Still One of Disney’s Funniest Films
Originally Released: 1992
With Aladdin, the team at Disney took a risk. Rather than stick with the rule that said they should strive for timelessness, as they had done with the majority of their films (Oliver & Company being a notable exception), they decided that for Aladdin, they would disregard that rule and throw in all sorts of contemporary gags and references in telling the story. Most of these gags would revolve around the genie, voiced by Robin Williams, who at the time was becoming a very popular comedian and actor. Williams had a gift for referencing and imitating famous people and characters. He also excelled at improvising. The Disney producers decided to let him play to his strengths and do these things in his voice work for the film.
The strategy worked and Aladdin was a huge success when it was released in late 1992. However, the risk of going contemporary is that it may not age so well after a time. And now that over 20 years have passed since it was originally released, I was interested to see how well Aladdin has held up. Would it still be as funny now as it was back then? Or has time taken its toll on this once-acclaimed classic?
As I watched the film again, I was reminded that though Genie is a large factor to making Aladdin a success, the movie boasts much more than just jokes and imitations of old celebrities. I’ll get to that in a moment, but as these jokes do play a significant role in Aladdin, the topic merits some thought here.
It is true that in today’s world younger viewers are less and less likely to understand references to Rodney Dangerfield, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. They may not understand things like “You’ve just won the heart of the princess (the Superbowl), what are you going to do next?!” Is this a problem, though? It may be that knowing the references will enhance the comedic effect, but even without this understanding, because of the way Genie is animated, the gags still manage to be funny. The many shapes, sizes and caricatures create a zany feel to Genie, regardless of whether or not we know exactly who or what is being imitated in any particular scene. Besides, if you think about it, how many of us knew when we were younger that Genie was imitating William F. Buckley Jr. in his “Uh, master, there are a few provisos” bit? How many of us know who Buckley is even today? But it was still pretty funny even if we had no clue who the heck he was supposed to be imitating. Animator Eric Goldberg did an excellent job of matching Williams’ clever voice work with visuals that were just as funny and which remain humorous today.
But moving on. As mentioned earlier, Aladdin has more than just the genie that makes it a good movie. One thing that stuck out to me was how much I liked ALL of the characters in this movie. Aladdin benefits from what may be, taken collectively, the strongest cast of characters of any film in the Disney canon. From Aladdin and Abu to Jafar and Iago, each character is strong and contributes to the film in a positive way. In fact, though they are great themselves, Aladdin and Jasmine sometimes get overshadowed by the supporting characters. With this great collection of characters there is plenty of personality and humor to go around. This is probably what impressed me the most as I watched Aladdin again.
In addition to the characters, the songs are still as fun and memorable as ever. Disney decided that Aladdin would continue the successful Broadway-meets-Disney style used in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and assembled many of the same players that were involved in The Little Mermaid to make this film. It was a smart move. Aladdin showed that this style was a winning formula that was even compatible with Robin Williams. And Alan Menken supplied another Oscar-winning score for the film, to go along with his wins for his two previous efforts at Disney. He managed to do this despite losing lyricist Howard Ashman in the middle of the production of Aladdin, which no doubt would have been difficult to deal with.
Finally, in addition to the characters and the music, the main messages of the film still resonate with me and ring true. Be honest and be yourself. Freedom is a blessing. Have integrity, and keep your promises and commitments. These are good messages that anybody would be wise to adopt.
So in conclusion, 20 years after Aladdin’s initial release, I say the risk that Disney took by ditching the “timeless” mantra didn’t kill Aladdin‘s future. All things considered, Aladdin has actually aged quite well in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if, in another 10-20 years, this is still the case. But for now, at least, I believe Aladdin still soars.