Never before has a Disney film depended so much on a single voice actor. Comedian Robin Williams, cast as the Genie of the Lamp, was allowed to ad-lib much of his dialogue, after which the best lines were chosen and the animation of the character built around them. It makes ALADDIN the most manic Disney film since ALICE IN WONDERLAND and possibly the funniest Disney feature of all time. But if you are not a big fan of Williams and his never-ending stream of consciousness shtick, it can wear you down after a while.
Not that the film is entirely dependent on Williams and his enormous talent for babbling funny stuff at a mile a minute. ALADDIN has all the usual Disney assets in abundance - excellent voice cast (no big stars after Williams, though cult comedian Gilbert Gottfried is hilarious as the villain's pet bird Iago), catchy tunes, superior animation, a contemptible villain and, at last, a male hero you can root for and, in the tradition of Ariel from THE LITTLE MERMAID and Belle from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a female lead with a strong personality of her own. But even before Williams enters the film, things are so fast paced at times, you may wish they would slow things down so you can enjoy one moment before it is whisked off the screen for the next one. If Tex Avery or Bob Clampett ever directed a Disney film, it would feel a lot like this one.
This is the first Disney film filled with fast-paced reference humor, one of the few kinds of "comedy" we seem to have left in the 21st Century (the other being bodily function humor). Most of it works, but you have to wonder how timeless ALADDIN will be years from now, when younger audiences who haven't grown up with infomercials, Marx Brothers movies and William F. Buckley may find many of the films verbal and visual jokes going right over their heads. At least the reference humor is wide-ranging, and not, as so many films these days, based solely on mimicking scenes from other hit movies that came out within the past three years.
For those of you playing along at home, the big song from this one is "A Whole New World", by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Like several Disney tunes of the era, it won the Oscar for best song, not just because it was pretty decent in its own right, but also because of eternal lack of competition ever since Hollywood stopped making musicals on regular basis.
ALADDIN is very much a major part of the Disney renaissance that began with THE LITTLE MERMAID and was solidified by BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. But your enjoyment of it will probably depend on how long you can listen to Robin Williams without getting a headache. That is not a knock on Williams, but as much as I admire his brain and his ability to make me laugh, which he does, I prefer him in small doses. Obviously the public has a bigger tolerance for Williams, as ALADDIN was the top grossing film of 1992. So what do I know? - JB
BEHIND THE SCREEN
"I work like De Niro. I lived with a family of parrots for a year."
--- Gilbert Gottfried on how he developed the part of Iago the Parrot
Aladdin 2: The Return of
Jafar (1994 -
Direct to DVD) (Dan Castellaneta, of Homer Simpson fame, fills in for
Robin Williams as the Genie)
Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1995 - Direct to DVD) (Robin Williams returns)