Before DreamWorks and Pixar slowly entered the animated movie market, Walt Disney Pictures dominated children’s movie nights. “Aladdin” (1992) features old-school hand drawn animation depicting a roguish hero trying to get the princess. It was also one of the first movies to have a major movie star voicing one of the characters. Whereas today you have guys like Tom Hanks, Mike Myers and Billy Chrystal voicing the main characters in animated movies, “Aladdin” was the first time Robin Williams voiced an animated character, something he would repeat in “”Fern Gully,” “Aladdin and the King of Thieves,” and “Robots.” It makes perfect sense since the man is practically half-cartoon.
The first time I saw this movie I did not understand all of the cultural references Williams was throwing out since I saw a French dubbed version in theatres, which lost some of the cultural references. It was in Québec and I didn’t speak English yet back then. However by the time I got the VHS tape (remember those?) as a present I was living in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where I had to learn to speak English. Plus my brother and I rented the game for Super Nintendo, which was in English so we practiced our language skills as we played. Of course when I say “we” I mean he played and I sat there and watched the story unfold. But no matter the language, I remember feeling all the right emotions Disney intended as I watched the film: laughter at the funny supporting characters, a little bit of fear during the moments of peril, and I was rooting for the good guy when it came time to beat the villain.
The hero is of course a lonely boy at the bottom of the food chain. Everybody loves an underdog. As the narrator (Williams again) explains, in the ancient Arabian city of Agrabah there was once a young man named Aladdin (Scott Weinger) living in the streets and stealing food with his pet monkey Abu (Frank Welker). His life changes forever when he meets Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) who fled her palace so she wouldn’t have to face yet another pretentious prince her father the Sultan (Douglas Seale) wants her to marry. Despite the fact she is royalty and he is what the palace guards call a street rat, they of course fall in love.
Under the orders of Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), the sultan’s advisor and the film’s goatee wearing villain, the guards throw Aladdin in jail. There Jafar meets Aladdin in disguise and makes him an offer to escape the prison and seek out a cave full of riches, which he could use to become royalty and get the princess. The cave in the desert is a character itself. The entrance is shaped like a tiger’s head and issues a warning: only take the lamp and do not touch the rest of the treasure. Of course Abu cannot help himself and grabs a shiny red ruby that was begging to be grabbed, causing the cave to collapse. When Aladdin reaches the cave, Jafar betrays him and grabs the lamp, leaving Aladdin for dead.
What Aladdin does not know is that Jafar is tired of being the power behind the throne and would rather sit on the actual throne with his pet parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried). But what Jafar does not know is that Abu grabbed back the lamp before the cave collapsed. When Aladdin rubs it, out comes a giant blue genie (Williams) offering him three wishes. After using the first wish to get out of the cave, Aladdin uses the second to get what he most desires: pretend to be a prince so he can get the girl. Of course he had no idea if there is one thing the princess hates it’s a pompous prince, so this is the part where Disney slips in the message about being true to yourself and how even an ordinary guy can get the girl of his dreams.
Whatever. Most boys don’t watch Disney movies for the love story. There is however some great animated action scenes, such as when Aladdin evades the palace guards in the town market, escapes the collapsing cave on a magic carpet, and fights the nefarious Jafar after he transforms into a giant snake.
Then of course there is the highlight, Robin Williams’ hundreds of characters spawned from his genie. His work was so impressive it was awarded a special Golden Globe at that year’s award ceremony. For my money, his song “Friend like Me” is the best in the movie.
“Aladdin” was followed by two sequels and a two seasons on T.V. Better animated movies came in the decades that followed, but as a kid I enjoyed following Aladdin’s adventures, whether on the big screen or as part of a binge of Saturday morning cartoons. Nothing beats the old-school.