A persona anecdote for you all: Last semester I wrote a fifteen page paper about the use of ethnicity and dress with regards to today’s Disney Vault feature, so I’m both extremely well-versed and incredibly sick of watching Aladdin. While I did rewatch it, I hope to refrain from letting my exhaustion with the text color my review. In a nutshell, Aladdin is another masterpiece, showcasing Disney’s talents in animation and music that would dominate into the 1990s. While the character of Princess Jasmine has fundamental flaws (which I wrote 15 pages on and will refrain from bringing up here) and the abundance of Robin Williams becomes inescapable, Aladdin continues to be a treasure in the Disney roster.
Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) is a street urchin who unearths a mysterious lamp in the Cave of Wonders. Upon rubbing the lamp a genie (voiced by Robin Williams) gives Aladdin three wishes, which the lad uses to secure the love of Princess Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin).
Aladdin was the first film to depict the Middle East and people of color, and boy did it create a firestorm upon arrival. Certain songs, including the opening “Arabian Nights” had to have lyrics altered after outcries from the American-Arab Discrimination Committee. In terms of depicting an Arab country there are problems from the beginning with a host of actors who are all white. From there, the typical 1930s stereotypical depictions of Arabs are present including the mustache-twirling villain who has the ability to use magic, and the subjugation of the Princess in harem wear by story’s end; I swore I wouldn’t go into my paper.
In spite of all that, Aladdin does take the audience to new heights through its Broadway theatricality, fast-paced story, and Robin Williams as the Genie. Williams went on to have a long-standing feud with the Disney Company after this, due to his image being overused in marketing. The one hindrance to Williams is the sheer amount of pop-culture anachronisms that permeate the movie. Yes, a few of them are fun but the entire point of the Genie seems to be comedian first and wish granter second; and the sheer amount of impressions on top of impressions gives you a headache. Overall, they serve little purpose to the movie and while Williams and crew were upset that there was no awards recognition for the role, I have to agree with the Academy here. Ad-libbing is always welcome to keep the actors fresh and spontaneous, but Williams spends 90 minutes mugging outright.
The rest of the cast, with Williams removed, are good and the movie is a brisk hour and a half of magic, adventure, and heroism. Aladdin is created to be a product of his environment and the movie does a somewhat decent job of exploring class differences; and by decent I mean they abandon it once Aladdin takes on the guise of a prince. I kid; he does learn the merits of not losing touch with one’s roots, and the production gives him a sweet opening ballad to establish that, but there’s never any clear resolution on what he actually plans to do to make Agrabah better. In the beginning, he saves two kids from starving and almost being killed, but what is he going to do about that long-term? I guess I’m asking too much of Disney, but it reinforces the fact that they tack on the “be yourself” ending as an afterthought.
Of course, the songs are in a vaunted place next to The Lion King and The Little Mermaid in terms of consistent hits. “A Whole New World” became a key Disney anthem, but “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” and the aforementioned “Arabian Nights” are bombastic, ethnically tinged toe-tappers that lend themselves to a Broadway production (which performs daily at Disney’s California Adventure).
This review is short and sweet, mostly because I feel I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Aladdin. In summation, it’s another home-run for Disney with the trifecta of characters, story and song. Robin Williams becomes overbearing, and would open the door for the death knell of the voice actor, but the rest of the story is a bright star in the pantheon of Disney hits.
NEXT WEEK: I just can’t wait to be King with The Lion King!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.