Ah, salaam, and good evening to you, worthy friend.
1992’s “Aladdin” recently turned 30 on Nov. 25, and the work of voice actors such as Robin Williams, responsible for the previous greeting, remains as memorable as ever.
According to author Josh Spiegel at Slash Film, Howard Ashman originally pitched his idea to Disney in 1988, a “40-page treatment to turn the Middle Eastern fable into a 30s-style musical with the Genie envisioned as a Cab Calloway type.” Ashman died in 1991, prior to a rushed sequence of writing and rewriting for the film that kept its originally scheduled release date. Miraculously, with the help of Alan Menken’s composition, the film was a smash hit.
“‘Riff raff, street rat.’ I don’t buy that…” Did we find out there’s so much more to Prince Ali? Aladdin (Scott Weinger) is an evident himbo, with very few thoughts behind those eyes. Save some affection for Jasmine (Linda Larkin) and compassion for his band of companions: Abu (Frank Welker), Carpet, and Genie (Robin Williams). Conversely, Jasmine emits a feisty, eye-roll energy of a woman continually underestimated, though still possessing a soft side. The dynamics between Aladdin and Jasmine are not uncommon throughout the Disneyverse: more examples include Hercules and Megara, Simba and Nala, and Linguini and Colette. Each of these relationships is rewarded for honesty and vulnerability, despite most of the male counterparts’ stubborn pursuit of masculinity.
“Aladdin” stands out among its Disney princess sibling films for a number of reasons. Namely, its headlining name. Its predecessors center on the princess herself, with titles such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Surprisingly, these older features pass the Bechdel test, while “Aladdin” fails. However, the Bechdel test does not holistically categorize whether a film shows women as dynamic characters throughout, as evidenced by Aurora only speaking eighteen lines in a film named after her.
“Aladdin” presents a dispute of ownership over Jasmine among three of the film’s male leads: Aladdin, the sultan (Douglas Seale), and Jafar (Jonathan Freeman). Each man makes manipulative efforts in their pursuit of her entrapment. Jasmine iconically sees through their greed and idiocy, focusing on searching for her own happiness and safety. “How dare you. All of you! Standing around deciding my future? I am not a prize to be won.” Jasmine is one of the first examples my generation saw of a woman aware of her sex appeal, and even harnessing her feminine wiles tactfully. In one of the final scenes of the film, Jasmine seduces Jafar in order to distract him as Aladdin attempts a sneak attack. Whether this is an appropriate message for children could be debated, but Jasmine certainly gets points for keeping one jump ahead at all times, and also for undoubtedly being the biggest fashionista in Agrabah.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge the racial insensitivity “Aladdin” undertook in the hiring of both cast and crew. The majority of the voice actors for this Middle Eastern story are white. Disney has been quick to remedy this error in its more recent live action adaptations, likely due to anticipated public backlash.
Though critical analysis can be offered to this classic, its fame is not unearned. I can’t help but feel sweeping emotions of thrill and inspiration throughout “A Whole New World.” Each musical number has received such fame and reverence, deservedly so, as numbers such as this earned “Aladdin” the Academy Awards of Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Tumultuous laughter escapes my lips at the quick cleverness of Robin Williams in his portrayal of the genie. The sheer quotability of his comedy alone leaves the film with high merit. I could attempt to reference his best lines via writing, but they would lack the intonation Williams offers that seals their hilarity.
The animators breathe life into objects and humans alike in an elevated fashion consistent with Disney’s high caliber of cinema. Mere facial expressions jump off the screen in their rapid movements and subtleties. Disney has since shifted to creating predominantly three-dimensional animation, so a certain nostalgic energy comes with watching “Aladdin” or its predecessors.
By the end of the film, Aladdin learns that honesty and humility will get him further than princehood ever will. Jasmine is free to marry whomever she chooses. Genie is liberated. And lastly, viewers of this masterpiece walk away with smiles, in addition to the rhythmic melodies of Ali Ababwa populating their minds. So, to quote “Arabian Nights,” this mystical land of magic and sand does in fact appear to be more than it seems.
“Aladdin” is available to stream on Disney Plus.
By Risa Bolash