Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Aladdin (1992) - Robin Williams is the King of Genies

Aladdin: Robin Williams as the Genie Sets the Gold Standard for Hyperactive Supporting Roles

Aladdin 1992 //
Original "Aladdin" film poster.
"Aladdin" (1992) was another smash hit for Disney Animation, coming right after classics "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" to cement the Disney Renaissance. "Aladdin" won Oscars for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Original Song ("A Whole New World") and won many other awards. As the first animated film to gross over $200 million, "Aladdin" gained from the deliberate stunt casting of a major movie star, Robin Williams, in the key supporting role of the Genie.

Robin Williams and the genie in Aladdin 1992 //
Last night I held Aladdin's lamp/And so I wished that I could stay/Before the thing could answer me/Someone came and took the lamp away/I looked around, a lousy candle's all I found/Well, you don't know what we can find/Why don't you come with me little girl/On a magic carpet ride/Well, you don't know what we can see. Steppenwolf - Magic Carpet Ride
After "Aladdin," almost every successful Disney movie with an eye for comedy would have a supporting player go over the top with manic bluster (James Woods as Hades in "Hercules" and Jason Alexander as one of the gargoyles in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" being two prominent examples). Williams' sheer star power also was seen as making "Aladdin" an event for theatergoers. "Aladdin," thus, accelerated the sea change in Hollywood in which purely voice actors were replaced aside in animated features in favor of celebrities who could help sell the film.

Robin Williams and the genie in Aladdin 1992 //
Robin Williams even looked like a Genie!
Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), Grand Vizier to the Sultan (Douglas Seale), learns about a magical oil lamp that houses a genie. It is located in the Cave of Wonders, but nobody can enter it without being in great danger. Not wanting to risk his own life, Jafar casts about for a likely helper who has less to lose than he does.

Aladdin finds the magic lantern in Aladdin 1992 //
The magic lamp!
Jasmine (Linda Larkin), the Sultan's pretty young daughter, meanwhile, becomes frustrated with her life of luxury and seclusion. Since girls just wanna have fun, she runs away to the marketplace, where she meets Aladdin (Scott Weinger, better known as Steve on "Full House") and his kleptomaniac monkey, Abu (Frank Welker).

Aladdin 1992 //

Jasmine and Aladdin become friends, and when Aladdin is arrested, she orders Jafar to release Aladdin immediately. Jafar, though, tells her Aladdin was executed because he has other plans for Aladdin, namely, the Cave of Wonders project.

Aladdin and the genie bond in Aladdin 1992 //
We're going to be best buddies.  Right?  Right?
Disguising himself, Jafar takes Aladdin and his monkey to the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin and Abu manage to get inside safely, and a magic carpet appears to take them to the lamp. Abu plays with a ruby, causing the cave to collapse. The magic carpet barely gets Aladdin and Abu back to the entrance with the lamp, which Aladdin, not knowing its power, gives to Jafar as agreed. Jafar, the slimy snake that he is, double-crosses Aladdin and tries to kill Aladdin to keep him quiet. Abu, though, saves Aladdin by biting Jafar in the arm, which causes Jafar to drop the lamp, which Aladdin and Abu retrieve. The cave then closes as Aladdin and Abut fall back into it, imprisoning Aladdin, Abu. the carpet and the lamp, but at least separating them from Jafar.

The genie makes a point to Aladdin in Aladdin 1992 //
I am powerful. I am!
Aladdin rubs the lamp, and the genie appears. He promises to grant Aladdin three wishes - with the exception of anything involving murder, romance or revival of the dead. The Genie says he himself would wish for freedom, which Aladdin promises to grant him with his final wish. Aladdin first wishes to become a prince so he can date and marry Jasmine. They all then return to the palace, where they interrupt Jafar in the process of trying to get the sultan to arrange a marriage between Jafar and Jasmine. Disguised as "Prince Ali," Aladdin takes Jasmine on a carpet ride around the world, and a romance develops despite Jasmine figuring out that "Prince Ali" really is a commoner.

The sultan in Aladdin 1992 //
I'm the sultan, and you're not!
Jafar captures Aladdin and throws him into the ocean, so Aladdin has to use up his second wish to save himself. Aladdin returns to the palace, frightening Jafar, but Jafar's pet parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) steals the lamp and Jafar, in turn, is granted three wishes. He uses two of them to become Sultan and the most powerful Sorcerer in the world. He then exiles Aladdin and Abu to a frozen wasteland, but Aladdin still has the magic carpet. He uses it to try to steal back the lamp and then confronts Jafar. They then have a final showdown, with Jafar turning into a giant Cobra and boasting that he is the most powerful entity in the world - but is he really?

Jafar in Aladdin 1992 //
Those darn kids!
The directors of "Aladdin" were the same two who had directed the seminal "The Little Mermaid," Ron Clements and John Musker. They truly were Disney's movie "A-Team at the time, and they wrote "Aladdin," too. The essential elements for a top-notch Disney film - humor, an effective villain and a humorous, helpful sidekick - were put in place with "Aladdin" and worked gloriously. Brilliant songs composed by Howard Ashman (who came up with the idea for "Aladdin"), Alan Menken and Tim Rice brought this to the next level.

Aladdin Jasmine love
Aladdin and Jasmine make such a perfect couple.
A pop version of "A Whole New Life" went to No. 1 for Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle in early 1993, the only time that has happened for a song from a Disney animated feature. The songs were fine, but it was the perfect casting of Robin Williams to deliver the jokes and sing funny songs that sealed the deal with audiences. The result with "Aladdin" was a film that many consider one of Disney's true classics, up there with "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty" (Jafar's character is partly based on Maleficent).

Aladdin pondering his wishes in Aladdin 1992 //
"I dream of Genie with the light brown hair...."
"Aladdin," like "Beauty and the Beast," was so successful that it turned into a cottage industry, what with sequels and everything else that accompanies a smash hit animation film. The animation itself is superior, combining traditionally animated character animation with fully rendered and textured 3D CGI moving backgrounds. Thus, for those calling for a 3D version of this film, it already exists partially in 3D in the primitive CAPS process also used for parts of "Beauty and the Beast" and other Disney movies through the end of the Disney Renaissance and beyond.

Aladdin rubbing the lamp in Aladdin 1992 //
I wonder what happens if I rub it?
The music and animation are superb, but the real draw of this film is Robin Williams. He was at the peak of his talents during the making of this film, giving the animators 16 hours of tapes of random ad-libs with which to work. He goes through a sequence of celebrity impersonations at one point that ranges from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing to Groucho Marx. It's not everyone that can get away with that kind of schtick, but Williams carries the role off with aplomb. Whether or not you generally find Williams' frenetic standup routine fresh or tiresome, he hits just the right notes in his role as the genie to sell this film.

Aladdin and Jasmine flying above the city in Aladdin 1992 //
Grease is the word, is the word, that you heard...
"Aladdin" was the most successful film of 1992, earning over $217 million domestically and $500 million worldwide - which were almost unheard of amounts of money back then. When released on VHS, "Aladdin" sold 25 million copies. There were two fine sequels, "Return of Jafar" (the first animated Disney movie that went straight to video) and "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," as well as an animated television series, toys, merchandise, video games - you name it, Disney sold it.

Aladdin Jasmine love animated film
Two crazy love-struck kids.
"Aladdin," many would say, was the peak of the Disney Renaissance, in tandem with "Beauty and the Beast," and perhaps throw "The Lion King" in there for the Trifecta of Best Animated Films of Recent Times. Recommended for all fans of Disney animation, especially those who want to see sheer talent explode off the screen.

Below, the original Aladdin trailer:


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