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Mrs Doubtfire turns 28: Robin Williams and his everlasting charm as the favourite nanny

As Mrs Doubtfire celebrates 28 years of release, here’s looking back at the Robin Williams drama about love, family and all things in between.

Shreya Paul
Nov 24, 2021
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Mrs Doubtfire is essentially a comedy with a generously big heart. Robin Williams’ film about a cross-dressing Mary Poppins-esque character created a huge impact on film audiences in 1993. Director Chris Columbus (who is credited for the Home Alone franchise and the early Harry Potter films) imbued in his narrative, a strong message about family ties and how crucial they are for anyone to survive.

Aladdin’s mammoth success had catapulted Williams’ position in Hollywood as a bankable star who’d garnered fame for his comic timing. Mrs Doubtfire’s release came on the heels of Aladdin’s box-office overhaul. Understandably then, critics had a keen watch over what it would offer in terms of diversifying Williams’ career further.


Daniel Hillard (Williams) constantly grapples with his share of ill-luck and is unable to settle for a permanent job. A struggling actor, husband, and father to three kids, Hillard’s introduction to the film is in a moment of crisis. The film begins with his stint as a cartoon parrot Pudgy, who has drummed up a considerable fan-following. But when the character is depicted as promoting smoking, Hillard’s conscience takes a hit. “Millions of kids are watching this, Hal,” he argues with his producer. After a difference of opinion, he is promptly asked to leave the sets.

Meanwhile, Hillard also remembers his son’s birthday bash and arranges for a petting zoo to be invited over. Miranda (Sally Field), Hillard’s exasperated wife, returns home to find the house in tatters. Her plans for a quiet dinner and birthday cake are thwarted, triggering her final breakdown. She files for divorce later and Hillard moves into another apartment, pining to visit his children. And this very concept, laces the crux of the story. Mrs Doubtfire was about a father’s unconditional love for his children. Williams’ bold move of transforming into an older Scottish nanny in a tartan skirt and saving the day for Field’s Miranda was too heartwarming for the masses to ignore.


It helped that Mrs Doubtfire’s character was so multidimensional and hilarious. She engages in an impassioned round of football with children, dunks her face in cake to conceal the lack of a mask, accidentally burns her ‘boobs’ when standing too close to the stove, and seamlessly oscillates between herself and alter-ego Hillard multiple times in one evening. Yet, she was the maternal and paternal voice always guiding the three children, always indulging their whims, and always lending a patient ear to their problems. Williams’ kind eyes and that generous smile filled up the 70 mm screens as thousands thronged to theatres and made it the actor’s highest-earning US release second to Night at the Museum (2006).

The other fascinating aspect of the film was its realistic portrayal of something as ‘adult’ as divorce. Since Mrs Doubtfire was aiming at a younger demography, dabbling with a divorce sub-plot could be getting into murky territory. Yet, Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon’s brilliant screenplay made the difficult subject completely palatable. In fact, the underlying theme of parents still caring about their children even after their separation was hopeful and promising. The film’s mega-production and marketing at one of the year’s biggest releases automatically meant the producers were taking a considerable risk by choosing a children’s film based on separation. The fact that Hillard and Miranda do not end up by the climax, was further proof that Mrs Doubtfire meant business. The film had scenes that showed how two unhappy people struggle to be together and instead choose to part ways, a reality that’s often harsh for a young audience to stomach. And even though the family never unites as a whole, one never seemed to mind. Stuart "Stu" Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan) and his buffoonery notwithstanding, Miranda chooses him as her partner.


Mrs Doubtfire’s ultimate transition as a children’s talk show host makes Hillard’s alter ego a direct influencer of young minds. The fact that a big Hollywood film would be this direct about subjects often sugar-coated or glossed over was worthy of note.

Mrs Doubtfire was yet another facet of Williams' sheer command over his characters. The range that his filmography covered included the 40-something Peter Pan in Hook or even the 10-year-old adult in Jack. The film would go on to become arguably his career-best, with millions immediately associating him with the kind-but-badass nanny.

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