Aladdin is a magical movie with catchy songs and excellent villains. It also happens to fall beautifully in line with the other Disney movies that contributed to my childhood delusions (tigers do not make good pets). But can you give me an R for Racist? We’ve got pushy street venders who sell nothing but “rare” crap, a whole kingdom of scantily clad subjects, a focus on the subjection and ownership of women, lines like, “He’s got slaves, he’s got servants, and flunkies! Bow to his whim, love serving him, they’re just lousy with loyalty!” and that medieval law where stealing means losing a hand on the spot. Doesn’t the Middle-East/India/Northern Africa/an unspecified location with sand and overwhelming poverty sound like a great place? Yes Aladdin is arguably the most racist Disney movie of the 1990s and YES I have a totally different perspective of it now than I did 23 years ago (…feeling old) but I’m going to try and leave the politically incorrect missteps here and carry on reviewing this children’s cartoon for everything that makes it a fanciful piece of entertainment and not a lecture subject.
Rather than the girl who finds a prince, Aladdin is all about the boy finding a princess. The minute Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) spots Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin) he falls madly in love. It’s not until the palace guards catch up with them that he realizes she’s the Princess and his status as a “lowly street rat” means he hasn’t got a chance in hell. In order for Aladdin’s dreams of love and riches to come true he agrees to help an old man (actually the evil advisor, Jafar (voiced by Jonathan Freeman), in disguise) steal a lamp from the “Cave of Wonders”. The lamp contains an all-powerful Genie (voiced by Robin Williams), capable of granting three wishes. But just as Jafar is about to claim the prize, the lamp slips into Aladdin’s possession. With the Genie at his command, Aladdin begins to turn his wishes into reality – starting with winning the heart of the beautiful Jasmine.
Let’s do what I did when I was five-years-old and ignore the lines like, “Hotter than hot… in a lot of good ways,” and focus more on how much Robin Williams makes us laugh. Jasmine’s character is a little flat, and Aladdin is curiously focused on the idea of marriage for a spur-of-the-moment free spirit… but Genie is simply magical from start to finish. I get the feeling Williams took the script more as a “guideline” and, since most of what he says is golden comedy, all the studio had to do was cut out the less kid-friendly bits. Williams’ work as the Genie will live on long after we’ve forgotten how impossibly small Jasmine’s waistline is.
Genie’s songs, especially, are fantastic and have a lot of Williams’ flare, like the quick-draw jokes and range of vocal impressions. “Can your friends do this?” Nope, they sure can’t, Genie! Without this character Aladdin would still be an interesting movie, but not nearly as entertaining.
There are, however, a few diamonds in the rough spread here and there. Jafar is a classic villain driven by greed and not much else. His obsession with power is like a balloon expanding to a dangerous size. His deep, cackling voice challenges the deep rumbling voice of the Cave of Wonders (voiced by Frank Welker who, fun fact, also plays the monkey and the tiger). The Cave does seem to pick favourites, though, and not just in terms of who is allowed to walk down the tongue-ladder into his… stomach? Is the treasure just a shiny collection of kidney stones? Gross. Anyway… When Jafar’s first goon tries to enter the Cave its mouth immediately slams shut with a horrifying snap. However, when Aladdin tries to escape from within he gets a five to ten minute lava-filled widow to get out alive. And even then there’s enough time for a chat with Jafar at the Cave door. Maybe the Cave was busy moaning his displeasure at being tricked twice in one week by the obviously dubious Jafar, and decided to make a scene before closing his jaws and disappearing again.
The animation isn’t much to boast about, looking less like an artistic masterpiece and more like a colouring book in some scenes (another feature that escaped the scrutiny of my scrupulous five-year-old judgement). There are, however, a few lines like the shockingly offensive curse, “That two-faced son of a jackal!” which just make me giggle. I really liked Aladdin as a kid. It was a very popular choice for ninety minutes of entertainment: boy meets girl, boy is captured, girl whines until she gets her way, and the Genie takes off on vacation to Disneyland! As a kid I would rate Aladdin an easy 8/10, but as a semi-mature adult I would have to say 6/10. It’s still fun to watch, thanks to the music, Robin Williams’ magical touch, and the fast-paced plot, but looking at it today I say there are more emotional, funnier, more thoughtful Disney movies out there. Sorry Aladdin…