Of course I watched Aladdin when I was little. Disney’s renaissance era was such a great time to be kid: The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. Instant classics, all. I remember my aunt giving my little sister Jana a pair of Princess Jasmine pajamas – gauzy and midriff-bearing. They were an instant source of jealousy (we were four little girls, but Jana was the smallest and the blondest and the default cutest, and I suppose the rest of us felt that our chubby little bellies were not deemed worthy).
But I hadn’t watched Aladdin since I was young, on VHS, naturally. On DVD I’ve fallen in love all over again with the movie. Gosh it’s crisp, the animation looks beautiful. I find that I still know every word to every song (it probably helps that I have the soundtrack on vinyl).
It’s a sad story if you stop to think about it: Aladdin is a homeless youth who is so hungry he resorts to stealing even though the punishment is having your hand chopped off. Jasmine, the resident princess, has never been hungry a day in her life, but is far more eager to escape her life of confinement in the castle and the pressure to marry a prince before her next birthday (at which time she turns all of 16). The two meet in the market where they also get in some trouble. Jafar, the nefarious vizier to the sultan, tells Jasmine that Aladdin has been executed (to death!), but actually he’s going to use him to break into the Cave of Wonders and steal the magic lamp.
As you know, Aladdin does get his hands on the lamp, and imagine his surprise when out pops a big blue genie (voiced by Robin Williams). Genie turns Aladdin into a prince so he can court and marry Jasmine, but there’s a lesson in there about being your true self, and the lesson must be taught.
Anyway, Robin Williams recorded his part while on breaks from Hook and Toys. He’d call up Steven Spielberg, who was filming Schindler’s List at the time, and make him and the cast and crew have a much-needed laugh. So much of the movie was ad-libbed by Williams, it no longer qualified for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars. Not that anyone complained: animators literally added whole scenes just because Williams said something too brilliant not to use.
Robin Williams was reluctant to even do the movie. He wanted to try his hand at voicing an animated character but he balked at the whole Disney merchandising machine. Eventually he agreed to do the film for scale (!) on the condition that his voice not be used for merchandising, and that the Genie not take up more than 25% of space on posters, billboards, and trailers. The idiots at Disney did not abide his rules so Williams was actually mad at them for years. Michael Eisner even tried to apologize to him with a Picasso, but Williams turned it down. Only when Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired and replaced by Joe Roth did things thaw: Roth apologized publicly.
If Jasmine and Aladdin look familiar to you, you’re not wrong: Jasmine was modeled after Jennifer Connelly, and Aladdin after Tom Cruise, which has to make you wonder – does Tom Cruise not have nipples either? I met Princess Jasmine recently. I was having dinner at Cinderella’s castle (at Disney World), and quite a few princesses drop by to say hello. She asked me if Sean was my diamond in the rough and I must have scrunched up my nose quite skeptically because she amended it to “Diamond in the scruff?” – in fact, Sean has a no-razors-on-vacation policy, so I let that one stand even though it wasn’t the rough I objected to.
Anyway, we gave this one a re-watch because Guy Ritchie is doing a live-action remake hitting theatres later this month (May 24). Although I was disappointed by both Mary Poppins Returns and Dumbo (both of which I’d hoped would be good but weren’t quite) already this year, I’m going to go ahead and reserve some moderately-sized hope for this one. They can’t all be bad, right?