything," the final word on a comedy icon who always gave audiences an earful as he strived to fill living rooms and theaters with the glorious sound of laughter.

     

    Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.