Aladdin (United States, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One wonders what Disney is going to come up with next, and whether they'll be able to continue at the high level of quality attained by their recent batch of films. 1989's The Little Mermaid is nothing short of delightful, and Beauty and the Beast, the studio's 1991 animated entry, is perhaps the finest animated film ever made. Now, with the advent of 1992's Fall holiday season, Disney has unveiled their latest, Aladdin, an extremely loose adaptation of the Arabian Nights fable about the boy who found a genie in a bottle. And, although more openly comical than either Beauty or The Little Mermaid, Aladdin maintains the high standards set by its immediate predecessors.

Aladdin is both similar to and different from Disney's animated 1989 and 1991 releases. Like Mermaid and Beauty, it features stunningly crisp visuals and wonderful song-and-dance numbers. Unlike those two films, however, the protagonist here is not a girl -- it's a boy. The female lead, a princess named Jasmine, shows the same streak of stubborn independence exhibited by Ariel and Belle, but, being a supporting character, she doesn't fill a more pressing role than that of Aladdin's "love interest." The other big change in Aladdin is the level of humor. Beauty and Mermaid had their comic moments, but they were essentially lightweight fantasy/dramas. Thanks to an incredibly lively vocal characterization by Robin Williams as the Genie (more about that later), Aladdin is pretty much a straight comedy, with elements of romance, fantasy, and adventure thrown in almost as afterthoughts.

The story centers around the title character (voice of Scott Weinger), a homeless orphan living on the streets of the city of Agrabah. One day, while avoiding a contingent of the local law enforcement, Aladdin comes into a contact with a young girl who is also hiding from the guards. She is actually the Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) in disguise, seeking shelter after having run away from home because of a disagreement with her father about his plans for her marriage. The gallant street urchin shows her his favorite place of concealment, then promptly falls in love with her. Soon, however, Aladdin has more to worry about than the guards or the sultan's daughter. The palace sorcerer, Jafar (voiced with relish by Jonathan Freeman), has divined that Aladdin represents the key to his plans. So, in the guise of an old man, Jafar tricks his unwitting victim into entering the mysterious Cave of Wonders, where undreamed-of treasures are hidden. There, Aladdin finds an ornate bottle, and, after accidentally rubbing it a few times, comes face-to-face with a blue genie (Williams), who is ready and willing to grant him three wishes. What follows is a basic formula tale as Aladdin, with the help of his sidekicks -- a monkey named Abu and a flying carpet, seeks to win Jasmine's hand, defeat the evil Jafar and his vicious parrot, Iago (voiced with grating sarcasm by Gilbert Gottfried), and save Agrabah.

The mixture of Robin Williams' voice and the Disney animators' work makes the Genie a truly magical personae, stealing scene after scene from the rather bland title character (let's face it -- Aladdin is about the least interesting individual in the movie). In fact, most of the time when the Genie is around, we're oblivious to whoever else is on-screen. Much of the humor comes courtesy of Williams, who deserves (but won't get) an Oscar nomination for his vocal versatility. All-in-all, he does dozens of clever voice parodies which the animators develop into complete, often-hilarious, caricatures. At times, when Williams is in full throttle, Aladdin becomes a "how many famous people can you spot" game. Ed Sullivan, Elvis, Arsenio Hall, Jack Nicholson, William F. Buckley, Travis Bickle, Ethel Merman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and so on... they're all there, skewered on the rapier of Williams' zany wit. It's a credit to the artists that they're able to keep up with him.

Even putting Williams' performance aside, there's still a lot to like about this film. The animation is almost as amazing as that in Beauty and the Beast, with the computer-enhanced Cave of Wonders sequence rivaling the lower-key ballroom dance scene in the previous film. There are a number of wild action segments that are expertly executed (not to mention perfectly-suited to an inevitable video game). While the music (courtesy of Alan Menken, the late Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, who took over the lyricist's duties after Ashman's untimely death) isn't as important to Aladdin (nor is it as good) as it was to the previous two Disney animated films, there are still five new tunes, three of which ("Friend Like Me", "Prince Ali", and "A Whole New World") are standouts. Perhaps best of all is that, as with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin can be enjoyed as much by adults as by children. This is a fun motion picture on all levels, and, while it doesn't quite measure up to the standard established by Beauty, it's still one of the year's best bets for pure entertainment.

Aladdin (United States, 1992)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 1992-11-25
MPAA Rating: "G" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1