January 19, 2011

Aladdin (1992)

EVER SINCE DASH AND I have been watching movies together, he’s had a very anti-princess policy. That is, he recoils at any movie that features a princess in its leading cast.

For weeks, I’ve been trying to convince him to watch Disney’s Aladdin. But forget the fact that the movie a) is named after the male lead; and b) features a big blue genie. All Dash saw was Princess Jasmine, and that was that.

Finally, after much haggling and haranguing, I broke him down. Before he could change his mind, I grabbed his little brother Jack-Jack and threw the tape (yes, VHS) into the player.


When resourceful "street rat" Aladdin (Scott Weinger) meets and falls in love with beautiful, independent Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), there's nothing he won't do to win her heart -- including enlisting the help of an outrageous genie (Robin Williams).


It took this recent viewing for me to remember how great Aladdin is – it truly deserves to be called a Disney classic, without reservation. (A sobering thought: To locate classic Disney films, you now only need to go back less than two decades.)

Of course, the most remembered aspect of Aladdin is the genie, voiced by Robin Williams in a rapid-fire, tour de force performance. Williams fires on all cylinders without becoming overbearing or repetitive. To the contrary, he’s quite hilarious – spewing out dozens of jokes, pop culture references, and impersonations that largely hold up today.

It’s no surprise that little girls still love Princess Jasmine 20 years later. She’s not some passive, defenseless princess or possession; she’s a strong, independent heroine who’s not impressed by the arrogance and excesses of princely behavior. She draws on her authority as princess when needed – and puts the men in their place when they deserve it.

Like other animated Disney films of its era, Aladdin owes its amazing musical score to composers Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and Tim Rice. And while our hero Aladdin’s solo songs at the beginning are a bit too Broadway, things change with the Genie’s more Disney-esque (and undeniably catchy) “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” And of course, the most successful song from Aladdin is the ballad, “A Whole New World,” whose version by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle was a number-one hit.

Disney released Aladdin at a point when the Mouse House was on a tear, having resurrected itself a couple of years earlier with the critical and commercial blockbusters The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. (For an intimate look behind the scenes of this era of Disney, check out the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty.)

In the history of animated films – CGI or 2-D, Disney or otherwise – Aladdin is an animated classic that shouldn’t be forgotten, overlooked, or ignored. Make a point to (re)visit it soon.

  • Watch for the quick yet funny nods to other Disney classics Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid.
  • In the opening song "Arabian Nights," Arab-Americans took offense to the lyric, “Where they cut off your ear, if they don't like your face." The line was changed to, “Where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense."
  • Williams and Disney butted heads over pay, royalties, and usage rights – to the point where Williams withdrew his support for Aladdin. Things were not patched up between them for several years.

What did Dash (and Jack-Jack) think?
While Dash was still initially resistant to watching Aladdin as the opening credits rolled, both he and Jack-Jack were quickly glued to the screen and thoroughly loved the film. (“This is a funny movie” declared Jack-Jack with a smile at one point.) When it was over, Dash pretended to be asleep – probably too proud, in my opinion, to admit he was wrong in his earlier protests against the film. The very next morning, Jack-Jack popped in Aladdin again – and I must admit, I stopped what I was doing and sat down to watch it again as well.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Aladdin is rated G, but depending on your sensitivities, there may be occasional content that you’ll need to explain or gloss over: a character says he needed to “slit a few throats” to acquire a certain artifact; there are mentions of death by beheading; a produce cart owner threatens to cut off Princess Jasmine’s hand; and at one point, Aladdin is given the Arabian equivalent of “cement shoes” and tossed in an ocean.

Will your kids like it?
I should probably just re-arrange that header to say, “Your kids will like it.Aladdin is tons of fun for all ages, let alone kids, but yeah – they’ll have a blast with it.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Absolutely. With a strong female lead, a budding love story, a funny and endearing cast of characters, terrific musical numbers, and the Disney pedigree behind it, Aladdin is a guaranteed pleaser for everyone – FilmMother included.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow hot hot hot hot…

* Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
* Screenwriters: Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
* Stars: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale
* MPAA Rating: G

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