One Liner Review:
One of the all time great Disney animated classics, this movie still holds up decades later as a fantastical adventure pumped with great songs and humor.
Now this is a fantastic movie. It’s one of the nineties classics that brought Walt Disney Studios back into the limelight, and it’s not very hard to see why. This movie is loaded up with great songs, a clever plot, and some wonderful humor. It also features the first A list star performance in an animated film, which kick started a major trend. The story is about a beggar – thief who has a good heart and therefore is the chosen one, who the cave of wonder will accept to come in. And once this young man, Aladdin, is inside the cave and discovers the lamp, the fun really begins. This is the rare movie that has characters who side step all of the usual landmines, (Jasmine does not fall for Aladdin’s trick whole heartedly, and instead is able to figure out that he is the boy from the marketplace.) And it’s even got a great friendship story between Aladdin and the Genie (the Robin Williams character.) Easily a masterpiece.
Aladdin is one of the greats. There’s no doubt about it. This is one of the four Disney movies that relaunched the studio and brought it to superstardom (the others being The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the Lion King.) It’s also the first movie that founder Walt didn’t have his fingerprints on. What that means is that the other ones… The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, were ideas that Walt had for movies. Aladdin was the first concept that was created without the founding father of the studio. And then the Lion King came after. Aladdin is also the first animated movie to pack an A list celebrity as a voice talent. Before this, the most we were getting were actors like Angela Lansbury or Dom DeLouise, actors who were way past their prime. But with Aladdin, it was Robin Williams, a stand up comic and movie star, at the height of his powers, coming in and giving it his all. And he was a major part of what makes this movie so fantastic.
Williams, of course, plays the genie. He’s a big blue magical goofball who grants three wishes and all that. But he doesn’t come in until a solid ways into the movie, and that’s important, because this movie takes its time establishing the characters. First, we get an introduction song, Arabian Nights, told by a merchant narrator. The movie even finds time for this character to try to sell a number of objects to the audience, completely breaking the fourth wall. It’s a very clever opening for an animated movie. And then we meet Aladdin in the marketplace, stealing bread and getting chased by guards because of it. This leads to the song, “One Jump.” It ends with Aladdin and his monkey sidekick, Habu, staring at the palace and talking about how nice it must be to live there and have no problems.
Transition to the inside the palace walls, where Princess Jasmine is dealing with a father who wants to see her married, even if it’s not for love. This is the Sultan, a pudgy, bumbling character (not unlike the father in Beauty and the Beast,) and he tells Jasmine that he just wants to see that she’s taken care of before he’s gone. Of course, being the princess and being incredibly wealthy, she doesn’t exactly need to be taken care of, but this line makes the Sultan seem like he’s not such a bad guy, and is really pushing Jasmine into marriage because he cares about her. The live action remake still has the story of Jasmine being forced to pick a suitor, but it updates the story to give Jasmine a more powerful role in the events that happen, (and to give her some songs of her own..)
What the remake does not do is take its time, and that’s something that this original film does brilliantly. The movie is by no means long, and yet it finds time for everything. That includes not only introductions to Aladdin and Jasmine, but also to the cave of wonders, itself, (this scene also serves as an introduction to the villain, Jafar.) The first time we see the tall, dark villain, (literally dressed in black robes with a snake staff that hypnotizes people,) he is pushing a humble thief to go into the cave and bring out the lamp. The cave, which looks like a tiger face, speaks and tells them that only one may enter… a diamond in the rough. Jafar still urges the thief to go in, and when he does, the cave mouth (the entrance,) slams down and the thief is swallowed up. The cave disappears in the sand. And all of this happens after that merchant introduction, and before we even meet our two protagonists.
The real story of Aladdin and Jasmine and their romance starts when he spots her in the marketplace. Jasmine has snuck out of the palace, dressed as a commoner, meaning she is wearing a robe with a hood. And she takes things off a merchants cart and gives them away to a hungry boy. The merchant isn’t exactly happy and threatens to cut Jasmine’s hand off (yes, Disney was pushing the limits here, but it was the nineties and they were able to get away with much more.) Aladdin swoops in and saves the day, using trickery to escape the merchant. In fact, trickery is used throughout the film. Aladdin isn’t the strongest or the bravest of heroes, he is just the most clever. Just think about the way he tricks Jafar later on in the movie. And all that is setup here, at the start of the movie, with Aladdin first telling the merchant that Jasmine is his sister, who is crazy, and then managing to convince the man that it’s true. Jasmine helps with this lie, by pretending to talk to a horse.
The guards catch Aladdin and Jasmine together and take Aladdin to the palace where Jafar approaches him in the dungeon. He and his parrot, Yiago, (voiced by Gilbert Godfried, who has an incredibly annoying voice which is just right for this character,) use a crystal ball like device to see who the “diamond in the rough,” is. And it show them Aladdin. So Aladdin is chained up and brought to the dungeon, where an old man approaches him, tells him about the lamp, and offers to help Aladdin escape. So of course Aladdin accepts. And he goes with the old man to the cave of wonders, promising to go into the cave and get the lamp.
And Aladdin does just that. The cave looks fantastic. Among other first, besides the Walt Disney thing and the Robin Williams celebrity voice thing. that was mentioned earlier, another first is that this was the first animated movie to really use computer effects. Beauty and the Beast tried it with one scene, the ballroom scene, where the camera drifts up toward the rafters, but in Aladdin i’s used in multiple spots. And there’s a lot of computer effect work being used in the cave. This makes everything in the cave look fantastic. When Aladdin and Habu fly on a carpet over a pit of lava, as the lave is bubbling up and forming waves to chase them down, it loos pretty great. There are even closeups on the lave, seeing it from Aladdin’s point of view, as he flies over it.
All of this ends with Aladdin and Habu stuck in the cave with their new friend, the magic carpet. Jafar sold them out, (of course,) and betrayed them before they got out of the cave. But Jafar did not get the lamp. Habu manages to steal it back, just in the nick of time. And so Aladdin rubs it and out pops the Genie to begin singing a song. “A Friend Like Me,” is the musical number here that gets Robin Williams to do tons of imitations (from Jack Nicholson to Peter Lorre,) He transforms not only himself, but also everything around him, in order to do this musical presentation. Disney must have really wanted to top the muical number, “Be Our Guest,” from The Little Mermaid with this, because it goes all out. And Robin Williams demonstrates why he is absolutely perfect as the Genie.
Aladdin starts using his three wishes to become a prince, complete with a royal entourage and parade. Now it’s time to go meet Jasmine, at the palace. Which leads to another song, “Prince Ali.” Right now, the song count has given us, “Arabian Nights,” “One Jump,” “Never Had a Friend Like Me,” and now “Prince Ali.” There’s one more song left on the table, and it’s the most famous one of all… “A Whole New World.” But before we can get to that, Aladdin comes to town, disguised as a made up prince, Prince Ali, and brings with him the biggest and greatest parade. When they get into the castle, Aladdin, The Sultan, and Jafar all have a talk about Jasmine and what is best for her. And of course Jasmine overhears this and storms in, enraged by these men trying to decide her future. It isn’t until Aladdin shows up that night on her balcony, via flying carpet, and takes her for a ride around the world (literally, they go to Greece, Egypt, China, and other locations, all in one night.)
But there’s a problem. Aladdin is lying to Jasmine. He’s not really a prince. Even the Genie (disguised as a bee,) flies around Aladdin’s ear telling him to tell Jasmine the truth. But he doesn’t, and it’s kind of understandable why. What’s he supposed to do, just say, “actually I’m not really a Prince, but a beggar and a thief who just has a magic lamp and genie working for him?” Remember, Jasmine is still at the point where she believes the law that she can only marry a prince. And plus, she isn’t exactly in love with this guy yet, and would have no problem dismissing him, as soon as she found out who he really is. So it makes sense why he doesn’t tell her the truth, and much as the Genie’s advice sounds nice, I’m not exactly sure it would have gone over well if Aladdin took him up on it. But this movie is also smart enough to have Jasmine figure some of what’s happening out on her own, and not be left in the dark the whole time.She knows he’s the guy from the marketplace. And the movie even makes it clear to us how she can tell…by the “do you trust me?” line, said in the exact same way, with Aladdin holding out a hand to her, both times. When Jasmine calls him out on being the boy from the marketplace, Aladdin says he’s really a prince who disguised himself to go out and be with the commoners, and she can believe that since she did the exact same thing. Aside from the secret he’s keeping, there’s also that evil Jafar, lurking around, who figures out that Aladdin is the guy they sent into the cave. Jafar gets the lamp and uses it to become the biggest, baddest villain, for the final act.
And even here, at the end of the movie, there are some clever moves. Both Aladdin and Jasmine get to shine in the final act. In her case, she hears Jafar wish for her to fall in love with him, and that the Genie says he can’t make that happen. So what does Jasmine do? She pretends it worked and that she is falling head over heels for him. This makes him stop bothering the Genie to actually make it come true, but it also distracts Jafar from seeing Aladdin sneak into the room. And then there’s Aladdin, with his final trick that ends up being the end of Jafar. But aside from the way these two handle the villain, and aside from their relationship with each other, there’s also the friendship between Aladdin and the Genie. There’s a promise that Aladdin has made to the Genie, about using his last wish to set the Genie free, and it’s the final act of friendship to end the movie. There are some thingsin this movie that aren’t addressed enough, such as that Aladdin lied to Jasmine for so long about who he really is. But it is a children’s movie after all. Aladdin apologizes, says he will never lie to her again, and we move on. And it’s quite possible Jasmine would have been forgiving enough to get passed it, after everything they had just gone through with Jafar.