by Mark Greig
I knew from the first trailer that I was going to love Aladdin. That just happens sometimes. You see a trailer for a film and you just know instantly that you are going to love it. Doesn't happen all the time, as evidenced by The Phantom Menace, but it did happen this time.
The idea of turning the story of a boy and his lamp into a film started with Howard Ashman. He pitched the idea to Disney after The Little Mermaid and because Disney listened to everything Howard Ashman said they quickly put the film into production. Such a shame Ashman wouldn't live to see the finished article. The making of the film was not without its ups and downs. At one point Jeffrey Katzenberg, unsatisfied with what had been produced so far, told the team to scrap everything they had done and start all over again. If that wasn't bad enough, he wasn't going to push back the film's release date.
Luckily directors John Musker and Ron Clements were able to completely turn around the film's new plot and screenplay in just eight days. Considering that it was made in a rush, I'm amazed the film turned out as well as it did. I guess some people really do do their best work under pressure. For me, Aladdin is one of Disney's purely enjoyable films, a grand adventure movie with action set-pieces most live action films would kill for. The escape from the collapsing Cave of Wonders was the most exciting sequences featured in a Disney film at that point. And the final battle with Jafar, where the villain transforms himself into a giant snake, has a real Harryhausen feel to it.
Thanks to Robin Williams’ hyperactive Genie, Aladdin is also one of Disney’s funniest movies. The Genie is the perfect marriage of actor and character. You can tell that animators had as much fun with this character as Williams (who improvised the majority of his dialogue) did. The near omnipotent nature of the Genie, as well as his shape changing abilities, allows the filmmakers break the fourth wall and slip in sly in-jokes about previous Disney films and pop culture in general (this is probably the only Disney film you’ll see where someone does a Ed Sullivan impression). Aladdin was the first major animated film tailored to appeal to adults as well as children. From this point on all animated films would start including jokes that would have parents chuckling away while their kids looked on confused.
The Genie is such a powerful personality, it is miracle that the film’s other characters aren’t completely eclipsed by his presence. Aladdin is one of Disney’s most likeable heroes and his romance with Jasmine (another one of the renaissance era’s great princesses, even if she does end up as a damsel in distress in the final act) never grates. Jafar, voiced with devilish silkiness by Jonathan Freeman, is one of my favourite Disney villains. There is no depth to Jafar's character. He's not some misunderstood adversary with complex motivations. Like most Disney villains he is unashamedly evil and revels in his own wickedness. And this is exactly why I love him so much. That, and the way he says this line:
Ashman and Alan Menken wrote several songs for the film before Ashman's passing. After the film was reworked on Katzenberg’s order, many were left unusable. Only ‘Friend Like Me’, ‘Prince Ali’ and ‘Arabian Nights’ made it into the finished film. Menken teamed up with Tim Rice to compose some new songs for the film, such as ‘One Jump Ahead’ and ‘A Whole New World’. I prefer the Ashman/Menken tunes to the Rice/Menken ones. ‘One Jump Ahead’ is a fun track, but I have never liked 'A Whole New World'. Unusually, there isn't a big "I Want" song or a lively tune for the villain. The closest we get are the reprises for 'One Jump Ahead' and 'Prince Ali'.
Parrots and Monkeys
--In the original version of the film, Aladdin had a mother and several friends.
--The film was followed up by two straight to video sequels, The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves, as well as a TV series. I have actually seen all three. They were not that good.
--The great Spike Milligan considered Aladdin to be the greatest film of all time. I can’t think of higher praise than that.
--The Genie impersonates Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, William F. Buckley, Señor Wences, Robert De Niro, Carol Channing, Arsenio Hall, Walter Brennan, Mary Hart, Ethel Merman, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Nicholson, and Peter Lorre. First time I saw the film the only ones I recognised were Schwarzenegger and Nicholson.
--The 2004 special edition of the soundtrack includes demos for ‘Proud of Your Boy’ and ‘High Adventure’, two unused tracks Ashman and Menken wrote for the film, performed by the composers themselves. ‘High Adventures’ later appeared in the stage version.
--To convince Robin Williams to do the role, the filmmakers animated the Genie doing several minutes of his stand-up routines and screened it for Williams. He was so impressed that he signed immediately.
--The animators did a great job with the Magic Carpet. He is surprisingly expressive for a silent rug.
Genie: "I'm free. I'm free. Quick. Quick, wish for something outrageous. Say, 'I want the Nile.' Wish for the Nile. Try that."
Aladdin: "Uh, I wish for the Nile."
Genie: "No way!"
Merchant: "Oh! Look at this. I have never seen one of these intact before. This is the famous Dead Sea Tupperware. Listen. Pbbtt! Ah, still good."
Genie: "I can't help you. I work for Senor Psychopath now!"
Genie: [reading a script] "Tonight the part of Al will be played by a tall, dark, and sinister ugly man."
Jafar: "I am your master now!"
Genie: "I was afraid of that."
Iago: "We gotta get outta here! We gotta get out! I gotta start packing, Your Highness! Only essentials, we gotta travel light. I'll bring the guns, the weapons, the knives, and uh, how about this picture? I don't know, I think I'm making a weird face in it."
Jafar: "Sire, I must intercede on Jasmine's behalf. This boy is no different than the others. What makes him think he is worthy of the princess?"
Aladdin: "Your Majesty, I am Prince Ali Ababwa. Just let her meet me. I will win your daughter."
Jasmine: "How dare you? All of you! Standing around deciding my future? I am not a prize to be won!"
Four out of four diamonds in the rough.