Aladdin – Retro Review
Disney takes the formula that makes its Renaissance movies so popular and shows us a whole new world. In 1992, the Walt Disney Animation Studios adapted the tale of Aladdin and turned it into one of its most loved hits. The likable protagonist, the smooth and intelligent villain, the understandable plight of the princess and the amazing celebrities who stepped up to provide some of the key voices make this one an instant classic.
This is my absolute favorite Disney movie. My sister received “Aladdin” on VHS one Easter and, even though, it was hers, I think I watched it more than she did. It was heartbreaking when she moved out and took the copy with her. The animation was beautiful. The story was easy to follow. And, there were so many recognizable voices.
Robin Williams is the master of the hysterical impression and his talents shine as both Genie and the merchant at the beginning of the film. He stands out in everything he does and “Aladdin” is no exception. He delivers some of the best lines in the movie, many of them adlibbed. He is a top 5 comedian all time, in my opinion, and I wish Disney had treated him better so we could’ve gotten more of Robin Williams in their films.
Gilbert Gottfried steps in as Iago and delivers the same performance he always does. He’s a one trick pony, but he’s a recognizable voice and his one trick works for Iago since you’re supposed to not like his character as the villain’s sidekick. His work in the sequels is less impressive, but we’ll talk about them another day.
As a child of the 90s, much of TV viewing was spent watching the family-friendly sitcoms on ABC. Even as a kid, I, immediately, recognized the voice of Aladdin provided by Scott Weigner, also known as Steve from “Full House.” At the time, I didn’t know that Disney owned ABC, so to me, it was just a connection between two of my favorite things that made me love both even more.
The animation and music that captured my attention as a child still speak to me as an adult. I love the hand-drawn animation style. It’s more enjoyable to me than today’s computer imaging. Even though it was obvious at the time where animation was headed, films like those of the Disney Renaissance give me a sense of nostalgia for that 2D animation without having to reuse the same cells like Disney was forced to do during less lucrative financial times.
The score is the third and final for a Disney movie provided by the incomparable duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. They previously worked on “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Ashman died in 1991 during production. He never saw the finished product. But, his contributions to the score and the soundtrack still resonate today. Menken would continue to work with Disney and churned out some beautiful songs along the way. Ashman and Menken, individually, were amazing. Together, they were unstoppable. Tim Rice joined the team as a lyricist after Ashman’s death and helped usher in some of the easiest songs to sing along with. “Arabian Nights,” “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are all wonderful. But, the one that tops them all is the duet of “A Whole New World.” It remains the only Disney song to win a Grammy for Song of the Year.
The movie is not without its flaws. It’s formulaic. All but one of the movies from the Disney Renaissance follow the same formula. But, that formula churned out hit after hit between 1989-1999. It wasn’t going to last forever, but it was exactly what Disney needed to go from once great company to media juggernaut.
The obvious elephant in the room with this film (aside from Abu) is Disney’s treatment of Robin Williams. Disney agreed not to use his name or image in marketing and wouldn’t use his character for more than 25% of the advertising. In turn, Williams agreed to perform in the film for $75,000 rather than his usual asking price of $8 million. Disney used creative tricks to work around this issue. They used Williams’ voice as the character of Genie for advertisements and fast food tie-ins without paying him extra. It created rift that led to Williams refusing to join the cast of the first sequel, “Return of Jafar.” He would agree to return in the the third film of the trilogy, “Aladdin and the King of Thieves,” after Disney publicly apologized. Interestingly enough, it was the man who replaced Jeffrey Katzenberg as studio chairman, Joe Roth who led the way to smooth things over with Williams. It was shady and is one of many reasons why some people out there absolutely hate Disney.
Despite the issues, I still love the movie. I love the nostalgia. I love the joy I feel when I watch it. What “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” or even “Cinderella” is for some people, “Aladdin” is for me. It will be hard for anything to top this movie. Every time I watch it, I’m right back in my childhood living room, watching it through and then hitting rewind so I can see it again. It’s my favorite and will always be my favorite.
Ranking: 5 stars out of 5
What do you think of “Aladdin?”