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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.

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