Munir: Hello and welcome back to another article in the A Decade Of series, where we are currently reviewing the Renaissance period of Disney Animation. Today, it’s time for the third film in the so-called “big four” from this period, Aladdin. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who also directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin follows the adventure of a street thief in the fictional Middle East city of Agrabah. He has only one friend, pet monkey named Abu, and both of them struggle to survive by stealing food and running from guards. Aladdin falls in love with the princess, Jasmine, who escapes from the palace to live a normal life; however, he is imprisoned by the Sultan’s grand vizier, Jafar, who is plotting to find a magic lamp and become Sultan himself. Aladdin finds the lamp and releases the all-powerful Genie, who will help him woo the princess and save the city from Jafar. Aladdin follows the same template set by Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast; it’s a musical, it has a plucky hero, a strong princess, an over the top villain, and cute sidekicks. However, this film ramps up the comedy, and it can easily be labeled as the most comedic one of the whole Renaissance. What also sets it apart is the appearance of the Genie. The character is a match made in heaven uniting the talents of legendary animator Eric Goldberg and the late, great, actor Robin Williams. The Genie is such a strong presence in the film that he tends to overshadow the title character, who comes off a little bland. Upon its release, Aladdin was met with critical acclaim and box office success. It didn’t match the heights that its predecessor set, but it still won the same Oscars that both Mermaid and Beauty won (best song and best score). It was also the last film on which the late Howard Ashman worked, but Tim Rice had to come and create some new songs for it. During its 25+ years of existence, Aladdin has become one of Disney’s most popular and enduring classics. I personally really like this movie. I think it has excellent humor, and although the titular couple is not as strong as Belle and the Beast, the film has many strengths, from some great songs, to a good villain, and of course, the Genie. What do you think, Virginia?
V: I would say Hercules is the only other film from the Renaissance that’s as much a comedy as Aladdin. After all, even Hades, the villain, is snarky and hilarious. I completely agree about the Genie. I think it’s worth mentioning that, while films later in this decade strove to recapture the romance in Beauty and the Beast and the epic tone of The Lion King, the Genie spawned a lot of copy-cat sidekicks. We’ll get to specific examples in those reviews, but basically, from then on Disney cast high-profile comedians as wise-cracking sidekicks, to mixed results. While Williams does steal the show, I actually quite like Aladdin as the protagonist. He’s clever, selfless, and filled with self-doubt. I think he has more personality than some other Disney heroes we could list. I will agree that Aladdin and Jasmine aren’t as strong as protagonists and a couple as Belle and the Beast, but in fairness, I think very few characters in any movie are. In fact, in my opinion, Disney has only matched them once and come close a couple of times.
M: I can agree to that, but I have a problem with Aladdin lying so much. I know and understand why he did it the first time; however, after he is nearly killed by Jafar and saved by the Genie, I don’t think he had to lie anymore, at least not to Jasmine. But it’s not a major problem, and I think they are both good characters. As you said, not many couples can be as good as Belle and the Beast, but Aladdin and Jasmine are OK. Speaking of Jasmine, she’s the only Disney princess who is not the protagonist of a Disney film. I also think she’s a very relatable character. She refuses to accept her predestined fate and actually does something about it. She’s also smart because she sees through Aladdin right away. She’s not vain or superficial because she isn’t impressed by Aladdin’s mighty display of wealth during the Prince Ali sequence. I haven’t seen the remake, but how would you compare both versions? I also ask because every time someone is cast as a Disney princess, the actresses always say that they want to be a stronger character than the animated version. I think it’s a stupid thing to say when the animated version was already a strong character. It happened with Watson when she was cast as Belle, and it happened with Scott when she was cast as Jasmine. I’ve seen the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and live-action Belle can’t even compete with her animated counterpart, and I wonder if the same happened with Jasmine?
V: I agree entirely regarding Aladdin’s repeated lies. As you said, we can see why he does it initially, but it goes on for too long. I love Jasmine, and she was my favorite princess as a kid. A lot of later princesses would adopt some of her characteristics. This works better in some cases (Mulan’s kindness to children) than others (Merida not wanting to be a princess and get married). As for the remake, I liked Naomi Scott’s performance, and they had some good ideas, such as the way Jasmine passionately cares for her people and their welfare. That being said, her new song “Speechless” is a dud, and the subplot about her becoming the Sultan is preposterous. Overall, I think she’s much better than Watson’s Belle (which I absolutely detest) and Beyonce’s Nala, but worse than Mia Wasikowska’s Alice or Lily James’ Cinderella. I can appreciate their attempts to make Jasmine less of a passive entity, but I prefer Linda Larkin/Lea Salonga in the animated film overall.
M: I see. Regarding “Speechless,” I find it curious that the new songs that are included in the remakes are never as good as the ones from the original films. Once the remakes are out, the new tunes fade into oblivion. I don’t see anyone singing or talking about “Evermore” or “Speechless” the way “Let it Go” was a phenomenon when Frozen was released in 2013. They don’t endure like the songs from the animated films. Let’s talk about the music in the movie. I think this is another strong Menken score, although not as strong as Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, although the songs are really good. I don’t dislike any of them, and I think the mix of Ashman and Rice works very well. My favorite songs are “Friend Like Me” and A “Whole New World.”
V: I agree entirely. They seem to want to give all the love interests new songs, which is a fine idea, but they’re just not very good. “Speechless” has too much of a pop sound, in my opinion. As such, it clashes with the grand, Broadway-style musical numbers from the original Aladdin. Part of the problem is that it was written by the songwriters from La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Disney should stick to their own timeless style instead of trying to copy whatever’s popular at the moment. I agree all around with regards to the music from the original. I wish Jafar’s dark reprise of “Prince Ali,” revealing Aladdin as a fraud, had been included in the remake. It’s a great scene. “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World” would be my favorite songs as well.
M: I also like Jafar’s song and the scene where it is sung. I find it interesting that, although he has a song, it’s not a big number like the ones Ursula, Gaston, and Scar have. It’s a rather short song, and instead of revealing some scheme from the villain, it serves to reveal the truth about the hero. I also like the cast very much. Robin Williams gets the lion’s share of the praise, and he deserves it. However, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, and Douglas Seale are also excellent in their respective roles. This is also one of two films from this period (the other being Pocahontas) where the animal sidekicks don’t speak, aside from Iago. This may be weird, but since he is a parrot, he can get away with it. The animation is also excellent. The Genie is a force to be reckoned with, but the overall look of the characters is different from other films, and it helps the movie stand out.
V: Probably due to being a comedy, the characters in Aladdin look even more “cartoony” than those in the other films (aside from Hercules, but we’ll get to it in that review). I definitely agree that the other performers are great and simply got overshadowed by Williams’ powerhouse performance. Jonathan Freeman as Jafar and Gilbert Gottfried as Iago, in particular, shine, and I wish they could have reprised their roles in the remake. The sidekicks and animals in the original Aladdin (both speaking and nonverbal) are hilarious, and this is another element the remake doesn’t even try to keep intact. This would be fine if they did something really different, but alas, it’s just an empty reflection of the 1992 film.
M: I’m not surprised about that. Most of the remakes are empty reflections of their animated counterparts. I don’t think Freeman could’ve had reprised his role, as it would’ve been culturally insensitive, but I don’t see why Gottfried couldn’t do it. Anyway, what are some of your favorite scenes? “A Whole New World” is a standout, but I also like “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” I really like the scene where Aladdin gives his bread to the young orphans, as it shows that he has a heart. I’d like to point out that Aladdin and Jasmine are the first couple that shares a kiss during the movie, and not just at the end like in the previous Disney films. I find that amusing.
V: I love the scene where Aladdin honors his promise to free the Genie, as well as when he and Jasmine fly away on the carpet. “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are precisely the kind of grand musical set pieces I love in these films.
M: To wrap up, I think Aladdin continued the trend of excellence that started with Mermaid. It’s not as good as Beauty and the Beast, but it’s a very strong film in its own right, and has deservedly become one of Disney’s most enduring and timeless classics.
V: I agree. While Aladdin isn’t my favorite Disney movie, it is a good one and looks even better in comparison to its remake. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to come back for our Lion King review!