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Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Retro Movie Review: Aladdin (1992) #RobinWilliams

Cast: Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, Jonathan Freeman, Linda Larkin, Frank Welker, Douglas Seale, Gilbert Gottfried, Jim Cummings, Charlie Adler
Genre: Animated Musical Fantasy 
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: over $500 million

Trivia: Robin Williams recorded most of his scenes in between filming breaks on Hook (1991) and Toys (1992)

Plot: When street rat Aladdin frees a genie from a lamp, he finds his wishes granted. However, he soon finds that the evil emperor has other plans for the lamp - & for Princess Jasmine. But can Aladdin save Princess Jasmine and his love for her, after she sees that he isn't quite what he appears to be? 

'A 90's Smash Hit For Disney That Doubles Up As Arguably Their Last Best Animated Movie Effort - Partially Thanks To Robin Williams'

Disney's Aladdin was a film that made history, not just in terms of box office records receipts, but through its memorable score and that it broke barriers by having Disney expand upon the concept of Aladdin by introducing humour into the plot, whilst further enhancing its animation credentials. Furthermore, it provided Robin Williams with the voice-over role of a lifetime: he had voiced animated characters in projects before this one, but none of them was the resounding success that Aladdin became to be, over time. Nor did they have the major impact one and Robin himself would have expected: The Mork & Mindy Animated Series, Ferngully, though A Wish For Wings That Work was a Christmas TV special. But alas, all three were flops. 

This version of the fabled tale about a boy who discovers a lamp and with it a genie who grants him 3 wishes was a blockbuster hit, around the world when it was released in 1992; one year on from Disney's previous hit, Beauty and the Beast. Looking back, it was a huge triumph, thus becoming part of the company's continuing renaissance that began in the late 1980s and carried on until the late 1990s/early 2000s and despite its comical tone, compared to the latter, The Little Mermaid and even Duck Tales: The Movie, Aladdin reached worldwide and popularity levels the likes of which those movies have struggled to attain, far and beyond in say the last 10 years or so. 

The film centres around a street rat named Aladdin: a pauper one may say, who steals in order to survive with the help of his pet monkey, Abu. Meanwhile, evil Jafar has his eyes set on the magic lamp, but that only a person with a kind heart can retrieve it and set it free. So what does Jafar do? Turn to Aladdin and when he does set it free, out comes the Genie and he grants him three wishes. Jafar is none too pleased and with a parrot named Iago goes out to stop Aladdin. 

One could even say this was partly due to Robin Williams; that Disney found a formula, or be it a way to sell the movie to mass audiences and families and lure them to the theaters/cinemas. Just by getting hold of one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s and 1990s to voice a character, who himself is humourous and has a larger-than-life personality to his very own. Robin Williams's role as the Genie marked his fourth animated voice-over stint, following on from Mork & Mindy: The Animated series as the animated version of his sitcom character, Mork, Batty Koda in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and the Christmas TV special, 1991's A Wish For Wings That Work.

Writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who later went on to work on Pirates of the Carribean and Dreamworks's Shrek, were brought in to correct the script for Aladdin and eradicate its flaws. As well as based Aladdin's looks on Tom Cruise, have him become an orphan and for the film to have more of a comedic and light-hearted feel to it. But the film, or be it Disney owes much of Aladdin's enormous success to Robin Williams: Indeed, having celebrities voice animated characters in movies used to be a very rare thing, but Robin's impressive and flamboyant vocal efforts as the Genie would eventually turn out to be animation's single greatest vocal performance. It broke new ground and also opened up the floodgates for more celebrities and actors to follow his lead and end up being picked up by the likes of Disney and Dreamworks for their other animated feature movies. Williams always had the (in)ability to go off-script when it came to unleashing his zany madcap and improvisational humour as Mork in Mork and Mindy, Good Morning, Vietnam, Fathers' Day, Mrs Doubtfire and Ferngully, and likewise here as the Genie, Disney managed to find ways to fully utilise and incorporate his zany humour into the movie; one of them involved Robin impersonating Jack Nicholson amongst a few other celebs. He was insanely funny, going over-the-top as he usually does minus the swearing and his energetic performance as Genie was as wild and entertaining. Robin added so much to his role and all his efforts paid off dearly. 

As a film, it feels more like an animated musical that is like something right out of Broadway or to be more exact a comedy adventure with a dash of romance, more-so than your average animated movie that tends to be serious in tone. I still love it in parts, but I don't love it as much as I did back in 1992. But I cannot ever doubt what a fantastic movie Aladdin still is. 

Aladdin is the movie Ferngully: The Last Rainforest ought to have been: quality-wise when it comes to the storytelling and having far more interesting moments. Just like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the film features striking 2D visuals and colourful looking characters and song and dance numbers. That and that Aladdin had the better characters in contrast to the Bill Kroyer effort, Ferngully. The Aladdin character is pretty bland in contrast to Genie, however: bland personality, doesn't have much to offer, he has pretty boy looks, but is somewhat also slightly more appealing as the main character than Crysta of Ferngully. Whereas Ferngully's most interesting character was Batty Koda, who is coincidentally enough voiced by Robin Williams himself. But yeah, Aladdin is the far better movie than Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Better characters (even though Batty Koda was ace), better writing, better jokes, better animation and better songs too. 

Every time when Genie has screen time, we're sometimes oblivious to everything else that takes place in the movie. Is it a good thing? yes, but also that is a not so good thing, because, and due to Robin Williams, he is arguably the best thing about this film. Though that is not to say everything else about Aladdin is inferior. Far from it. Yet if there is one thing I'd wished to have seen is of Genie mimicking Mork from Mork & Mindy. That would have been the icing on the cake. He mimicked Mrs Doubtfire in Aladdin & The King of Thieves and seeing him as Mork in the form of Genie, would have been a real treat. 

The reason why Aladdin works so well is that this is one of the few animated movie efforts where they paid attention to every single aspect: from the animation to the voice-overs, storytelling, action scenes, right down to the soundtrack and in perfecting them. That, and that it doesn't become too deep in the storytelling aspect and in the morals that it encompasses and expresses that it throws you off. I also liked the Sultan voiced by Douglas Seale: that character reminds me a lot of Ash, Crysta's father from Ferngully. 

Aladdin is the classic Disney that we know and love best: it was '90s Disney with a hint of their magic and lore of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, Peter Pan: the vintage Disney. Though more importantly, it has become such a formidable powerhouse that in terms of animated feature-length movies (it's no wonder it became the highest grossing film of 1992), and later spawned two sequels, one with Robin Williams and one without him, video games, a Saturday morning cartoon spin-off, Aladdin ought to be considered as Disney's major cultural, in addition to being a cinematic presence. 


Pros +

- Robin Williams as the scene-stealing, Genie

- Fantastic animation and character designs

- The comedic aspect was woven into the movie exceedingly well

- Doesn't become preachy and too deep with the moralistic side 

- Memorable soundtrack

- Interesting narrative 

Cons - 

- Aladdin is arguably a really bland character 

Final Verdict

Aladdin may not be the quintessential Robin Williams movie, nor be known as one, but his impressive improv turn as Genie, is what put this movie and Disney on the map in the 1990s; a feat of which Disney alone has struggled to maintain, and many of their follow-ups released after 1992 of the past decade have failed to live up to and even surpass its successes such as this film. And that is by discounting the Disney/Pixar collaborations such as Toy Story

Still, Aladdin is one of the best that Disney has to offer and is and will always be a movie that will be remembered for many generations to come.


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