Cinematic Flashback: Aladdin (1992) Review
Do not be fooled by its commonplace appearance. Like so many things, it is not what is outside, but what is inside that counts. This is no ordinary lamp! It once changed the course of a young man’s life; a young man who, like this lamp, was more than what he seemed: a diamond in the rough. Perhaps you would like to hear the tale? It begins on a dark night, where a dark man waits… with a dark purpose and my “cinematic flashback” review for Disney’s 1992 animated hit Aladdin.
“A Whole New World”
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Writer: Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio
Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, and Gilbert Gottfried
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Release Date: November 25th, 1992
Aladdin is a poor street urchin who spends his time stealing food from the marketplace in the city of Agrabah. His adventures begin when he meets a young girl who happens to be Princess Jasmine, who is forced to be married by her wacky yet estranged father. Aladdin’s luck suddenly changes when he retrieves a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders. What he unwittingly gets is a fun-loving genie who only wishes to have his freedom. Little do they know is that the Sultan’s sinister Grand Vizier Jafar has his own plans for both Aladdin and the lamp.
With Disney’s current trend of reimagining its big animated classic features into live-action film endeavors, I thought it would be fun to do one of my cinematic flashback reviews for one of the original movies before the new one gets released. So, with the Disney’s 2019 live-action feature of Aladdin coming out, let’s take a look back at some of my personal thoughts (and other insights) in the 1992 animated movie Aladdin.
Of course, being boring in the mid-80s, I grew up watching a lot of Disney cartoons (be it cartoon shorts, episodic animated TV shows, or full-length cartoon features), with a lot of emphasis during the beginning of Disney’s decade long “renaissance” releases….namely the “big four” (i.e. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King). I remember seeing this movie a lot whenever I meant to my grandmother’s house as she owned the VHS tape of it (as well as a lot of the other Disney classics). To be honest, 1992’s Aladdin has definitely stood the test of time and holds the same type of childhood nostalgia as it did when I first saw it as well as still retain the fundamental entertainment value from being a Disney classic.
Aladdin was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who would eventually deliver other Disney hits like Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. In Addition, Clements and Musker also helmed The Little Mermaid, which is what probably got them the director’s chair for this animated production of the classic story of Aladdin. As many know, the tale of Aladdin is a short Arabic folktale of the same name from the One Thousand and One Nights (a Middle-Eastern collection folktales and legends). Given Disney’s attraction to more European fairy tales and folklore stories of legends, Aladdin was one of the first of their animated feature films to be based on a Middle Eastern Arabic story. The movie even just mentions “Allah” several times throughout the film; hinting (although never confirmed) that the fictional kingdom of Agrabah’s main religion is Islamic, since that is they way Muslims address God. This was definitely a step in the right direction for the studio in showcasing a different ethnic group within characters and setting for a children’s cartoon motion picture. Clements and Musker would eventually echo that idea with The Princess and the Frog (African-Americans) and Moana (Polynesians).
What’s probably more impressive is the number of people (16 people in total) that worked on Aladdin’s story, with Clements, Musker as well as Ted Elliott and Terry Russio crafting the film’s script. Unfortunately, the then Disney head Jeffery Katzenberg told the team to almost complete scrap virtually everything they had been working for the past few months and start all over again; refusing to move the film’s release date. Fortunately, Clements and Musker were able to completely turn around the film (with ideas and plots) in just eight days, crafting the story of Aladdin that we all know and love. However, certain concepts and ideas for characters and several musical songs were left on the drawing room floor. Makes a person wonder…. what was the original story /screenplay for Aladdin before Katzenberg dismissed it altogether? Still, we (the viewers) get is quite a magical and endearing story, with a classic taste of fairy tale narrative (i.e. rags to riches) whims and the strong message of “being yourself”. Much like the peddler says in beginning of the film “Like so many things, it is not what is outside, but what is inside that counts.” In addition, the film’s duality of its two main protagonist character of Aladdin, a poor street urchin looking for riches and dreams, and Jasmine, a wealthy princess wanting to escape a mundane life of ill-fitting suitors of haughty princely behavior, is the main crux of the their love story; finding something in each other, which creates some compelling storytelling.
As a whole, Aladdin was probably the most “visually” entertaining animated feature film of Disney’s renaissance “big four” releases, with dazzling array of color and vibrant animation. Additionally, out of the “big four”, Aladdin was probably the most lighthearted story to tell. Of course, the film does have its dramatic points and more serious moments, but the feature (by and large) definitely has more of a comical edge than say The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. Given Disney’s trend of musical songs, Aladdin showcases plenty of catchy musical numbers that definitely add to the likeable and colorful flavor that the feature had to offer. Of course, all of these songs are quite good from “Arabian Nights”, to “One Jump Ahead”, to “Friend Like Me”, “Prince Ali”, and “A Whole New World”, with legendary talents like Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice working on these songs for the feature.
There wasn’t much to dislike about Aladdin as it was definitely a tightly-paced, even-keel, and well-rounded animated feature for its day (and probably even better than some animated cartoon movies of recent). It’s truly a timeless feature. To me, the only complaint I had with the movie was the CGI usage in a few sequences. It wasn’t a huge deal breaker for me, but remember watching the film when I was younger that I felt that the clash between 2D animation and 3D computer animation was a bit jarring. It was a style that wasn’t unheard of and Disney was embracing with their feature films (i.e. parts of the Ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast and parts of the stampede scene in The Lion King), but I felt it was a bit odd. However, that was a minor quibble. Another minor quibble was that the movie had certain acting talents for the character and another person to provide the singing for that same character. It wasn’t the first time that this occurred in a Disney’s movie, but it was first noticeable one with singing voice being different from the actual main voice actor / actress, with the exception of Robin Williams and Jonathan Freeman.
That being said, there were some complaints about the movie (in general) that some people found disliking and /or culture insensitive towards Arab Americans. This comes in the form how certain characters are drawing, depicting the most of the film’s characters (secondary and background characters) with slightly exaggerated facial characteristic that resembles the Arab stereotypes (i.e. hooked noses, glowering brows, thick lips, etc.), but the film’s main characters of Aladdin and Jasmine were to modeled after white Americans, with Aladdin taking facial cues from actor Tom Cruise and Jasmine taking inspiration from actress Jennifer Connelly. If you look…. there is subtle different look to them to much of the film’s character facial designs. Another problematic area was in the film’s opening song “Arabian Nights”, with one of the songs saying “Where the cut off your ear if they don’t like your face”. Many groups were offended by this line, which pressured Disney to change the lyrics for all the home video releases; changing the line to “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”.
The film’s cast was also another big highlight of the feature, with many (if not all) of the voice talents perfect matching their respective character counterpoint designs beautifully. Of course, the big star / main attraction of what truly made Aladdin work was in the incredible awesome performance of comedian actor Robin Williams, who provided the voice of Genie in the movie. Of course, Williams comedic timing, zippy dialogue, and overall energic and palpable voice lend credence to the larger-than-life character of Genie, providing plenty of laughs throughout the film. In truth, Williams provided so much ad-lib work for many of the lines of Genie that the movie’s script was rejected for a nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay for the Academy Awards. Plus, Williams could also sing, playing some of the film’s two iconic songs “Friend Like Me” and Prince Ali”, with more Broadway-esque showstopper sequence than any other Disney’s song ever produced. I really could go on and on of how much Williams involvement in Aladdin is truly spectacular, but this review would be so much longer. Suffice to say, I think that all will agree that Williams definitely made the movie (as Genie) great. It’s such a shame that Disney disregard his wishes, which led him to break away from working with Disney a for several years (you can read more about that incident online…. just google it).
Of course, much like Williams, who was also great comedic role was in the character of Iago (Jafar loud-talking parrot companion), who was voiced by comedian actor Gilbert Gottfried. Gottfried definitely made the character his own and utilizes his loud and projective voice to make the character quite memorable, second only to Williams’s Genie in the movie. The rest of Aladdin’s cast, including Scott Weinger (Aladdin), Linda Larkin (Princess Jasmine), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), and Douglas Seale (The Sultan), provided some excellent voice talents for the movie, with many reprising their roles in future spin-off endeavors over the years. Altogether, every voice work on this project was excellent.
Of course, Disney ran with the idea of Aladdin, capitalizing on the film’s success by creating a franchise around the film (and its characters), including two DTV (Direct-to-Video) sequels with 1994’s The Return of Jafar and 1996’s Aladdin and the King of Thieves, as well as a television series that ran for three season (88 episodes) and a Broadway show. However, the two sequels were subpar and seem more of a downgrade in animation and storytelling (i.e. Disney subcontracted out their DTV sequels to other animated companies), but Aladdin and the King of Thieves did have its moments, which was mostly due to Williams returning to voice Genie once again. I did like the TV cartoon series, but I never saw the Broadway show (although I won’t mind seeing it). Still, all these spin-off projects pale in comparison to what the original 1992 film was able to achieve.
In the end, Disney’s 1992 Aladdin stands a testament to the imagination and creative power that the “House of Mouse” was able to achieve way back during its heyday of animated feature endeavors. The story, the animation, the voice acting (especially Williams), and the catchy music numbers all clicked together to produce something that quite magical and highly memorable for all ages; something that has endure the test of time (even for being an hour and half cartoon motion picture). It deserves all its praise and then something; achieving greatness and merits (both old and new) from its both its storytelling and presentation. Now, the big question remains…. will the new 2019 live-action version do the cinematic translation justice or will it be a big-budgeted flop? Only time will tell….
Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.8 Out of 5
Fun Fact: During the course of recording the voices, Robin Williams improvised so much they had almost sixteen hours of material