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Aladdin (1992)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: November 25th, 1992 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker Actors: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale

F

ollowing on the heels of two of Disney’s most spectacular classics (“The Little Mermaid” [1989] and “Beauty and the Beast” [1991]), and trying hard to overwrite the sour taste of the memorably song-lacking animated features of the early to mid-‘80s, Disney crafts yet another adventurous, spectacle-filled, sumptuously designed tour de force. “Aladdin” has all the elements of a full-bodied fantasy epic, along with the studio’s expected family-friendly influence and award-winning songs, appealing to both children and adults in equal measure. It went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year, as well as garnering the favorable attention necessary to spawn sequels, a TV series spinoff, and video games, among numerous other merchandise.

A dark man meets a merciless thief on a dark night for dark deeds. Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), the king’s conniving royal vizier, is in search of a magical lamp that can grant him all the powers of the world. Although the timid bandit Gazeem (Charlie Adler) can deliver to Jafar a scarab medallion, which reveals the Cave of Wonders – a giant tiger’s head and gateway to a cavern of treasures – he is unable to enter. Only one man, a diamond in the rough, a character who is more than he seems (much like the lamp itself), may gain entrance.

The following day, Jafar hypnotizes the sultan – a fat, foolish, bungling old man – for his mystical blue ring that, when augmented with some standard sorcery, enables Jafar to locate the young man who can get him the lamp. Aladdin (Scott Weinger) is the target, a simple “street rat” who frequents the city of Agrabah, overlooked by the massive palace that houses the sultan and his beautiful daughter, Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin). As Aladdin worries about surviving from day to day, Jasmine frets over a current law that states she must marry a prince. When she runs away to Agrabah in search of freedom, Aladdin rescuers her from belligerent commoners. But he’s then whisked away by palace guards to be brought to Jafar, who will stop at nothing to secure the magic lamp.

The themes and situations are much more mature than what is typical for Disney (excluding the experimentation of “The Black Cauldron”), and it’s a welcome deviation. The characters are better developed, more relatable, far sincerer, and cinematically powerful, aggrandized by smarter dialogue, trickier references, and catchier tunes. Alan Menken’s original score, joined by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s songs, are some of the greatest achievements of the film, nabbing the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Original Song (for “A Whole New World”) – creating not only snazzy, grand choruses (and an outstanding duet), but also multiple masterpieces, which competed against one another for awards (“Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are two of the most nominated runners up).

As for darker themes, Aladdin regularly ponders his financial status, which prevents him from rising above his social class – a form of being trapped. Jasmine ruminates over an opposing variety of control, one that isn’t limited by wealth but by rules – chiefly, an edict that forces her to marry a prince and be a prize ripe for the winning by a stuffed-shirt aristocrat. The genie (perfectly voiced by Robin Williams) in the magic lamp is also stuck, more definitively by tiny golden walls that create his prison and govern his purpose. Violence and controversial events (not including the mild stereotypical depictions of Arabs) abound, including the pungent Gazeem mentioning the throats he slit to obtain the scarab, Jasmine almost losing a hand to an enraged street vendor, several murder attempts, and even the revealingly skimpy costumes of the harem girls and the princess (toward the conclusion, she’s garbed in a Slave Leia outfit and feigns lust). Jafar is also one of the vilest of the Disney knaves, misusing his wishes for some particularly controversial purposes.

The visuals are outstanding, with exquisitely incorporated computer animation for several elements, including the Cave of Wonders, a particularly thrilling escape from a disembodied tower of the castle, and the flawlessly moving, digitally applied pattern of the magic carpet. There’s also a striking amount of detail in the characters, especially with Jafar. And to round it out is the casting of recognizable, comic relief supporting players, topped by Robin Williams as the flamboyant, frequently impersonating blue spirit and Gilbert Gottfried as Iago, the bitter, teeth-baring, parrot sidekick and henchman. The entire production is one of collaborative innovation and ingenious filmmaking choices.

– Mike Massie

 



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