May 2019 is going to mark the premier of Disney’s live action remake of “Aladdin”, and sense I haven’t reviewed the original yet, this is a perfect time for me to just sit down and discuss one of my all-time favorite childhood movies. Disney’s 1992 classic “Aladdin” has a secure spot as one of Disney’s most beloved Golden age animated films, and it’s fan-base is still felt all these years later. I was about three or four years old when I was first exposed to this movie, and it was one of the first that I absolutely loved. All these years later, I’d still rank this one among my personal top 5 favorites from what the studio has delivered. This was the studios 31st animated feature, and it was based on the story from the tales of “One Thousand and One Nights”. It was also one of the first Disney movies to combine its classic fantasy tropes, with an added layer of cartoony hummer, including forth-wall jokes, and references to other animated Disney films like “The Little Mermaid”, “Pinocchio” and so forth. This was actually one of Disney’s very first comedies, but unlike the later day films like “Hercules” and “The Emperors New Grove”, this film really balanced its bombastic comedy with a grounded fantasy/ adventure story, and the result is the best of both worlds.
“Aladdin” tells the tale of a popper living on the streets of Agrabah, who dreams to break free from the shackles of his closed in life. On the opposite side of the spectrum is a Princess named Jasmine, who likewise desires to break free from the shackles of luxury, and wants to make a real life for herself. Fate brings the two together, and while they come from polar opposite backdrops, they can still form a connection as they both can relate to being trapped within their own worlds. The down side to pursuing a relationship with royalty is that you need to be of royal blood yourself.
Into his mists comes a wicked sorcerer named Jafar who uses Aladdin as a means to discover a magic lamp, which holds an all-powerful genie capable of granting three wishes. With such power at his hands, Aladdin wishes to become a prince of royal heritage, and someone capable of marrying the Princess. Much in the spirit of “Cinereal”, “Aladdin” is a story of “Rags to Riches”, but there’s a very important element thrown into the mix that makes this story unique. Though the course of the film we see Aladdin’s valor and nobility on display as he willingly gives all his food to some homeless children, later comes to their rescue without batting an eye, and even comes to Jasmines aid just on the moral grounds that it’s the right thing to do. Everyone sees Aladdin for the good man he his, but there’s one person who’s in denial, and that’s Aladdin himself. Aladdin doubts his own qualities and value so much that he fully commits to his Prince role, fearing that he’s nothing without it. Unlike most other hero’s that need to prove something of themselves, Aladdin has to discover his own worth deep within. The concept of discovering yourself makes for a great story with moral subtext, and it makes Aladdin one of Disney’s most well-rounded heroes.
However, for as great as Aladdin is as a main character, it’s The Genie voiced by the late Robin Williams who completely owns this movie. I always felt that you’re a true Disney fan at heart if you placed The Genie among your top 10 favorite animated characters, because he absolutely is one of the greatest to ever come from the studio. Unlike the later day animated Disney films which featured celebrates voicing comedic side characters, Robin Williams brought something special to this role that none of the others could duplicate. I felt that all those other goofball characters voiced by Jason Alexander, Eddie Murphy, Danny DeVito, and Rosie O' Donnell could have been voiced by anyone, and it wouldn’t affect the characters in any way. The Genie by contrast is the animated embodiment of Robin Williams as we all saw him … which is someone with a highly animated personality, but with a heart of gold that’s always shining through. While this was technically my introduction to Robin Williams, I didn’t really know the actor until I saw both “Jumanji” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”. Once I became a fan of Robin Williams, it was such a treat discovering that he was the voice of one of my favorite animated Disney characters. His improve and pop-culture references were highly entertaining, but there even funnier as an adult because now I know which actors, celebrities, or movies he’s referencing.
Now, if there was any other character who could chew more scenery then the Genie, it would be the villain Jafar, who’s brilliantly voiced by Jonathan Freeman. It’s no competition that Jafar has a secure spot among my top three favorite Disney villains. In general, I love when the bad guy has a wide range of theatrics, and Jafar runs the whole gambit. He can be quiet, and sinister with that slithery voice, yet he can also be loud, over the top, and laugh maniacally.
It's everything I enjoy from a villain in one package. While he functions as a threat, he also has a reserved sense of hummer that makes him a joy to watch. SALTON: “This is Jafar, and he’s delighted to meet you too”. JAFAR sarcastically responds: “Ecstatic”. I especially love his design, which makes me think of an Arabian Count Dracula. Sense Jafar was one of the first villains I was ever exposed too, he set the templet for how I wanted a villain to look … which is a long cape, a recognizable head peace, and a signature hand-held item that ties everything together. It’s something that, as a kid I always referred to as “the Jafar look”. Thus, future villains I’d later be exposed to like Darth Vader, Judge Doom, Loki, Count Dracula, Magneto, and especially Lucius Malfoy all grabbed my interest, as each of their designs reminded me of Jafar in some way. Also, just like how Maleficent always seemed to stand out as the chief figure head of the female villains, Jafar always stood out to me as the chief figure head of the male villains. Heck, there was a direct to video movie back in 2002 titled “Mickey's House of Villains”, which revolved around all the Disney baddies taking over, and who else but Jafar was acting as the ringleader.
Another one of my favorite characters who I feel doesn’t get enough credit is actually the magic carpet. This flying rug can’t speak, and has no face to make expressions, yet so much charm and personality leaps from the character, just from how he’s animated. What could have easily been simplified to a mode of transportation for Aladdin, became one of the most lovable additions to the film. I must confess that the one character who never did anything for me was Aladdin’s sidekick monkey named Abu.
He was functional, and I’ll always give credit to the vocal talents of Frank Welker, but there was just something about Abu that annoyed me. I’d much rather take Jasmines sidekick tiger Rajah, as I’ve loved tigers my whole life, and the idea of having one for a pet is the coolest thing ever. Then of course there’s Jafar’s sidekick bird named Iago, who’s voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. While I’ve never been a fan of the actor (certainly not a fan of his voice), he at least has a very animated personality that carries over seamlessly into his cartoon character. Iago would of course gain a reputation as one of the most iconic evil Disney henchmen, and in future films would make a full reformation as one of the main heroes of the series. I also have to give credit to the late Douglas Seale, who’s very lovable as the dimwitted Sultan. He basically takes what could have been a one note buffoon, and in turn makes The Sultan very likable with his naive innocents. Just as a quick side note, one of my favorite Easter Eggs is seeing a figurine of The Beast from “Beauty and the Beast” among The Sultan’s toy collection. Well before the age of the internet, I remember sighting that as a little kid, and back then I thought I made some kind of incredible discovery that I had to share with all my friends.
Rounding up the characters is Jasmine, who naturally is one of Disney’s most iconic leading Princess.
While I’ve always categorized “Aladdin” as one of Disney’s action hero movies along the likes of “Hercules”, “Robin Hood” and “Mulan”, Jasmine’s popularity has made it impossible to separate this film from the animated Disney princess catalog. I suppose that’s not a bad thing, as the film can appeal to both boys and girls on equal measure. Jasmine was one of the first princesses to be rebellious of her title, and had more of an attitude to offset her glamorous looks. Also, while there are two incidents in which she needs to be rescued, I’d never categorize her as a damsel stereotype. Over the course of the film, she proves capable of adapting to situations, and she does so without showing off. Despite being able to talk back, and put up a fight, she certainly maintains the same loving nature of other female leads, and so much of that is due to the vocal talents of Linda Larkin. This is probably my favorite vocal performance of any Disney Princess, and her voice has great range from strong and dignified to delicate and beautiful. If I had any reservations with Jasmine, it would be that she's supposedly 15 years old ... and that is not a body that goes with a 15 year old girl. A word to the wise, if your going to dress your princess in a very skimpy outfit, and give her the look and figure of someone in their early to mid-twenties, then please just make her that age. Jasmine's age also makes it all the more unsettling later in the film when Jafar gets turned on by her, and the thought of a forty-something year old man looking up and down and half naked 15 year old girl has me pulling on my shirt collar.
The romance between Jasmine and Aladdin is likewise one of the best featured in any Disney movie. Usually the Disney couples do their part for the film, but never leave much of an impression on me, yet the romance between these two really adds to the film’s strengths. The scene in which the two meet for the first time is about as adorable and perfect as they get. We have Aladdin leaping to her rescue, scamming a cranky coachman into believing she’s a crazy sister, and Jasmine doesn’t need a minute to play along with his facade.
There’s instant chemistry played off the two, and their ensuing conversation really highlights their connection as they both can related to being trapped in their own lives. They also share my favorite kiss of any Disney couple, specifically the scene with the two on the balcony. With the one exception of “Lady and the Tramp”, there’s never been a kiss from a Disney couple that felt so in the moment, and so exciting as that sudden kiss shared between the two on the balcony. Of course, the Oscar winning song “A Whole New World” is about as great as romantic Disney songs get. Typically, when I was a kid, I always got board with the romance songs, but this one featured our couple flying through the sky, traveling to various locations, and the song itself has quiet the rousing tempo to boot. Also, seeing them fly to Greece and China always felt like a sneak peek for upcoming Disney films set in those locations. Personally, I’ve always wanted to see a special edition of “Aladdin” that inserts Hercules and Meg into that moment when they fly over Greece. It would have just been a cool in-universe moment to see the one Disney couple looking up other flying overhead, and maybe the two could exchange a wave … but that’s just me being a fan.
On that note, there’s no reviewing “Aladdin” without acknowledging the films outstanding soundtrack. Every single song is a highly entertaining toe-taper, and the lyrics are mostly unforgettable. Even in a song like “One Jump Ahead”, which has really quick, hard to follow lyrics, still has a rhythm and tempo that sticks with us.
The Genies “Never had a Friend like Me” is of course another iconic song number, and received an Oscar nomination for best original song. Aside from containing some really catchy lyrics, the song itself just has a really colorful, bouncy and uniquely animated presentation. The opening “Arabian Knights” song has been the subject of controversy for some of its lyrics, which have been changed around for the majority of the home video releases. It’s still an engaging intro song, and something that I’ve always connected to my childhood nostalgia of watching the animated “Aladdin” tv show.
My favorite musical number is actually the “Prince Ali” parade sequence. Aside from being yet another colorful party number, this is the only song that features every one of our characters on screen, and the quire that builds during the closing lyrics of the song is outstanding. Yet, with all that said, my absolute favorite song of all is “Proud of your Boy” … which was a song deleted from the final cut of the film. There was originally going to be a subplot in the film revolving around Aladdin’s mother, and this song was meant to be an emotional highlight. Unfortunately, the mother was cut from the film all together, and thus, my favorite song had no place in the movie. This song gets me in “the feels” on so many levels, and so much of it I can attribute to my own relationship with my mother. I’m currently single, but I’ve always planed that, if I ever get married, this will be the song playing while I dance with my mom.
The Animation of course has aged remarkably well, even when compared to modern animation. The colors on display are wonderful, and the lighting is extraordinary. I especially love how the lighting mixes with the characters skin colors. For example, when Aladdin and Jasmine are on the balcony, their skin is lit by lamp, which then transitions into moon lighting on their skin as their romantic flight begins, and it looks great. Even the added CGI elements have held up over the years. The sequences with Aladdin flying through rivers of lava is still very exciting, and I’ve always loved the digital design of the Cave of Wonders. The whole world of Aladdin is one of my favorites, as it doesn’t look like real Arabia, but it still looks unique and highly decorative. There’s also a consistent fun factor to “Aladdin” that never lets down, but it also never goes to far with the excitement that it takes away from either the characters, or even substance of the film.
Now we come to the third act of the movie, in which Jafar steels the lamp, takes control of the Genie’s magic, and becomes the new ruler of the land. This leads into one of my all-time favorite climaxes from any Disney movie … the final showdown between Aladdin and Jafar. This battle seemed to have everything, including sword fighting, bursts of comedy, giant monsters, and a villain who goes all out with a variety of magic powers on display.
I especially love the overall design and lighting of this sequence, as the once warm and vibrantly colored palace becomes a hellish red. I also loved that for once we finally have a princess using her feminine wiles to keep the villain at bay, while Aladdin gets to work. Of course, this fight builds to one of my favorite villain quotes … “A snake am I … Perhaps you’d like to see how snake like I can be!” Back when I was a kid, I was obsessed with snakes, so seeing a first-rate villain like Jafar transform into a giant King Cobra was an absolute thrill. There’s also some well-placed tension with our Princess trapped in an hour-glass that’s slowly running out. It brings to mind the deadly hour glass from “The Wizard of Oz”, except this time I absolutely feel the urgency as the sand runs out. Actually, this whole final battle feels like a call back to the climax from “Sleeping Beauty”, as we have a sword wielding hero, racing to rescue a princess, from a magical villain, who takes on the form of a monstrous creature. The one difference is that our hero uses his smarts and wits to concur his enemy, as opposed to brut strength, or the aid of a magical companion. While this whole third act was very action heavy and featured a villain steeling a lot of scenery, Aladdin’s actions here tie everything back into the films overall moral of discovering one’s inner strengths.
In the end, “Aladdin” is one of those special animated films that I’ve just kept with me though the years. Obviously, there was a number of Disney films I loved watching when I was a kid, but only a hand full have retained their enchanted feel into my adult hood. In short, my feelings for “Aladdin” have only gotten stronger, to the point where I might even like it more as an adult then when I was a kid. I understand more of the adult jokes now, and I admire the animated aesthetic of the film far more today with our overabundance of CGI animation. It’s likewise a film that’s high on the entertainment value, but with just enough of a moral at the center to give the experience it’s substance. What more do I even need to say about this one? The characters are all scene stealers, the songs are unforgettable, the design is gorgeous … it’s Disney’s “Aladdin”, plain and simply one of the best contributions from Disney’s renascence area, and one of the best animated films to ever come from the studio.
I give Disney’s 1992 animated classic “Aladdin” … a perfect 5 stars out of 5.