‘Aladdin’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Aladdin – #2 in the U.S. (Nov. 27-29)

All-Time Domestic $217,350,219 | All-Time International $129,126,076
All-Time Worldwide $346,476,295

Aladdin remains a wondrous wish like no other, with a brilliant blend of humor, heart, and stellar animation. It’s not the best of the “Disney Renaissance;” it’s one of the studio’s best in their entire animation canon.

The “Disney Renaissance” was already three films deep as Aladdin was ready to make its way to theatres. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker had proven themselves worthy at the studio and have made the modest hit The Great Mouse Detective, and the smash hit The Little Mermaid. These two were tasked with bringing the Arabian Nights tale to life with some inspiration from Michael Powell’s The Thief of Baghdad thrown in. Yet, while working on the film, a bevy of moments would change the production. 

Lyricist Howard Ashman died due to AIDS complications during the film’s production, leaving his long-time collaborator Alan Menken to pair with lyricist Tim Rice to finish the movie. The initial story reel in April of 1991 failed to make a mark with Jefferey Katzenberg, who demanded a complete redo of the script and characters without moving the November 1992 release date. This would have two new writers on board (Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio), remove Aladdin’s mother character, and make Iago go from a stuffed shirt to the late great Gilbert Gottfried. Robin Williams was already on board but asked for the advertising not to hinge on his performance as the Genie due to his lead role in his pal Barry Levinson’s Toys, releasing the month after. Unfortunately, Disney would dismiss his wishes, much to his chagrin, causing a fraught relationship. Yet, Aladdin would become a diamond amid the rough production.

Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) is an admirable homeless thief in Agrabah, the kind of thief Jafar (expressed by Johnathan Freeman) is looking for. Jafar seeks a “diamond in the rough” to garner a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin is arrested after a romantic meeting with Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin), the princess of Agrabah, seeking love rather than an arranged marriage. Aladdin is tasked by Jafar in disguise but ends up stuck in the cave with the lamp. Aladdin rubs the lamp to discover the Genie (voiced by Robin Williams), an magic being who can grant him three wishes. Aladdin uses his wish to become a prince to win the hand of Jasmine, but as Jafar rears his ugly head, Aladdin must remember to be careful about what he wishes for.

The Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) lets Aladdin (Scott Weinger) ruminate while he illuminates before performing “Friend Like Me.” Source: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Aladdin isn’t the best film of the “Disney Renaissance;” it’s one of the best films of the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios canon. If I had to do a personal top ten of the studio’s best, Aladdin would be in that pantheon. It’s a visually stunning musical-comedy that is hysterical, heartwarming, and a near-perfect showcase of the studio animation. The film still holds on to its strengths 30 years later. 

Without a doubt, what everyone remembers of the film is Robin Williams as the Genie, and with good reason. Williams comes out of the gate swinging and doesn’t hold back. His vocal performance is littered with humor and impressions only elevated by animator Eric Goldberg. These two are a match made in heaven as Goldberg brings the Genie to life with such fluidity that it is akin to seeing Williams live in person. Using the work of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld as inspiration adds a modern sensibility to the movie and animation. They both make Genie go from a sole comic relief to a character with a heart, too, creating an emotional bond with Aladdin and yearning to escape from having to serve several masters for eternity. Unfortunately, this did lead to celebrities being cast in more voice roles. This is more for the sake of having a name rather than a good performance. None may have had as much care and charisma as Williams to hold their own, yet Jack Black in Kung Fu Panda is the closest. Black carries the same charm and care for Po in those films capturing his humor and heart.

Jafar (voiced by Johnathan Freeman) and Iago (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) are slammed against the wall by the arrival of Prince Ali’s welcome parade showing the Looney Tunes aspect of the film. Source: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Even outside of Williams, Aladdin remains one heck of a comedy. Freeman and Gotfried play off one another well, with Jafar having a dark, sarcastic wit to balance the loud and obnoxiousness of Iago. I love the camaraderie these two have, as it is unexpected, but it feels like these actors were in the same room bouncing off one another. Iago smacking the flamingo will make me laugh each time. Jafar’s dry “Ecstatic” meeting with Aladdin and Prince Ali is a laugh-out moment. A line I noticed for the first time got a big ol’ laugh from me with the Sultan commenting on Jasmine’s reluctance to marry by saying, “Her mother was not nearly as picky.” Another moment I love is when Jafar has the Sultan in a trance as he repeats the words, “Jasmine will marry the royal…but you’re so old!” Jasmine pretending to be Aladdin’s sister is hysterical with her acting like the camel is a doctor, and the animation gives her the funniest “no thoughts, head empty” expression you’ve ever seen. Animator Chuck Jones declared this “the funniest animation comedy” when he saw it, which is high praise for a film that is, as Williams said, “a Warner Bros. cartoon in Disney drag.” 

The comedy also never deters from its theme of the main characters all seemingly trapped in a place they wish to escape. Aladdin dreams of so much more, and Weinger delivers that notion. He gives Aladdin the rough and tumble but the heart of a prince. Jasmine wants more than being trapped in a tower and wants to see the world. Larkin gives her strength and independence in how she carries herself as she, like Belle the year prior, can hold their own. You want both of them to be free from their situation. As mentioned earlier, Genie wishes to be free to finally live a life that (spoilers for a 30-year-old movie) when he does, we shed some happy tears, even more so given Williams passing eight years ago. Jafar is also trapped, though his means of escape are nefarious, being a real jerk about wanting to be Sultan, then wanting to also be a sorcerer to conquer Agrabah. Freeman gives Jafar his malice, only elevated by the superb animation of Andreas Deja, who is the perfect fit to capture his essence. He even made sure Jafar slapped Aladdin mid-song, which is simply plain rude. 

The songs themselves are great with the work one would expect from Menken, Ashman, and Rice from the fantastical intro of “Arabian Nights,” the delicate yet sweeping romance of “A Whole New World,” and the bombastic arrival of “Prince Ali.” Yet, the centerpiece again goes to Williams and the masterful animators creating the showstopper of “Friend Like Me.” Within less than four minutes, we now know the Genie, the magic he possesses, and the fun he will bring in a number that would make Cab Calloway blush. Seeing animators putting on a clinic of imagination and wonder on-screen is phenomenal. I saw this at a drive-in event years ago, and “Friend Like Me” on a big screen is a sight worth seeing to capture the true essence of it all. As for “A Whole New World,” it’s a sweet, pleasant number I’ve caught myself singing multiple times. It’s also in steady rotation in the karaoke playlist to make the room weepy or make wonder just how much chemistry you and a best friend truly have. The animation captures the feeling that you have seen the world. You, too, are sailing across the skies, swept up in the magic of the world around them. 

Aladdin remains a wondrous wish like no other, with a brilliant blend of humor, heart, and stellar animation. It has resonated for years as a classic, and rightfully so. It makes me miss traditional hand-drawn animation greatly. Yet, it has inspired so many in animation today that we still see hints of the Renaissance.

Revue Rating: 5 out of 5

Next time, *Drum beat* AND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUUUUUUU! The Bodyguard pairs your dad’s other favorite actor Kevin Costner and the powerfulness of Whitney Houston to make a smash hit on the big screen and music charts.

Rest in Peace, Gilbert Gottfried

Feb. 28, 1955 – April 21, 2022
Thank you for your comedy, your voice, and your legacy.
Thanks for making childhood awesome.
We love you.

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