How to succeed in the monarchy without really trying
This week we have another Renaissance classic: Aladdin. The movie is based upon a middle-eastern folktale of a young man who inadvertently gains the assistance of a powerful genie.
The creation of this movie can be attributed to none other than Howard Ashman. In the late 80’s he pitched the story as a musical movie to Disney, writing a forty page plot description and several songs (with the help of Alan Menken). However, Disney dismissed the idea. A few years later, directors Musker and Clements chose to start development up again. They wrote a draft of the screenplay that was subsequently torn apart by Jeffrey Katzenberg; he requested that the story be rewritten with an array of changes to be made.
Menken and Ashman were able to write two songs together before Howard’s death in 1991: “Prince Ali” and a song that wound up being cut, “Humiliate the Boy”. Lyricist Tim Rice would then step in to write the rest of the songs with Menken. It’s heartbreaking that Howard was not able to see the outcome of the project that he had such a passion for, and we can only hope that he would have enjoyed it.
Scott Weinger (Steve from Full House) was cast as the speaking voice of Aladdin, and Brad Kane did the singing for the character. Linda Larken was chosen to do the speaking voice of Princess Jasmine and Broadway actress Lea Salonga provided her singing. The most memorable cast member has to be the incomparable Robin Williams as the Genie. Robin truly made the character his own, bringing his signature comedic style and impressions into the film. In fact, most of his hysterical lines are Robin’s improvisations. Musker and Clements actually had Robin Williams on their minds when crafting the character of Genie, and of course the actor wound up accepting the role. This was one of the first instances of a current high profile movie star taking a part in an animated film – later Renaissance movies like The Lion King and Mulan would follow this precedent, and nowadays it’s the norm for animated characters to be voiced by major actors. But Robin wasn’t the only inspiration in the animation room. The writers reworked the character of Iago (originally written as a snooty, British bird) to match comedian Gilbert Godfried after seeing some of his work, and he lent his voice to the outrageous parrot. The animators were diligent in their work, studying animals at the zoo for the animal characters and even using the appearances and expressions of the voice-actors to influence the character designs. For Aladdin’s design they drew inspiration from Hollywood and based him slightly on Tom Cruise.
Aladdin debuted at number two at the box office, falling behind Home Alone 2. However, eight weeks later it did reach the number one spot and wound up being the most successful film of 1992. To this day, it is still the third highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time. The film was very well received by critics and audiences alike, praising the animation, the exciting story, the humor, and the music. Chuck Jones, the famous Looney Tunes writer/director even called Aladdin “the funniest feature ever made.” As is expected, Robin Williams’ performance was the highest praised aspect of the film. However, the film did receive a bit of criticism, especially due to its portrayal of it’s Arabic characters. Roger Ebert pointed out how the animators relied heavily on stereotypes and gave the characters “exaggerated facial characteristics”.
The depiction of its Middle Eastern characters is not the only controversy this film has had. When Robin Williams signed on for the project he agreed to voice the Genie for a significantly lower sum than what was his current asking fee with the conditions that he wouldn’t be used for marketing and the Genie would not take up more than 25% in promotional images. This deal was due to the fact that Robin had another children’s fantasy film being released shortly after Aladdin. Disney agreed to these conditions but wound up backtracking on the deal. The studio not only used Williams’ voice to promote the film in commercials, but also had Genie take up considerable space in the advertisements. Even after heavily relying on his character to sell toys, merchandise, and the film as a whole, Disney did not compensate Williams accordingly. Williams was understandably livid; he publicly called out the studio and refused to voice the Genie on the sequel movie The Return of Jafar. It wasn’t until Jeffrey Katzenberg left the studio and Joe Roth stepped up as chairman that an official public apology was made. Robin Williams did voice Genie in the second sequel film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
Aladdin won Best Original Song (“A Whole New World”, though “Friend Like Me” also received a nom) and Best Original Score at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. It was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Globes. Robin Williams won Best Comedic Performance at the MTV Movie Awards. And the film won four Grammys: Best Soundtrack Album, Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, and Best Song Written for a Motion Picture.
As mentioned before, two direct-to-video sequels were released in the years after the film came out: The Return of Jafar in 1994 and Aladdin and the King of Thieves in 1996. A live-action remake of the film came out in 2019 with Will Smith taking over the role of Genie, Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Twisted – it’s a musical parody by the same group that did the popular Very Potter Musicals on YouTube. The show is “Wicked-style”, in other words, telling the story of Aladdin from the point of view of the villain, Jafar. It’s hilarious and silly, but also has some really good messages and deep moments, and I think it’s excellent and one of the best Starkid shows.
In the parks, Aladdin has a strong presence. Aladdin and Jasmine are available for meet and greets in both Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and at the Morocco Pavilion in EPCOT. There is also the Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride in Adventureland. The music and characters are featured in shows and parades, especially the Genie.
Aladdin was definitely a favorite for me to watch growing up – the action was exciting, the music was catchy, and the Genie was hilarious. It is certainly a classic of the era, and Genie is still considered one of the most beloved Disney characters of all time-due completely to Robin Williams’ performance. I’m excited to watch it again. So, hop your magic carpet, and let’s fly into this film!
My thoughts on Aladdin:
- The camera “come closer…too close” joke is underrated
- Robin Williams’ improvisations are genius, and the fact so many of his lines in this movie are improv is just….spectacular
- The seller is supposed to be the Genie right? I know it’s Robin’s voice, and he’s in blue with a red sash, so why is he trying to sell the lamp? Or is it a different character and the outfit is a nod to the fact that both he and Genie are voiced by Robin?
- Ooh Jafar’s voice is so menacing
- I like that they start out with Jafar, it’s different . Not many Disney movies start out with the villain. Actually…is this the only one?
- Well, Three Caballeros begins with Donald, who in my eyes is the villain so
- Even at 24 the Tiger Cave scares me a little bit
- Man starting off with death real quick
- I can’t not picture Steve from Full House
- Remember when Full House went to Disney World? Why did 90’s shows all go to Disney World?
- All of these guards are so incompetent
- Do they get fired after this?
- “He’s got a sword!” “You idiots we’ve all got swords” hahaha
- Aww Aladdin and the kids, proving he has a heart
- Okay, I’m gonna say it, I’m not a big fan of Abu
- He’s definitely the worst animal sidekick, right?
- He’s grumpy all the time. He makes things harder for Aladdin. And like, Flounder makes things harder for Ariel, but at least he has a positive attitude!
- I applaud Aladdin for standing up to the prince, but he’s REAL lucky he didn’t get in more trouble
- I feel for Jasmine, and I like her. The marriage rule is stupid and I’m glad she’s not giving in. That being said, complaining about being a princess and being stuck in the palace has major “celebrities complaining about being stuck in their mansions during quarantine” vibes
- Jasmine Would sing “Imagine” to her people
- Does anyone ever see Jafar hypnotizing people? What do the people think happens after they’ve been hypnotized? Like, what will the Sultan think when he realizes the stone is missing?
- What IS Jasmine’s plan?
- Also, she sneaks out during the night and then we see her during the day, where did she stay/sleep?
- Jasmine, you have big earings!! Trade them
- Aladdin is clever!
- And I like how Jasmine jumps in quickly, she’s smart too!
- We stan an intelligent couple
- How … does this…machine work??
- Also, Aladdin is the ONLY diamond in the rough? The only good person living on the streets?
- I love that she jumps the roof easily
- Jasmine and Aladdin are the first royal couple to have an actual friendly conversation on-screen and I appreciate them
- Did no one at the palace know Jasmine was missing? Were the guards not searching for her already? She’s been gone nearly a day
- Oh shut up Abu and just save your friend gosh
- Lol Why does Jafar disguise himself as a prisoner
- Why not just walk in as himself and tell Aladdin “I’ll let you out if you help me?”
- It’s for the Drama isn’t it?
- Magic Carpet is so cool, both the concept and the character
- What constitutes touching? The pile of gold is a bit precarious, what if you accidentally stepped on some would that count? Or is it touching with the intent of taking?
- Okay, it’s so impressive that the carpet can express so much without speaking
- Or having a face
- Abu, I hate you so much
- Now Aladdin’s nearly gonna die
- Abu does NOT have the lamp when they get knocked down
- Oh here we go…
- Here we go go go!!!
- Let’s be honest, the moment we’ve all been waiting for
- Ah! Dummy! Fun and Fancy Free flashback!
- Such a great opening riff
- Friend Like Me is a top 10 Disney Song
- Aladdin is really clever, tricking Genie to get him out of the cave
- But the whole thing so far has been Jasmine needs to marry a prince. Jafar is not one.
- Ah! Pinocchio flashback!
- Robin Williams is so funny! All the little side comments here or there, with the animation of course, is just hysterical, even as an adult, actually ESPECIALLY as an adult because I get the references more
- I think it’s nice that Genie goes all out for Aladdin’s wish. Like, he could have just put him in the nice clothes and offered some kind of certificate as proof he’s a prince and been done with it. The parade is really going the extra ten miles
- Is there NO ONE ELSE who works in this giant palace to call Jafar out on his crap?
- Has he killed them all? Do they just not care?
- Hahaha I love the Macy’s parade bit
- Prince Ali is such a fun song
- “I am not a prize to be won” hell yeah Jasmine
- Jafar delivers the line “Prince Abooboo” with impressive menace
- How did they/Robin Williams decide on which impressions to do? They seem so random, funny though!
- Shout out to Genie for trying to get him to tell the truth
- Aladdin heard Jasmine complaining about the rich, stuffy palace life so why is he acting rich and stuffy?
- Also, he’s literally just in a different outfit. People change clothes everyday.
- Yeah, she’s suspicious, and in a little bit she reveals that she thought it was him, but I think she should be pushing him a little more?
- The jump off the balcony is such a funny and cute moment
- Okay, she definitely knows from “do you trust me”
- Ugh, the Whole New World sequence is one of my FAVORITES of any Disney movie, all the things they see, the stars and flying, so pretty and fun
- As a Sagittarius (known travelers) I enjoy seeing all the glimpses of different places
- Did he really think she would NEVER recognize him? He’s just in different clothes!
- Is she not gonna ask him why his “commoner persona” was a wanted thief??
- Magic Carpet is the best wing…carpet
- Also, that may be the cutest first kiss of a Disney movie
- Ah! Going to the bottom of a body of water with a ball and chain! Mr. Toad Flashback!
- This got dark
- Genie was helping Aladdin out when he was trying to flirt with Jasmine, why can he do that but he can’t save his life? I feel like that should be an exception
- Aladdin notices in three seconds what no one else in the palace has noticed for, what, years?
- Aladdin and Jasmine trying to make out while her dad is right there and after a dangerous criminal has just escaped lol
- Aladdin only has one wish left, even if he keeps Genie on retainer, it’s not like he’ll be able to cover for every issue and lie indefinitely
- Poor Genie
- Now look Aladdin, all your friends left
- I really like Jasmine’s purple outfit
- Jafar is STILL in the castle?!!! NO ONE has found him yet?
- These guards REALLY need to be fired
- How can Genie serve two masters at once? I feel like there should be a “you can use the lamp when the last guy is done or dead” rule
- If Jafar could make a wish when Aladdin was in charge, why can’t Aladdin make a wish while Jafar is in charge?
- It’s so Aladdin can still have a wish to free genie at the end, isn’t it? I guess that’s ok
- Anyone else think “sorcerer Jafar” is a little anticlimactic? He looks like regular Jafar
- Jafar rewriting Aladdin’s earlier bop to be a dig is a Power Move
- That tower rolling down the snow, man the computer animation is juxtaposed so hard with the traditional animation
- Run to the side!
- NO WAY that window trick would work, how did he get it so conveniently timed
- Jafar interrupted an impression! The AUDACITY
- Let’s take a moment to remember that Jasmine is 15 and Jafar is like 50-60? I know he’s the villain the movie definitely frowns upon it, but them flirting/kissing is SO CREEPY
- Jafar’s puns may be the most evil thing about him
- “Why are you bringing me into this?” lmfaoo
- I really love the genie twist, it’s so clever, and Aladdin goads him into it so well without it being super obvious what’s going to happen
- Jasmine, you really love him?? I understand liking him, wanting to date him a little more, but LOVE?
- Yay Genie!
- It’s what he deserves
- Aww they can be together after all!
- If I was Jasmine I’d be a little annoyed though, like, dad could have changed the law this whole time!
- Seeing Genie with a Goofy hat makes me want to go to Disney
- Aww, flying off into the moonlight
- Made ya look!
Aladdin is far from perfect, but it’s such a fun movie to watch. Robin Williams is just hysterical and Genie is one of my favorite Disney characters – and, boy, watching this made me miss Robin so much. The music is so fun, Jasmine is a breath of fresh air as a headstrong, independent princess, and Aladdin is a clever hero.
What do you think of Aladdin? Is it one of your favorites or do you think it’s overrated? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Next week, I tackle a giant in the Disney canon; animated film royalty, one could say. That’s right, it’s time for The Lion King.