Saturday, December 13, 2014

#1,580. Aladdin (1992)

Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker

Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin

Tag line: "imagine if you had three wishes, three hopes, three dreams, and they all could come true"

Trivia: Robin Williams worked at union scale rate on the condition that his voice not be used for merchandising (i.e. toys & such), & that the Genie character not take up more than 25% of the space of a poster, ad, billboard, or trailer. When these wishes weren't honored, he withdrew his support for Disney & the film

Having kicked off the “Disney Renaissance” with movies set under the sea (The Little Mermaid) and in France (Beauty and the Beast), The House of Mouse next turned its attention to the Middle East with 1992's Aladdin. Aside from being an excellent movie, Aladdin was also a box-office phenomenon; taking in nearly half a billion dollars worldwide, it was the most successful motion picture of the year and one of Disney’s all-time biggest hits.

Inspired by a folktale from One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin is the story of…. well, Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger), a petty thief who roams the streets of Agrabah with his pet monkey Abu, looking for food. One day, Aladdin encounters a beautiful woman with whom he falls instantly in love, not realizing it’s actually the Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), who, upset that she’s being forced by her father, the Sultan (Douglas Seale), to marry against her will, has run away from home. When the Palace guards track them down, Jasmine is returned to her father and Aladdin, accused of kidnapping the Princess, is thrown in jail. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s most trusted adviser, the Grand Vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), is searching for a fabled magic lamp, one that supposedly houses an ancient Genie who, when released, will grant whoever freed him three wishes. Hoping to use the lamp to overthrow the Sultan and gain control of Agrabah, Jafar travels to the ancient cave that houses the lamp. Once there, however, he learns that only “A Diamond in the Rough” (i.e. an honest but poor man) can enter it. Along with his parrot / sidekick Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), Jafar (in disguise) helps Aladdin break out of jail, then convinces the young man to enter the cave and retrieve the lamp. Aided by a magical flying carpet, Aladdin and Abu locate the lamp, but when Jafar tries to double-cross him, Aladdin frees the Genie (the incomparable Robin Williams) himself and, for his first wish, asks to become a Prince, thus making him an eligible suitor for Jasmine. Will Aladdin and Jasmine live happily ever after, or will the treacherous Jafar steal the lamp away from our hero and use it to take over the kingdom?

Aladdin has it all: rich characters (as voiced by Jonathan Freeman, Jafar is one of the most interesting Disney villains I’ve come across); a well-told story, and some great music (“A Whole New World’ won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe as the year’s Best Original Song). As if this weren’t enough, Aladdin also has Robin Williams, who brought his patented energy to the part of the Genie. A fast-talking conjurer with a keen knowledge of pop culture (he impersonates a number of celebrities, including Ed Sullivan and Jack Nicholson), the Genie is hilarious, generating dozens of laughs every time he appears on-screen. Along with the jokes, Williams also sings my two favorite songs from the film: “Friend Like Me” (performed when Aladdin first meets the Genie) and “Prince Ali” (a brilliantly staged number during which Aladdin, now Prince Ali of Ababwa, rides into Agrabah surrounded by dancing girls and a marching band, all in an effort to win Jasmine’s heart). Aladdin may be the star of this movie, but it’s the Genie (and Robin Williams) who steals the show.

During their “Renaissance”, which lasted from 1989 to 1999, Disney’s animation studios turned out 11 movies, including Pocahontas, Hercules (not a great film, but a guilty pleasure of mine nonetheless), Mulan, and Tarzan. Of them all, four are considered classics: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and, of course, Aladdin. A funny, often romantic motion picture with toe-tapping tunes, Aladdin is a film you’ll return to over and over again.

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