Back in 1992, my family and I went to see “Aladdin” when it premiered in theaters. Many years ago, it was one of the best movie going experiences of my life, simply because as an experience, “Aladdin” succeeds in entertaining. As a movie it’s one of the sleekest and most memorable entries in the animated Disney library thanks to its wonderful voice acting and snappy musical numbers. Before “The Lion King” introduced us to Hakuna Matata, it was hard to think of an ear bug more memorable than “Friend Like Me” as sung by the Genie. Many years passed, “Aladdin” is still one of the more top notch efforts from Disney Animated studios, even if it does manage to show its wrinkles two decades later.
I most enjoy the theory of the prologue of “Aladdin” that the shopkeeper discussing the lamp in the opening is in fact the Genie in human form. After being freed, he’s pretty much destined to roam the Earth telling the tale of the lamp and living as a lowly shop keeper. The voice of the shopkeeper is played by Robin Williams for crying out loud. It holds water when you consider it. “Aladdin” is still an adventurous and rollicking loose adaptation of the original source material where we meet young Aladdin, a homeless street thief who spends his days trying to figure out how to eat without getting thrown in jail. When the lonesome Princess Jasmine ventures outside the kingdom for an adventure, the two become unwitting allies and Aladdin is thrown in jail. After meeting the evil royal Grand Vizier Jafar, who is disguised as a decrepit prisoner, Aladdin is led to the sacred Cave of Wonders to find the magic lamp and is betrayed when the cave collapses in.
Left to die with the lamp at his side, the hero unwittingly unleashes the blue genie of the lamp and plans to disguise himself as a royal prince to win the heart of Jasmine. With a slew of very talented character actors at the helm, “Aladdin” is never short excellent voice performances, including Scott Weinger as the valiant hero to be Aladdin, along with Linda Larkin who is immortal as the dreamy heroine Jasmine. To boot there’s also the defining voice performance by Robin Williams who has an absolute blast as the outgoing and wacky blue genie who aids Aladdin in his mission to win over Jasmine, while also inadvertently going on his own journey of self-discovery and heroism in the process. Williams is absolutely hilarious as the Genie, but also finds a steady balance between insane and restrained that keeps the film moving at a respectable and raucous pace.
Alan Menkin’s score and soundtrack are iconic with wonderful numbers that help the narrative progress while entertaining the young audience. Ditties like “Friend Like Me” and “One Jump Ahead” (my personal favorite) are absolute toe tappers, while “A Whole New World” really ties the dynamic between Aladdin and Jasmine together. “Aladdin” is very much in the tradition of the hero’s journey, where a humble young man manages to become a hero and fulfill his destiny while saving the land and winning the hand of the fair maiden. Meanwhile there are some subtle cinematic homages inserted, including Aladdin’s retrieval of the lamp reminiscent of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” while the water ride on the rug evokes “Superman: The Movie.” Disney’s “Aladdin” sticks to the convention with success, providing a film that’s fun and exciting all at the same time. Though it’s shown a bit of its age here and there along with a somewhat conventional plot, “Aladdin” is still one of the best Disney animated films ever made and surely one of the most satisfying cinematic entries that oozes talent from its crew of animators and cast of talented actors.