When Aladdin was released in 1992, it arrived at the height of the Disney Renaissance. Coming off the heels of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin was, for a time, the most successful animated film ever. And it remains one of Disney’s most popular movies. While Aladdin may have introduced audiences to one of Disney’s best characters, I’m afraid time has revealed the movie to be a bit of a one trick pony.
Aladdin sees its titular hero (Scott Weinger), a peasant of the streets of Agrabah, cross paths with Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), who has fled the palace for the day to avoid any more pompous suitors. Before their romance can blossom, they are separated by the forces of Agrabah’s corrupt Grand Vizier, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman).
Jafar plans on taking over Agrabah, and seeks the aid of a magic lamp, with which he can summon a powerful genie to grant his wishes. The lamp is located in an ancient chamber known as the Cave of Wonders, which is cursed to all but the “Diamond in the Rough.” Naturally, it turns out Aladdin is this Diamond in the Rough. Aladdin finds the lamp and, hoping to reunite with Jasmine, frees the Genie (Robin Williams). And that’s when the fun begins.
The Genie was a revelation of a character. He’s a non-stop barrage of visual gags and ad-libbed one-liners. Robin Williams’ performance was so full of energy that the animators must have had some trouble trying to create visuals that could keep up with it. But the end results couldn’t have been better. The Genie is still one of Disney’s best characters: his vocal performance is a thing of utter hilarity, and his supernatural qualities (as well as Williams’ improvisations) allowed for the character to break the fourth wall, impersonate celebrities, make references to (and even poke fun of) other Disney films, and provide a visual energy that Disney has rarely matched since.
It’s a shame then, that the rest of Aladdin simply can’t keep up. The movie does have good intentions, with a sweet message about being honest and true to yourself (Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince, only for it to blow up in his face later), and the songs are memorable. But aside from that wonderful Genie, the rest of the characters are a bit bland and archetypal, and the story doesn’t match up to some of Disney’s better films.
Aladdin himself is a cookie cutter hero. His character lacks any standout traits, and he more or less is just filling out the ‘main character’ position. Jasmine is equally uninteresting. She at least has a more standout character design, but her personality doesn’t differ much from any other princess character. The relationship between the two never comes off as anything more than your standard “poor guy meets rich girl” setup, with the exception of the film’s signature song. Even Jafar, who has since become one of the more iconic Disney villains, can kind of feel like a stand-in baddie. He’s just here because the movie needs a bad guy.
But about those songs. Aladdin features a pretty great soundtrack, even if it never quite matches up to Beauty and the Beast. The previously mentioned signature song, “A Whole New World” is one of Disney’s better duets, and provides a moment of beauty in a film that otherwise relies on the laughs. “One Jump Ahead” serves as a basic but catchy introductory song for Aladdin’s character. “Prince Ali” is sung primarily by Williams’ Genie, and is appropriately one of Disney’s liveliest songs. But it’s Genie’s iconic number “Friend Like Me” that truly brings the house down.
The movie is also a visual delight, as it well utilizes its Arabian setting to provide an Earthy color scheme, only for things to burst with a brighter array of colors every time Genie’s antics take place. The characters are all well animated, and showcase both Disney’s expertise with the craft as well as their production values.
Aladdin is an entertaining movie thanks to the catchy soundtrack and, of course, the irreplaceable Genie, who keep the whole thing afloat. But whenever there’s a break in between songs and Genie isn’t providing the laughs, I’m afraid Aladdin can be more than a little bland. Genie may be one of the Disney brand’s greatest creations, but take him out of the equation and Aladdin would be pretty by-the-books.