Skip to main content

MMYIF: Aladdin

My Misspent Youth In Films...

Aladdin
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: Scott Weingar, Robing Williams, Linda Larkin
Released: November 25, 1992

A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

What I Thought Then

Up there with Beauty and the Beast for my favorite of this era of Disney. Beauty and the Beast is the better movie, but I think I liked this one more. Because Robin freaking Williams!

What I Think Now

Aladdin was the last film that featured songs by Howard Ashman, the musical half of the duo that spearheaded the Disney animation renaissance of the early 90s. The next 2D animated film, The Lion King, would still be a quality movie thanks in no small part to songwriting from Elton John, but after that the Disney tide would ebb. Their next tentpole movie would be the disappointing Pocahontas, and a few months later Pixar would release Toy Story and at that point the paradigm would be officially shifted. Meanwhile Disney would start pumping out direct-to-video sequels of questionable quality, and in no time at all they'd seem to have squandered whatever good will they'd built up. But at the time, Aladdin was a smashing success.

Nowadays, it's a weird movie to watch. The only recognizable actors in the voice cast are Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried, and they've both got a bit of baggage attached to them these days. The most notable of which is, of course, Williams' mental decline and eventual suicide. But even beyond that, this movie caused a fair amount of bad blood between Williams and Disney. He agreed to do the part if and only if they left him out of the marketing. And if you remember 1992 at all, Aladdin was promoted as a film about a genie named Robin Williams that also featured some guy named Al. So, if you're wondering why he didn't return for the sequel, that's why.

Kind of a shame, because the genie was the perfect role for Williams. In the form of an animated supernatural cosmic being, anything he ad libbed in the recording booth could be brought to life by the animators. His manic, cartoon personality finally had a canvas that was just as manic and just as much a cartoon as he was. Honestly, he's the reason to watch this film. He gives a bravura comic performance and a bunch of really skilled people used pen and ink to augment it with visuals.

On a technical level, everything is in its right place. It has the best hand-drawn animation money can buy, and some impressive use of then-nascent CGI. The music is fantastic. The story is the Lazy River at a water park--it's shallow, but functional. It's not exciting, gets you where you're going, with just enough turns and speed that... okay, metaphor's falling apart. It's fine. The story is fine. Aladdin is a good person in a shitty circumstance and as his status rises he has to learn to stop trying to be a con artist. And then he wins the day by... being a con artist. Things are a bit muddle thematically, is what I'm getting at. Of course, the real solution is the very end when the Sultan decides that, actually, women can have a say in whom they marry. Not all women, obviously, but his daughter for certain. #feminism

And on that note... hoo-boy, this film is something of a relic. Leaving aside Jasmine's marriage rights and exposed midriff, this is not exactly a flattering portrait of the Middle East. The movie uses its setting for exoticism, and it has aged about as well as you can imagine. The opening song somewhat famously had a line re-dubbed because it was deemed too culturally insensitive: "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face--it's barbaric, but hey, it's home!" Viewing it from the (we hope) post-Trump era, it almost seems quaint. Hey, here's a bit of appropriation, but we took out the line that literally calls an entire culture a bunch of barbarians, so we're cool now, right? I mean, at least it's not  as offensive as Pocahontas.

Recommendation?

It may be a relic, but it's an entertaining one, and worth seeing for Williams alone.

Tune in next week for some final thoughts and an announcement of what's happening next year on the blog...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On Getting Laser Eyes

Last week I got Lasik. I was looking forward to not having to deal with glasses getting smudged by my kids or slipping off my face. I figured that not needing them would be pretty convenient. However, the words I heard over and over from other people who'd already done it were: "life-changing." That seemed to be overstating a bit. Convenient, yes, but life-changing? I didn't get it. I get it now. I've had some kind of vision correction, either glasses or contacts, for the last thirty-odd years, which is nearly as far back as I can remember. And what I hadn't realized was the extent to which this had become part of my identity. It's not that I thought glasses were cool because I wore them--although I did and they are. It's that the ability to see was, for me, artificial and temporary. And my vision was pretty bad, so my natural state was one of... not so much "blindness" as "isolation." There was a layer of vagueness that sat bet

100 Album: "Game Of Thrones Season 3 Soundtrack" by Ramin Djawadi

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the  explainer  or view  the master list . Artist:  Ramin Djawadi Title:   Game Of Thrones, Season 3 Soundtrack Released:  2013 Genre:  DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh He's not as big a name as Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the various Newmans out there, but Ramin Djawadi is easily the most interesting composer working in television right now (with due respect to Bear McCreary). Soundtracks, especially television soundtracks because they're produced so quickly, have a tendency to serve more as a wall of atmosphere than anything else. But Djawadi's work here and on Westworld  has generated some amazing musical themes. There's a strong undercurrent of leitmotif informing the way the music flows together and the themes those motifs are built around are damned  catchy--which you know if you got the joke in the genre description above. While all of the soundtracks for GoT  are very listenable, this is m

100 Albums: "Fashion Nugget" by Cake

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the  explainer  or view  the master list . Artist:  Cake Title:   Fashion Nugget Released:  1996 Genre:  lo-fi indie alt-rock There was a summer when I was in college that I spent every spare minute playing Super Bomber Man  on the SNES and listening to Cake's Fashion Nugget  (and one other album that I will get to shortly). Cake broke in the late era of grunge with The Distance , a--ahem--driving song about a man racing to get back to his love, or something like that. The metaphor was unclear, but the song was catchy as hell. They followed it up with a cover of I Will Survive  that was much more indicative of Cake's sound: lo-fi vintage guitar, a lead trumpet, John McCrea's deadpan just-off-rhythm singing and sarcastic lyrics, and Victor Damiani's frenetic bass-playing. Fashion Nugget  was independently produced under the ethos of "if you can't make it sound clean, make it sound dirty in an interesti