Should I Watch..? 'Aladdin' (1992)
What's the big deal?
Aladdin is an animated fantasy musical film released in 1992 and is based on the Arabic folktale of the same name featured in the One Thousand And One Nights collection. It is the 31st feature-length animated film produced by Disney Studios and was produced and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The film follows the adventures of a street-wise thief and his companions after he unwittingly unleashes a genie from an oil-lamp who then grants him three wishes. The film stars the vocal talents of Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried and Robin Williams whose performance would encourage other actors to appear in animated films as opposed to traditional voice artists. The film was an instant hit with audiences, becoming the first animated film in history to earn more than $500 million while critics lavished praise on the film and particularly William's performance. The film would spawn two direct-to-video sequels, a TV series, a theatrical adaptation on Broadway as well as a live-action remake in 2019 directed by Guy Ritchie.
What's it about?
In the fictional city of Agrabah near the Jordan River, the scheming Royal Vizier Jafar had identified a mysterious cave in the desert which is said to hold incredible power. The Cave Of Wonders will only grant entry to one who is worthy and alas, neither Jafar or his loyal parrot Iago fit the bill. However, Jafar quickly identifies one who may be suitable - an impoverished street urchin called Aladdin who unwittingly falls for Princess Jasmine after she attempts to escape her palace and the pressure she is under to marry a prince.
Jafar has Aladdin and his pet monkey Abu arrested before escorting Jasmine back to the palace. Realising that Jasmine has fallen for Aladdin, he informs her that the boy has been executed - however, he frees Aladdin whilst disguised as an old man and lures him out to the desert and the Cave Of Wonders, hoping to claim the power within for himself. Once inside, Aladdin discovers an old oil lamp and before he knows it, his life changes forever when a powerful genie appears and grants Aladdin three wishes...
Ron Clements & John Musker
Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio*
Release Date (UK)
17th November, 1993
Animation, Family, Fantasy, Musical
Best Original Score, Best Original Song ("A Whole New World")
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Song ("Friend Like Me")
What's to like?
It's impossible to think of Aladdin without bringing up William's hyperactive and hugely enjoyable performance as the Genie, a wonderfully engaging character that constantly surprises and entertains you. Largely improvised by Williams in the studio, it's one of his strongest roles in his illustrious career - in fact, the performance is so dominant that it bends the film into his image to some respect. Yes, it's classic Disney territory following young Aladdin overcome his social status and devious villains for the one he loves but without that magnificent blue genie, the film is so much worse off.
Produced at a time when Disney were rediscovering their mojo after the enormous success of The Little Mermaid, the film's traditional animation remains a genuinely beautiful sight to behold. In these cold days of CG, there is some element of magic which has been lost but this film reminds modern viewers of how good "old school" can still be. Combined with songs that stay with you far beyond the ending (I still feel aggrieved that "Friend Like Me" lost out to "A Whole New World" at the Oscars), that barn-storming turn by Williams as well as equally remarkable support from the motor-mouthed Gottfried, the film really does have something for everyone.
- Robin Williams fell out with Disney during production after he found out that they had reneged on their promise not to feature Williams' name or voice to help promote the film or the usual slew of merchandise. To help smooth over relations, Disney gave Williams a genuine Vincent Van Gogh painting worth over $1 million but the plan didn't work and Williams backed out of appearing in the first sequel, The Return Of Jafar.
- In the course of recording his dialogue, Williams improvised almost sixteen hours of additional material - much of which was unsuitable for a family movie! In fact, he ad-libbed so much that the script was turned down for a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay by the Academy.
- There are several moments when Aladdin throws an apple to Jasmine including during their magic carpet ride over Greece. In ancient Greece, this apparently symbolised a marriage proposal (I presume if she caught it rather than striking her on the head!).
What's not to like?
It might seem somewhat obvious to say it but with Williams and Gottfried bringing their A-game to the picture, the rest of the cast don't stand a chance. With the Genie being an absolute force of nature and Iago dropping one-liners like a feathered Eddie Murphy, the lead characters of Aladdin and Jasmine feel fairly forgettable in all the fun. Not the fault of Weinger and Larkin but it is noticeable how much the film drops off without the more recognisable cast appearing. Probably the least bad is Freeman as the villainous Vizier Jafar but even he lacks a certain malice - compare his performance with Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King and you'll understand my point.
The other thing that troubled me is that there is a slight undercurrent of nastiness in the film. Many of the background characters such as the Arabic guards at the Sultan's palace have unflattering physical appearances (hooked noses, cold eyes, jiggling bellies, etc) while Aladdin himself couldn't look more like Tom Cruise with his perfect teeth and hair, despite being a lowly street thief with barely two coins to rub together. But the worst one of all is Jasmine, an impossibly thin waif that serves almost no purpose in the story but to provide Aladdin someone to rescue. This particular Disney princess feels a long way removed from the more recent and more independently-minded characters like Merida (Brave) or Mulan.
Should I watch it?
If nothing else, Aladdin stands testament to the sheer energy and exuberance of Robin Williams and the film is a fitting tribute to a talent we lost far too soon. But the film is still an enjoyable throwback to Disney's glory days before they were blown out of the water by Pixar. With gorgeous animations, great songs and an anarchic sense of fun, this is one piece of treasure your family can enjoy for years.
Great For: the whole family, remembering Robin Williams, Disney accountants
Not So Great For: Arabic audiences, cash-strapped parents, nostalgic viewers
What else should I watch?
Aladdin came at the forefront of a period of time known as the Disney Renaissance when the company stopped producing poorly received films and began really pushing the boundaries of animation in the face of increasing competition. The first film that brought new-found success to the company was The Little Mermaid followed by the ground-breaking Beauty And The Beast, the first animated film in history to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. But the biggest hit was undoubtedly The Lion King which not only took just short of $1 billion but also spawned a highly successful theatrical adaptation that continues to be performed on stage more than twenty five years after the film's release.
Alas, the Renaissance was not to last for very long. With Pixar paving the way for CG animation with Toy Story, Disney watched their competitors open up their own animation studios such as Warner Bros Animation and their critically acclaimed hit The Iron Giant. With their own movies like Pocahontas and Hercules failing to capture the imagination of audiences, the release of Tarzan in 1999 signalled the end of Disney's run of good form during that decade. The company decided to partner with Pixar to produce more CG animated films which didn't prove to be a bad decision - after all, perhaps you've heard of Frozen..?
© 2019 Benjamin Cox