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Friday, June 15, 2012

Disneyear: Aladdin (1992)

Ah, Aladdin. When I was growing up, this was one of my favorite Disney movies. It had action scenes, magic, monsters, comedy, all that good stuff. Watching it as a little boy, this movie was awesome! In fact, I have a feeling that this was probably the first Disney film for boys, while girls had Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast to love. Watching it as an adult, I think I'd be lying if I said that novelty didn't wear off. Unlike Beauty and the Beast which gets better as I get older, I think I start to see more of the problems with Aladdin, but they're only minor nitpicks to be honest. If you want to know what it is before judging me, join me on a magic carpet ride in finding out.

The story is set in the city of Agrabah, where we meet first meet a peddler who shows up a humble looking lamp (the one on the poster). With it, he tells the story of Aladdin (Scott Weinger), a poor kid trying to live by stealing what he can find with his monkey Abu. One morning, he meets a princess in disguise named Jasmine (Linda Larkin) who runs away from the palace because she's being forced into marriage and wants to make a life of her own. The two chat for a while and seem to hit it off pretty well. That is until Aladdin is captured and sent to prison by the sultan's Grand Vizir, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), who wishes to use Aladdin as a means of entrance to the Cave of Wonders filled with riches. But he only wants the same lamp we saw earlier in the film. Al gets trapped in the cave with Abu and a magic carpet with the lamp. Curious, he rubs it to find a blue genie (do I even need to say who voices him?) who helps him escape. Aladdin gets three wishes and uses the first to pose as a prince to win Jasmine back. It doesn't work at first, but the two rekindle after a night together. Jafar finds out about the lamp and using his parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) to steal it. Jafar gains supreme power as a sorcerer and a sultan, but after a final battle with Aladdin, he gets tricked into being a genie and is trapped in his new lamp. Aladdin and Jasmine marry, the genie gains freedom thanks to Al's last wish, and they live happily ever after.

So far, the story's good. So what is it about Aladdin that does or doesn't work. Well, the big thing is that unlike the other fairy tale Disney movies, Aladdin feels very modern. It doesn't feel like once upon a time, but rather in the time period where Shrek lives, which sort of loses that timeless quality. In fact, Agrbah looks a little bit more like something you'd see in Las Vegas palace than in Arabia. There's a lot of modern-day talk, modern-day refrences from the genie, and Aladdin and Jasmine seem more like Generation X-er's than people from what time period the film tries to convey.

Aladdin: brought to you by the Sands Casino!
But does that make Aladdin a bad movie? The answer is actually no. If anything, this gives the film a very unique identity and for the most part, it paid off. As far as the modern day stuff with the genie, you could make the argument that since he's a magic being, he could have just traveled to our time period and picked up on all that stuff. So in a way, it does make sense. And I'd be lying if I said the genie wasn't the funniest damn thing in the movie. Almost all of his lines were improvised by Robin Williams with fantastic, fast-paced animation by Eric Goldberg to back it up. Just a lot of talent went into this one character. That's dedication for you.
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Another reason to like it is that Aladdin and Jasmine do have a chemistry. I know they only knew each other for a day, but you do buy that they share a connection with each other. They actually do talk about thier problems and work together to resolve them. And you do have to admire Aladdin's dedication to her. The whole film is him trying to win her affection despite his rough background. That's love for you. 

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The other characters are a lot of fun too. Abu and Carpet have some good physical comedy, the Sultan is enjoyably stupid, and then there's Jafar. He's a very level-headed and intelligent villain that can turn dangerous with sorcery in a matter of seconds. He also has a parrot named Iago with the voice of Gilbert Gottfried... somehow, this is perfect casting. Even if he can be obnoxious at points, Gilbert gets some good lines in this film.

"Well, at least I don't sing..."
The songs are great. Again, we have Alan Menkin creating those catchy beats we all love. The action's pretty good, especially the final battle! Oh my, this scene exemplifies why a lot of boys loved this movie when I was growing up: it's fast paced, action-packed with magic and monsters. It's just a great way to end your film!
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So while I don't like it as much, I still like this film. There's great action, good comedy, good animation, and a believable romance. While some of the modern references can get in the way of the fairy tale story, it still has that classic Disney heart. As long as you know what you're getting into, you'll enjoy it just fine.

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