‘Aladdin’ at 30 – Review | The film magazine

'Aladdin' at 30 – Review |  The film magazine

Aladdin (1992)
Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements
Writers: John Musker, Ron Clements, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale, Jim Cummings

After successfully revitalizing Disney’s animation department with The little Mermaid in 1989, the directorial team John Musker and Ron Clements turned their attention to a new musical inspired by “Arabian Nights”, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled over the centuries and printed for the first time in Arabic in XVIII century. Saw the title Aladdin after a subsequent story addition to what became known in English as ‘Arabian Nights’, and built largely around a showbiz vocal turn by Robin Williams, the film has become a favorite among the ‘Renaissance’ films of the Disney from the 90s and 30 years later still offers plenty to enjoy.

We follow the titular orphaned “street rat” (Scott Weinger) who steals to survive on the streets of Agrabah until the day he falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) who is fleeing her impending royal marriage obligations. After being imprisoned by the Sultan’s guards, Aladdin is offered his freedom and a chance to claim untold riches when the scheming royal vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) recruits him to retrieve a magical lamp from the mysterious Cave of Wonders, freeing a genie who grants wishes. (Robin Williams) in the process.

Just like the wizard Merlin from 1963 The sword in the StoneSince he is a magical being, the Genie is not tied to his current time and place. Because of this, Robin Williams could improvise and make anachronistic references to contemporary popular culture at his leisure and hope that the Genius animators could keep up with at least some of it. This is one of the first examples where the animation was largely completed after, and to fit, an actor’s vocal performance and body language; a far more common practice today with recognizable film and television actors lending their voices to animated characters rather than making use of career chameleonic voice actors.

Rapid-fire impressions found in Williams’ relentless stream of consciousness include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Arsenio Hall and Peter Lorre, but as always with his stand-up comedy routines you can still catch a joke you’ve missed in each review.

Williams also had a decent set of singing flutes on him and therefore each of the musical numbers sung by the Genie (the two no-holds-barred extravaganzas “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”) are far more memorable and purely entertaining than all the rest. Incredibly it was “A Whole New World” that won Best Original Song at the 1993 Oscars and not “Friend Like Me” (both nominated) despite the fact that the first immediately made one think of bad karaoke duets. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were a dream musical team for Disney until Ashman died during production, his lyricist duties were taken over by Tim Rice and sadly they lost some wits along the way.

The rest of the voice talent is consistently good, along with their talented animators, they all add color and extra layers to their overall characters. Freeman as Jafar particularly delights in his despicable pantomime performance as one of Disney’s great love-to-hate villains who transitions from a subtle schemer to a much more physical menace as the story progresses and the powers of Jafar as a sorcerer increase rapidly. It’s paired well with Gilbert Gottfried as his cranky parrot/foil sidekick Iago, their schemes and squabbles providing some of the biggest laughs in the film. You also have to tip the infinitely versatile Frank Welker, who has voiced Raja the tiger, Abu the monkey, and Abu the monkey-as-elephant.

Aladdin himself is a sympathetic protagonist in the journey of Disney heroes in the 90s, discovering the value of being yourself. Her rough life on the streets makes it understandable why she would see the wealth and status of her new alter ego Prince Ali as the secret to happiness, but it’s disappointing that the writers didn’t give Jasmine more credit for seeing through him as she witnesses firsthand how she finds herself at home on the streets during her jaunt outside the confines of the palace. While the Princess isn’t the most active action engine here, at least her arc didn’t feel as forced as the overly corrective efforts made in 2019 Aladdin remake.

Like any Disney film made decades ago and set in another culture, any kind of in-depth analysis simply cannot ignore the at best lazy, at worst downright racist stereotypes on display. Williams voicing the dodgy peddler at the outset is bad enough, but there’s also a lot of orientalist alternatives and gross generalizations about Arab and Muslim cultures going on in the film, as beautifully as this world is certainly realized in animation. .

Considering that’s so much a part of what makes the film a success, it also leaves a bad taste in the mouth that Williams had an integrity that Disney tried to exploit through merchandising, which they took rather personally. She has therefore only voiced this iconic character twice in her many media appearances, the other time in the second direct-to-video sequel, King of Thieves.

For all its dazzling animation and humorous tone, Aladdin it is a film truly made from sincere friendship at its heart. Genie and Al are brought together by circumstances and both have their own dreams and obstacles to overcome. At first, the Genie is a means to an end, a magical solution to my best life for Aladdin, but their relationship quickly turns into a bromance, the Genie caught pleasantly by surprise when summoned by not another master indifferent but a nice guy who asks him what he really wants after millennia. You love and care for all of these characters, plus there’s no shortage of animated movie magic to help you forgive the movie’s flaws.

Score: 17/24

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