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  Eddie Murphy
(1961– ). American comedian and actor.

Acted in: The Golden Child (Michael Ritchie 1986); Vampire in Brooklyn (and original story and produced) (Wes CRAVEN 1995); The Nutty Professor (Tom Shadyac 1996); Mulan (animated; voice) (Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook 1998); Dr. Dolittle (Betty Thomas 1998); Holy Man (Stephen Herek 1998); The P.J.s (animated tv series; voice) (and produced) (1999); Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (Peter Segal 2000); Shrek (animated; voice) (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, and Scott Marshall 2001);Creating a Fairy Tale World: The Making of Shrek (tv documentary) (Kellie Allred 2001); Dr. Dolittle 2 (and produced) (Steve Carr 2001); The Adventures of Pluto Nash (Ron Underwood 2002).
A decade ago, no one could have imagined a discussion of Eddie Murphy in a book about science fiction and fantasy films; after all, he was then hard at work making himself a star of streetwise comedies and action-packed buddy movies. But Murphy had a secret vision for his future career: to become the Fred McMurray of the post-baby boom generation, the befuddled centerpiece of light-hearted family fare, with a slightly hipper version of the Disney fantasy-comedy as the ideal vehicle for these ambitions. And, with implementation of this plan perhaps accelerated by a well-publicized and embarrassing encounter with a male transvestite, demanding a massive rehabiliation of his image, he effected this transformation with remarkable speed.

In some respects, though, we shouldn't have been surprised by this development, because during his years on Saturday Night Live Murphy's most memorable creations were his cantankerous updating of the clay-animation hero Gumby and the charmingly seedy Mr. Robinson, a brilliant impersonation of Mr. Rogers considered as an urban con artist who addressed his youthful audience with affecting warmth and sly humor. No one should doubt, whatever cynical motives may also be influencing his recent decisions, that Murphy genuinely likes children and relates to them very well, perhaps being something of an overgrown child himself.

One way to ingratiate yourself with the kids, and with the people who make movies for kids, is to volunteer your services as a voice for animated movies. And, after his highly celebrated work as the wise-cracking animal sidekicks of Mulan and Shrek, Murphy may forever be first on every animator's list of stars to recruit, an expressive voice to liven up dull plots with a steady stream of irreverant insults and complaints. Based on my viewing of these films, however, this would appear to be a characterization that can grow very old very quickly. Working in territory closer to his old stomping grounds in Brooklyn, New York, Murphy enjoyed less success with his clay-animation series The P.J.s, a series that lacked both the droll wit and the heart displayed by Mr. Robinson.

However, despite earlier flirtings with the fantastic in a Michael Jackson music video, "Remember the Time," in the mildly diverting The Golden Child, and in the miscalculated Vampire in Brooklyn, the true turning point in Murphy's career was the brilliant and disturbing The Nutty Professor. Whereas Jerry LEWIS's original film employed the Jekyll-and-Hyde story to attack his former screen partner Dean Martin, Murphy's film surprisingly serves as a sustained attack on Eddie Murphy himself. Plump, insecure, and humorless, Professor Klump represents everything Murphy never was; he drinks a potion to transform himself into the athletic, brash, and sarcastic Eddie Murphy long familiar to screen audiences. In the film, Klump triumphs over and suppresses the evil Murphy persona and learns to love himself for the dull, stolid person that he truly is. I cannot recall another film in which a actor so resoundingly and vitriolically repudiated his own screen persona; Murphy all but announces to the world, "I'm not going to be that cocky, foul-mouthed comedian any more; from now on, I'm going to be this big, bland, lovable teddy bear of a guy." And it is a message delivered with a purposefulness and panache rarely observed in an Eddie Murphy performance.

Indeed, since The Nutty Professor, being a family man has been Murphy's visible agenda, despite occasional forays like Holy Man into somewhat edgier territory. The results so far have not been encouraging: Dr. Dolittle, lacking any sort of personal theme that could energize Murphy, fell back on the crude humor of the elementary-school playground to engage its viewers; the sequels to that film and to The Nutty Professor were enervated exercises; and after botching his efforts to revive another wholesome chestnut with I Spy and to launch a new franchise with The Adventures of Pluto Nash, we are now left to look forward (if that is the proper phrase) to Murphy's visit to The Haunted Mansion without an overabundance of optimism. Fred McMurray made tons of money presiding over unobjectionable family comedies on screen and television during the 1960s, but the roles he is remembered for today, in the not-suitable-for-families films Double Indemnity and The Apartment, were as sleazy scoundrels. Besides The Nutty Professor, what roles are audiences of the future going to remember Eddie Murphy for?

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