Jab’s Reviews: Aladdin

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ALADDIN (1992):

Written by: Ron Clements, John Muser, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Burny Mattinson, Roger Allers, Joe Ranft, Daan Jippes, Kevin Harkey, Sue Nichols, Francis Glebas, Darrell Rooney, Larry Leker, James Fujii, Kirk Hanson, Kevin Lima, Rebecca Rees, David S. Smith, Chris Sanders, Brian Pimental, Patrick A. Ventura & Ed Gombert

Ya know, if you wanted to keep the hits coming after The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, you couldn’t have done much better than Aladdin– instead of being a Princess Movie with a focus on the heroine, it’s an action-adventure featuring a male protagonist, and is MUCH more comedic and wacky, with tons of slapstick, sidekicks and pop culture-based humor- you could call it the predecessor of Shrek. There’s a lot of the “Standard Disney Formula” here, but under the unusual style of Arabic/Persian influences (The Thief and the Cobbler, a would-be mega-animation spectacular that flamed out miserably thanks to Executive Meddling and incompetence, was a major influence, but took too long to complete)- you have your Cute Animal Sidekick, The Princess Who Wants More, Effeminate Villain, People Showing Heart-Covered Boxer Shorts Despite This Being the Past, etc. But rarely do they all go together this well.

The Jasmine/Aladdin relationship is pretty typical of Disney films, but I think the Nostalgia Critic is right- they do have real chemistry. Plus, they’re teenagers- of course they like each other immediately and go to insane lengths to hook up. Jafar is delightfully evil, Iago is funny (plenty of people despise Gilbert Gottfried, but I find his particular brand of grating-voice humor entertaining, especially as he became one of the best of the “off-color joke” comedians of the “Roast” era). The Sultan is a friendly dunderhead, and Abu does a good job as the Sidekick because he’s the “Grumpy” of this film- the cynic who rips on everybody, instead of acting as a cutesy type.

In terms of Pure Fun, this may be one of the best Disney Movies- it really does throw in everything. It has SOME romance, but is much more focused on action sequences and adventure, so is more pleasing to male audiences. I always remember my mom loving the “Do you trust me?” line being echoed, which is what lets Jasmine in on “Prince Ali-Ababwa’s” secret. The same scene is basically put into the Raimi Spider-Man films, albeit with a kiss instead of dialogue- it’s the same impact, though.

Here’s a funny thing to me- that Magic Carpet went basically unrecognized as something special by me as a kid. Only looking at it now do I realize that animating such a thing would have been COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE with traditional animation, and the CGI is pretty damn seamless (moreso than the Frank Welker Sand Cat Head, which sticks out a bit more). The whole “Aladdin is the Diamond In The Rough” plot device seems a bit unnecessary to me- couldn’t it just have been chance that Jafar sent Aladdin in? He IS a thief, after all. Why does his Purity/Whatever matter for the overall plotline? The Cat’s plan to trap Aladdin forever in the cave is pretty dumb when you think about the fact that he GAVE HIM A MAGIC GENIE LAMP at the same time. The lava effects are something I remembered from when I was a kid- quite rad. Though of course anyone with a fundamental understanding of science goes batty when characters start standing RIGHT NEXT TO LAVA like nothing bad will happen- ah, genre conventions.

 

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The music is all pretty famous- Menken & Ashman (the latter died before Beauty & The Beast came out, but was obviously still working on Aladdin by that point, too- he coincidentally died just as a song that he loved- Proud of Your Boy, was dropped from the film after the character of Aladdin’s mother was cut) do some more of their classic work, alongside some new names- A Whole New World is a classic Love Song, though most of the others are more comedic than anything else. There’s not even a real Villain Song (one got cut due to being out of place and not fitting the story anymore, and the second is a mere reprise)! Most of the cut songs (they’re on the DVD set) are pretty mediocre, really, so I stand by their decisions.

The Genie’s rules of wishes are pretty clever: it removes the drama-lessening power of resurrections from the story (something Dragon Ball Z always suffered from- death NEVER mattered when you could just wish Vegeta back or whatever), and removed the PG-rating by avoiding concepts of rape and murder (well, murder committed by a genie) since he couldn’t kill anyone or force love. Plus the whole “Wish For More Wishes” thing (something I only heard about from a story we got told in Grade 5 class about a Genie named Quicksilver getting caught up in an eternal wish-loop by that).

“You are speechless, I see- A fine quality in a wife!” BAHAHAHAAHAHAH! GOD I love it when the villains are irredeemable sexist pigs :). The movie’s climax is pretty great, though, especially since the villain is REALLY powerful, and the only way to win is through outwitting him. And it’s a pretty decent job, too- it’s not just Jafar being a super-idiot, though it’s his vanity and power-lust that do him in.

THE CAST:

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ALADDIN

Yes, STEVE, D.J.’s boyfriend from Full House (a show I am all too familiar with, having grown up with twin sisters the same age as the Olsen Twins, who were therefore obsessed with the show), plays one of the most beloved of all of Disney’s heroes. Life is funny sometimes. Al is a bit unique, having grown up a thieving Street Rat (“If only they’d look CLOSER…”), but pulls the classic Quickie Disney Relationship and falls for Princess Jasmine, then gets wrapped up in Jafar’s scheme to rule Agrabah. Pretty soon, Al has a father-figure, a girlfriend and a mission- Rescue The Princess. Al’s pretty funny and a bit snarky, but also has a heart of gold- the producers also buffed him up, going for more Tom Cruise than Michael J. Fox (the initial body model- we’d see one of those later on in the ’90s). In some clips in the caverns, you can see his original body type more clearly.

About the Performer: Scott Weinger is arguably most famous for playing the boring recurring boyfriend Steve on Full House for years, but over the years, many people have laughed about the connection between Full House and Aladdin in this manner. There’s a funny bit on the DVD where he talks about auditioning for the role of Aladdin, and being asked if he could sing. Repeating something I’ve heard many other times elsewhere (“If you ask an actor if they can do something, they’ll ALWAYS say yes!”

The producers of HBO’s OZ noticed the same thing when they asked their actors who could box.  Every one of them said they could… and only Chuck Zito actually knew how for real)- he then sang parts of a song… and got the most amused reaction from the producers, who just kind of chuckled. Thankfully, he still got the role (the singing voice ended up being a different guy). His career is pretty minor aside from these two major roles, but he’s primarily known as a producer these days, having written and produced The MuppetsBlack-ish90210, and other shows.

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ABU

Abu is a pretty classic Disney Sidekick, though is a bit nastier than others, which is a good idea- another Flounder or Meeko (who is more of a mischievous DICK than anything) would have been much more forgettable. Instead, Abu is sort of the “Cynic Surrogate” character, snarking whenever someone does something too mushy, or have something funny happen to him when he acts a bit too uppity. He laughs off the idea of giving two starving children some hard-won bread (in a great bit of directly, he SPITEFULLY EATS IT, using great character animation). He also acts like a jewel-hungry bastard, nearly getting Aladdin killed in the first third of the picture.
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JASMINE

Princess Jasmine is what led to the creation of Aladdin, ironically- the skinny young kid original envisioned for the film was dropped as soon as the Character Designers presented THIS “Miss Fanservice” as the movie’s heroine. Soon as they saw her, the guys were all “well that little kid isn’t gonna match up to THIS” and had to re-do Aladdin’s design. Now, you may ask “why didn’t they just change Jasmine’s design, since they’d already done most of the work on Aladdin and even completed some footage? Wouldn’t it be cheaper?”, and the response would be “BECAUSE THEY WERE MEN”. As a result, we get a buff, handsome Aladdin to go along with Miss Midriff here (who even got a Go-Go Enslavement scene), and thus, men AND women were satisfied with the film!

Al & Jasmine are actually really cute together- it’s one of the better-handled Disney Quickie Relationships out there, rivaling Belle & The Beast. One of my favorite bits is when Aladdin pulls his “Do you trust me?” act for the second time, and Jasmine figures it out. The character is definitely sexualized a lot, and is probably the Disney Princess most depicted in that manner. Her status as Jafar’s enslaved captive is one of the more relentlessly, obviously “intended to be sexy” parts of the Disney Animated Canon- her attempts at seducing Jafar horrific to watch as much as they’re designed for the dads in the audience, especially as she slinks up to his creepy ass and acts like his beard is sexy (“It’s so… TWISTED…”).

Jasmine (dressed like a Harem Girl, despite being a Princess, a dramatic factual error from the era & place that I’m sure most people will forgive them for) is your standard “I want MORE!” Princess, though at least the fact that she’s been living in the palace her whole life makes her come across a BIT less spoiled when she whines about how hard her life is. That and the fact that her dad keeps forcing her to meet a bunch of lame suitors. She’s sprightly and has more of a sarcastic streak than most of the Princesses, and is a good bit more flirty judging by the film.

About the Performer: Linda Larkin is pretty much only known for playing Jasmine, which she’s done a LOT. She’s had a bit of Live-Action work as well (she’s very cute and blonde), but nothing major. Lea Salonga, her singing voice, has actually had the more impressive career, appearing in countless Broadway productions (her Eponine is FLAWLESS), and lending her very beautiful sing-songy voice to characters like Mulan as well. How good is she? Well, despite being in her late 40s, she can STILL command lead roles- it helps that she hasn’t aged a day in twenty years.

 

 
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THE GENIE

The Genie was pretty much defined by his original Voice Actor, Robin Williams, who brought his particular cocaine-driven comedic sensibilities and improv to the character (many lines of dialogue apparently read “whatever Robin says”), creating a sensation and the movie’s most popular and enduring character. Genie acts wild, silly, Jewish (the animator, Eric Goldberg, deliberately did this AND found Williams using Yiddish phrases with the character) and ultimately rather loyal to Aladdin, and in his quieter moments we discover him to be a fountain of solid advice and thoughtful sensibilities (like when he wishes to be free).

He’s a heck of a mimic of celebrities who wouldn’t be born for quite some time, and some were rather obscure- I mean, how many kids in 1992 would have heard of WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY (someone I had to look up on Wikipedia)?? And did any character in history ever get an introduction like HIS? Never Had a Friend Like Me is amazing, full of Broadway/Huckster-style bombast, explaining just what kind of character The Genie was immediately, and it’s one of the movie’s show-stopping numbers. To the point where the Broadway Musical more or less uses it as the “may as well just give this actor the Tony right now” number.

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About the Performer: Robin Williams is one of the best “Gets” Disney ever got for its animated stuff, with his already-cartoonish voice and surprisingly emotional acting style combining together for one hell of a performance. Williams is of course a legend, having made his bones as “Mork From Ork” for Mork and Mindy (after a successful cameo on Happy Days), then going on to HUGE success in films. His roles weren’t always critically beloved (Popeye was a bomb), but he shocked people by being perfect for a lot of dramas- comedians, after all, are masters of inflection, timing and language. It’s harder to be funny than it is to be dramatic, so people need to stop being surprised when a comedian turns out to be great at the latter- the same skills are required. Williams also trained at Juilliard, which is nearly impossible to get into.

Williams was in basically EVERYTHING, and had a lot of ups and downs over the years. His hits were big (he was in Mrs. DoubtfireAladdin and Jumanji in quick succession), but his bombs were also pretty numerous. The whole “Tears of a Clown” thing seems to have affected him greatly, and he was infamous for being very quiet when he was “off”, as his wildman act was just that- a persona he put on. His prospects dried up a lot with age, and he got a rep for not being funny anymore, which became all the more tragic when he took his own life in 2014- something his wife attributes to the onset of a form of Parkinson’s disease which would pretty much have turned him into a physical and mental wreck. It says something when people who have the same condition are like “yeah, I can see that” to somebody who may just not have wanted to deal with it.

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JAFAR

Jafar is a pretty classic case of an Effeminate Male Disney Villain (sometimes referred to as “Queer Coded”), though he’s also one of the lustier ones towards women. He wears a sharp-looking suit with pointy edges (to make him look more sinister), and uses EYESHADOW of all things, and is generally the most cliched Evil Vizier character in history (any RPG I ever play, I go straight for the vizier upon first meeting him), but they make it work due to sheer sliminess. Jafar basically acts as evil as humanly possible, schemes in the worst way (as the power behind the throne, he’s ALREADY one of the most powerful men in all of Agrabah, yet he constantly seeks out more power), and sets up his own defeat over sheer power-hungriness. Despite lacking a good song (one was written, but never used for the final production), he’s one of the most popular Disney Villains- second only to Maleficent, according to some countdowns.

As good as Jonathan Freeman (who I’ve never heard of) was in the role, the fact that he could have been played by PATRICK STEWART (who was unfortunately too busy, which he regrets eternally) fills my nerd’s heart with sadness as to what could have been.

The character is based off of the Jafar from The Thief of Bagad, a 1940s movie, and even resembles the actor, Conrad Veidt. Freeman had auditioned for many past Disney films and was known to Menken & Ashman, and loved the character’s “heavy-lidded” eyes and other visual traits, and so campaigned heavily for the role. He performed it mostly by himself for months, having been cast way ahead of anybody else- Andreas Deja- Jafar’s animator- was shocked to find so little visual similarity to the character (Freeman is a tall, heavyset white guy). As one of the most powerful Disney Villains, the character appears in tons of line-ups as a major element of the story.

About the Performer: Jonathan Freeman has made a bit of a career out of playing Jafar, to the point where the Broadway-trained actor was also the creator of the role on BROADWAY, too! Keep in mind that more than twenty years separates the film version from the Broadway show. He’s mostly seen on the stage, where he’s quite respected (being nominated for a Tony), not to mention a regular for Disney productions (he was Cogsworth and Grimsby in other shows).

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IAGO

Iago was a pretty good Villainous Sidekick, being portrayed with ridiculously over-the-top vocal characteristics by Gilbert Gottfried (who’d get more notorious later on as a guy on the Comedy Central Roasts, with an infamous routine against Bob Saget). Funnily enough, Iago’s popularity leads to him becoming a recurring character, unlike his late boss. He turns good, despite advocating several counts of first-degree murder in the first film, and kills Jafar to end his threat permanently. Reviewer Lindsay Ellis points out that the second Aladdin film isn’t really that bad, and Iago actually presents an interesting character in it.

Reception & Cultural Impact:

The movie did PHENOMENALLY well, and fits right into the Disney Renaissance. The notion of a snarkier, rapscallion of a lead character wasn’t entirely new, but I think Aladdin led to the flood of that personality type in the later (non-Disney) animated films following this one- you could probably trace the lineage of “DreamWorks Face”-making heroes to our friend Al. Many of the songs went on to become major show-stoppers, though only Friend Like Me became a MAJOR recurring theme throughout Disney history. Robin Williams’ performance as The Genie also set off a firestorm of celebrity Voice Actors who’d try to use Disney films to aid their careers.

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However, the latter effectively changed animated films FOREVER- before that, you were likely to get unknowns as major characters (the only celebrities in Beauty and the Beast play household appliances), and the occasional minor celebrity at-best- guys like Phil Harris (Baloo/Little John). Jiminy Cricket and Robin Hood were played by people audiences might recognize in the ’40s & ’60s, but not, like, ROBIN WILLIAMS-level guys. But The Genie changed all that- from then on, if you ran an Animated Feature, you were putting A-Listers in big roles. So people with the Broadway training to pull off emotional reactions using their voice, like Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara & Jodi Benson… were soon falling by the wayside, as Pocahontas featured Mel Gibson, Mulan had Eddie Murphy, etc., all being hired mainly to play themselves and their own recognizable celebrity voices.

You can see the effects of this all the way to modern times, where almost every non-Disney picture is made up 100% of big-name stars. Disney themselves fell into this BADLY after a point, but have since shrunk back a bit- Tangled and Frozen both featured actual celebs as the Main Characters, but most of the love interests, side characters, sidekicks and villains were played by minor TV and Broadway actors, some of whom (Josh Gad, Idina Menzel) only became big AFTER the movies hit.

There was a bit of a stink over the offensiveness of the movie to Arabs- the “they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” line was switched in the Home Video release. Other complaints (including from Roger Ebert) were that Al & Jasmine looked too European (they’re basically the Standard Disney Design but with tans and larger nose bridges, compared to the hideous, hook-nosed caricatures that made up the antagonistic people.

 

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The movie’s popularity set off a Straight-To-Video Sequel (the first of the Disney films, if I recall correctly- itself a trailblazer, albeit a dubious honor), ANOTHER sequel (The King of Thieves, revealing Aladdin’s father), and a TV series. I recall seeing many episodes of it (Dan “Homer” Castellanetta played the role of The Genie, as he did in the first sequel), but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it if I tried. Apparently it’s well-thought-of, but I found it rather “blah” at the time. But this whole concept of forming a cottage industry around one particular feature ended up being replicated again and again, though The Little Mermaid did a TV series two years earlier.

There’s also an Aladdin Broadway Musical, which is a bit odd considering how long it took them to make that- the two preceding, and one following, Disney Renaissance titles surrounding it all got their musicals in the NINETIES- why did it take so long for Aladdin to get his? The Genie’s actor was basically guaranteed the Tony give how great and eye-catching his role is, and Jafar from the movie actually played the musical version as well, which was neat. Expect this one to run for years.

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Other Aladdin stuff:

Various Disney Parks have had meet & greets for the characters, with EPCOT featuring one in the Morocco Pavilion. There are Flying Carpet Rides in some parks as well (mainly in Adventureland), and a stage show in Tokyo DisneySea’s “Arabian Coast” section (which features unrelated stuff, such as a fantastic Sinbad dark ride and the world’s largest merry-go-round).

Though oddly enough, the most Merch-based stuff for the film is centered around the third-tier protagonist, as Princess Jasmine, appearing in the famous Disney Princess line, has become the most Toyetic character, inspiring many solo meet & greets without the main character of her story (with most non-white Face Character performers being stuck playing her, Mulan & Pocahontas).

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In fact, looking at the Disney Parks, Jasmine has ten times the presence of even ALADDIN- such is the power of the “Princess” thing. She’s become a bit notorious to Disneyphiles, too, as certain modern movements have led to her Harem Girl Outfit (which, to be fair, is hilariously silly if you think about it) being replaced by what looks like a hideous bejeweled tent.

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