Aladdin was the first animated movie to gross more than $2 million, and it’s always been one of our family’s favorites. What’s not to like? It’s a rags-to-riches story about a petty thief who becomes a prince. It’s a love story about a feisty princess who refuses to marry unless she has feelings for him. It’s one of the intricately and energetically animated films with music that was produced during Disney’s so-called second Golden Age, which began with The Little Mermaid and ended with Tarzan. And it’s a story about wishes coming true, which is pretty much the Disney brand in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Ron Clements and John Musker co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed this adaptation of “Aladdin’s lamp” (One Thousand and One Nights). But for all the hype over Disney princesses, Aladdin has always been and will always be Robin Williams’ film. The late comedian was so perfect as the voice of the big blue Genie that Disney gave Williams top billing—the first major animated film to be promoted on the strength of a major star as one of its voice talents.
Williams improvised roughly 16 hours of material for animators to draw upon and changed so many lines on the fly that the script was denied an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. It remains the funniest animated Disney movie ever, and it’s mostly because of Williams. You’ll recognize Scott Weinger’s and Linda Larkin’s voices as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, but Williams makes this world go ‘round.
There’s more, of course, including terrific animation and memorable songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. “A Whole New World” is the gem in the film’s musical crown, and anyone who’s been to a Disney theme park and seen that now-iconic clip in 3D will remember how romantic the scene is as Aladdin and Jasmine fly over the world on their magic carpet. But atmospheric and energetic numbers like “Arabian Nights,” “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali” are also sparkling.
Aladdin isn’t as frightening as some animated Disney films, even though there are moments of peril as, for example, when the characters enter the Cave of Wonders to retrieve the lamp. Legend has it that only a “diamond in the rough” can accomplish the task, and that, as it turns out, is Aladdin.
So there’s adventure, but the stage was set for a love story from the first scene when Jasmine, feeling a prisoner in her own palace, first met Aladdin in the marketplace after sneaking out to experience village life. Both hero and heroine are extremely likable, and the villain, while not one of Disney’s best, is a solid second-tier bad guy. The sultan’s advisor, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), is a Rasputin-like wizard who’s played with Maleficent-like relish and whose companion is a wisecracking parrot named Iago (think Othello). Jafar wants the lamp in order to become sultan, and of course he’ll do anything and hypnotize anybody to get it.
There are thrills and moments of peril that balance the humor and romance, but the closest thing to a PG rating comes when one character is lost in the mouth of the cave, another is threatened with the loss of a hand, and still another transforms into a rather scary reptile. But what’s striking about Aladdin all these years later is how contemporary it still feels, how edgy, and how jam-packed full of energy it is. And I really can’t emphasize enough how much better the film looks and sounds on Blu-ray. Aladdin on Blu-ray is a must-add to your family video libraries.