by D.W. Lundberg

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Aladdin (1992; based on the Arabian folktale "Aladdin And The Magic Lamp," from One Thousand And One Nights)

The Plot: A street urchin uses a magic lamp to win the heart of a princess.

The Songs: "Arabian Nights," "One Jump Ahead," "Friend Like Me," "A Whole New World," "Prince Ali," "Prince Ali (Reprise)"
"A Whole New World (End Title)"

A Little History: Ashman originally pitched the idea for a musical version of "Aladdin" while he and composer Alan Menken were busy working on The Little Mermaid. Ashman and Menken wrote several songs for the film, but were approached by Disney to adapt Beauty And The Beast as their follow-up project instead; when Ashman died from AIDS complications in early 1991, lyricist Tim Rice was hired to help finish the project. The movie's first draft (by Beast scribe Linda Woolverton) was re-written by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and again by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Elliott and Rossio deleted a subplot involving Aladdin's mother and another with Aladdin's three friends (named Babkak, Omar and Kassim), and worked to strengthen the other characters. Aladdin was originally modeled after Michael J. Fox, until Jeffrey Katzenberg decided he wasn't appealing enough, and re-conceived the character as a hunkier, more athletic type. All of the characters are color-coded: "good" characters (Aladdin, Jasmine) wear blue, "evil" characters (Jafar, Iago) wear red, and "neutral" characters dress in yellow. Computer graphics assisted in the creation of the film's more complex sequences and character designs, including the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin's magic carpet. For his role as the Genie, Robin Williams recorded nearly 16 hours of ad-libbed material (and impersonated over 52 separate characters), from which animator Eric Goldberg chose the best gags and matched his drawings to Williams' rapid-fire improvisations. Williams signed onto the film at a union scale rate of $75,000, provided the Genie take up no more than 25% of Disney's marketing campaign. When the studio failed to honor this agreement, Williams withdrew his name from all advertising material. (Jeffrey Katzenberg's eventual replacement, Joe Roth, issued a public apology to Williams in 1994, which impressed the actor so much, he agreed to return for Aladdin's second direct-to-video sequel, The King Of Thieves.) Following its release in U.S. theaters on November 25, 1992, Aladdin took a record eight weeks to reach the top spot at the box office, and grossed $504 million in worldwide ticket sales. It won two Academy Awards, for Best Score and Best Original Song ("A Whole New World"). Many Arab-Americans, however, objected to lyrics in the film's opening number, "Arabian Nights," and the song was later modified for home video.

How It Broke New Ground: Though not the first animated film to feature a major movie star as part of its voice cast (see The Jungle Book or The Rescuers for earlier examples of this), Aladdin is the first to focus almost its entire marketing campaign on the presence of one. It is also the first animated film to gross over $200 million in U.S. theaters.

How It Holds Up Today: It's been called everything from "a hip comic wonder" to "the most elaborate, narcissistic circus act in the history of cinema," and, indeed, how well you react to Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin may affect your opinion of the movie itself. For me, Williams' relentless shtick was always better suited for animation anyway, since he's pretty much a walking, talking cartoon to begin with, and he injects new life into the Disney formula, especially after the Broadway-caliber heights of Beauty And The Beast. The songs are fun, and there's a breathless pace to the action sequences, but the setup, I'm afraid, is your basic predictable fluff (Will Aladdin ever get a chance to live the high life? Will Jasmine ever love Aladdin for the man he is on the inside? Will the evil Jafar finally get the comeuppance he deserves?). Then the Genie shows up, and launches the movie into the stratosphere - with jokes that come at you so fast, it's a miracle that Eric Goldberg's character animation is able to keep up. Quibbles about anachronisms and racial stereotyping are beside the point - this is a comedy, after all, and never meant to be taken seriously. Anyone who thinks otherwise would best follow Genie's example and lighten up.

Grade: A-


Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, and Beauty And The Beast. Please comment! Let me know what you think!

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