I often think it would have been cool to have been born 20 years older in 1965, I would have been the right age for Star Wars (12) and I could have spent my late teens as a mullet sporting hair metal rocker enjoying the golden age of action movies. I could have gone to uni under the old grant scheme and been in my early-mid 20s for Britpop and lad culture, and a proper grown up for Wales’ return to Grand Slam victory which would have meant even more given to me suffering through a the entire gap between clean sweeps.
However, I do quite like being an 80s kid- my childhood cartoons were awesome, I was the right age for the Spice Girls and the Star Wars re-issues (12), and I’m at the right age where I’m (fairly) comfortable with technology but not blase enough that I can still marvel at things like being able to write blogs on trains and stuff.
Another advantage of being born in ’85 is that I was around just in time for Disney getting their groove back. Post-Walt the House of Mouse had produced a mixed bag. The last movie he worked on was the awesome The Jungle Book (first movie I ever saw in the cinema, on re-release, which they used to do more of) and while they produced a few good movies between 67 and the late 80s (The Aristocats, Robin Hood) the period was also when the studio produced some of it’s weaker efforts (The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company).
In 1989, when I was 4, they landed The Little Mermaid, which was a move back to form which they then cemented two years later with one of their best ever Beauty and the Beast, and in the early to mid ’90s they had a string of great flicks (more of which I’ll write about in the future).
Which brings us to Aladdin, which was a big favourite of mine at the time and which I hadn’t seen in years until I watched it with my little sister a few weeks ago.
The movie follows the street urchin Aladdin (Scott Weinger), who survives by petty theft and on his wits, his only companion being his monkey sidekick Abu. One day in the bazaar he rescues a pretty girl who is actually the Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), who has snuck out of the palace because she is tired of her repressed lifestyle and the fact she is expected to marry a prince by her next birthday which is mere days away.
Jasmine and Aladdin are attracted to each other but the palace guards seize Aladdin, forcing Jasmine to reveal her true identity. Aladdin is imprisoned because he is important to the plans of the Sultan’s evil Vizier (Jonathan Freeman), who is after a magic lamp hidden in a mystical cave in the desert, which will aid his plot to become Sultan himself, which he also hopes to obtain by marrying Jasmine.
He informs Jasmine that Aladdin has been executed, and then disguises himself to help Aladdin escape and takes him to the cave. Jafar needs a “diamond in the rough” to find the lamp, but tells the street urchin that he can not touch anything else in the cave. Aladdin enters the cave finding a magic carpet, and the lamp, but before he can leave Abu’s greed for a giant diamond causes the cave to collapse.
Jafar double crosses them but Abu swipes back the lamp, but Aladdin, Abu and carpet are now stuck in the cave. Rubbing the lamp releases the wise-cracking, hyperactive Genie (Robin Williams), who can grant 3 wishes. He gets them out of the cave after Aladdin tricks him into doing it without him actually making a wish.
Genie then grants Aladdin’s wish of being a great prince, and posing as Prince Ali they head for Agrabah, however, Ali’s swaggering and arrogance fail to charm Jasmine. Urged to be himself by the Genie, Al proceeds as the prince, but after taking Jasmine for a magic carpet ride and allowing his cool facade to slip they begin to connect.
However, Jafar has twigged who Ali really is and aided by his talking parrot lackey Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), they try to eliminate Aladdin and steal the lamp. With Jafar commanding him, Genie is incapable of resisting his wishes to take charge of the city and of making him a powerful sorceror.
Aladdin is sent to a snowy land far away, but carpet saves the day and he returns to fight Jafar, but is hopefully outmatched. However, Aladdin then goads Jafar by pointing out that his powers are nothing compared to Genie’s and Jafar wishes to be a powerful genie, unwittingly trapping himself in a lamp of his own, which Genie then gets rid of.
With his true identity exposed it seems unlikely that Aladdin and Jasmine can be together, although the Genie offers to restore him to glory. Aladdin, however, honours an earlier promise and uses his final wish to grant Genie his freedom. The Sultan decides that he will change the old rule and Aladdin and Jasmine can be together.
And they all lived happily ever after until the disappointing straight to video sequels.
The movie works and is one of the best for many reasons, not least because it goes back to a classic story, but the film’s major strength is down to one thing-
Back in the day, hiring big names for animated films wasn’t the same as it is now. Sure, you’d get a few big names cropping up now and then (Angela Lansbury in Beauty and the Beast, Orson Welles in Transformers) but this was the first example of a massive comedian agreeing to do an animated flick, which would, of course, become par for the course.
The character of Genie really sets the film alight. It’s good before he turns up, but the plot really gets going with his arrival, but it also gets a massive injection of manic, demented energy.
A lot of this comes from Williams’ vocal performance, with the actor calling on his wide range of impressions and accents to deliver this fast and furious string of pop culture references, gags and one liners.
It’s a splendid performance and the artists match Williams by animating the character with the same relentless energy, given his magical powers they have the Genie be this constantly shape shifting, manic figure and Williams’ character steals the entire movie. The Genie is what you remember and his charisma and comedy drives the whole movie from then on.
That’s not to diss the rest of the movie which is extremely well crafted- the plot is strong, and the rest of the characters are done very well.
The central couple actually work with Aladdin being a resourceful and flawed hero, and the romance between him and Jasmine being rather enchanting. Jasmine was an early crush of the young Chris and still my favourite of the Disney Princesses, and she’s a fairly strong character who wants to make her own decisions and is kinda feisty.
Jafar is a good villain too, being sinister looking and creepy, and when he takes over and is calling the shots the movie does have a real sense of darkness. But at times he is slightly upstaged by his sarky, funny sidekick, Iago.
In fact, the movie boasts quite a few decent comedic sidekicks including Abu and the magic carpet, which the animators manage to give quite a lot of character despite it being unable to talk, they make the way it moves and carries itself show it’s emotions and it’s a fantastic achievement.
The carpet was brilliantly done and an early example of computer animation to ensure that the pattern remained perfect regardless of how it moves. At the time it was groundbreaking stuff and it’s still visually impressive and seamlessly integrates with the traditional animation.
The animation is great across the board, as you’d expect from Disney and as with the best Disney flicks it has a fantastic collection of songs, from the Genie’s glorious “Friend Like Me” and painfully catchy “Prince Ali”, through Aladdin’s “One Jump Ahead” and of course, the gorgeous ballad “A Whole New World” which soundtracks the beautifully done magic carpet ride that Jasmine and Aladdin take.
It’s not quite the best Disney flick, but it’s definitely high up on the list and if you haven’t seen it in a while I recommend you check it out again, because it definitely stands up. And for anyone who’s going to get sniffy that a 27 year old guy picked a Disney flick as one of his favourite films, I give you this:
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.