Aladdin (1992)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments

Aladdin1

Disclaimer: Supposedly there’s a Paul-Is-Dead-type whisper about girls taking their clothes off (kind of like the rumored “penis castle” on the cover of The Little Mermaid). But unless your kids listen to the movie on full blast, you should be OK.

After The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast – which together re-invented Disney’s presence in screen animation and introduced a magic musical duo in Howard Ashman and Alan Menken – Aladdin had a seemingly impossible act to follow. And though the love story is far less developed than its predecessors, its visuals less enchanting, and its music less inspired, Aladdin still has sufficient energy as an entertaining adventure film, mostly thanks to the vocal stylings of Robin Williams, who always has plenty of energy to spare.

Aladdin is a revamped version of the 18th Aladdin2century Arabian nights fantasy famously depicted in the 1924 and 1940 films The Thief of Bagdad. The song Arabian Nights introduces us to the City of Agrabah, as we swoop through alleys and markets and overlook a grand palace. Then we meet the film’s title character (Scott Weinger), a clumsy street thief, who’s as well intentioned and bare-chested as the Douglas Fairbanks hero. Inside the city’s palace walls is Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), a beautiful young free spirit with harem pants covering her hourglass waist. Her chubby sultan father has invited princes from across the land to steal his daughter’s heart, since the law dictates she must marry. While Aladdin dreams of wealth and security, Jasmine dreams of freedom and normalcy. Thus it is clearly a film commenting on class – the upper comprised of rude snobs, bumbling idiots, and spoiled brats; the lower of kind souls struck down by unfortunate circumstances.

“I’m no prize to be won!” Jasmine says, and later flees the palace to become a commoner in the market. There, of course, she meets Aladdin. He falls desperately in love with her and wants to woo her, but doesn’t believe he can in his current financial situation. Enter Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), the sultan’s diabolical vizier, who needs a pure soul to steal a magic lamp. But when Aladdin retrieves said lamp, he rubs it himself and unleashes a Genie (Robin Williams), who will give him three wishes to save the day and win the girl.

For those who haven’t seen Williams’ stand-up, his comedy is frantically rabid to the point that I think he has faster brain synapses than the rest of humanity. For once Williams’ sense of humor and speedy free-associating gets the treatment it deserves. As the freedom-seeking Genie he impersonates the likes of Arnold Schwartzeneggar, Groucho Marx, Ed Sullivan, Robert DeNiro, Peter Lorre, Arsenio Hall, Jack Nicholson, and even Pinocchio. And though his references are clearly for parents, if you ask kids about the movie you may be surprised to find that he’s the first thing they mention. They don’t have to get the humor to feel his energy and see his hilarious transformations. He reportedly improvised so much of his lines that Disney ended up with 16 hours of material and its screenplay ineligible for awards. Though the Academy has yet to nominate an actor for voiceover work, if cinema has ever seen a performance to justify change this would be it.

The sound and music, however, did receive their share of Oscar attention (five nominations and two wins). Menken and Ashman returned for the film after The Little Mermaid, though Ashman died of AIDS during production and Tim Rice signed on. Their ballads are expositional (Arabian Nights), comic (Friend Like Me, Prince Ali), and romantic (A Whole New World).

The movie’s visuals are the tale of two contrasts (blue and red, night and day). Most of the movie is draped in maroon, purple, and gold, but its characters depend on red or blue – depending on if they’re good or bad. Jafar, for instance, carries his snake staff draped in red and black and exists in the shadows reminiscent of Maleficent. Aladdin utilizes a bit more CGI than its predecessor (Beauty and the Beast), most notably the scenes involving the tiger-headed cave.

But Aladdin’s true charm lies in the hands oAladdin3f its supporting characters. There’s Aladdin’s sidekick, a cute, squeaky kleptomaniac monkey named Abu, and Jasmine’s fatherly tiger Raja. On Jafar’s side there’s a sarcastic, angry big-mouthed parrot in Iago (Gilbert Gottfried). My personal favorite is the flying carpet, which is surprisingly expressive considering it has only tassels to act as hands and feet. Robin Williams’ Genie, however, runs the show and provides the vast majority of the film’s magic – in more ways than one.

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