Tuesday, December 17, 2013

47. Aladdin (1992)

Code-name: Abu

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Type: Disney animation, action/adventure, romance, nostalgia
Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken & Howard Ashman

Aladdin- Scott Weinger
Jasmine- Linda Larkin
The Genie- Robin Williams
Jafar- Jonathan Freeman
Iago- Gilbert Gottfried
The Sultan- Douglas Seale
Abu/Cave of Wonders/Rajah- Frank Welker
various palace guards- Jim Cummings

Awards & Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Original Song ("A Whole New World")
OSCAR- Best Original Score (by Alan Menken)
OSCAR- Best Sound
nomination-OSCAR- Best Sound Editing
nomination-OSCAR- Best Original Song ("Friend Like Me")
Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("A Whole New World")
Golden Globe- Best Original Score
Golden Globe- Special Award to Robin Williams (for his voiceover work)
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Picture (comedy/musical)
nominations- Best Original Song ("Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali")
Grammy- Best Music Album for Kids
Grammy- Best Movie Score
Grammy- Best Song written for a Film ("A Whole New World")
Grammy- Song of the Year- "A Whole New World"
Grammy- Best Pop Song sang by a duo/group- "A Whole New World" (sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle)
nomination- Grammy- Best Song written for a Film ("Friend Like Me")


[Program Notes]

Given the common thread of Robin Williams, I might do two entries this week and for Christmas, do a special entry on my "Christmas Essentials" (specials and movies I cannot go the season without).

[Awards Commentary and Nostalgia]

If there's one thing Disney knew how to do in the 90's, it was get awards buzz for their music. The names Menken and Ashman are synonymous with so many great Disney songs, most of which have gone on to win Oscars. Their credits also include "Beauty & the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid". Menken is still going strong, but Ashman passed away a year before this movie came out. His lyrics will be sorely missed.
You know music and lyrics are good when the names stay with you forever.

It's pretty cool the album won a Grammy because we own it, as well as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. At one time, I also owned a recorder that came with sheet music from the movie. I no longer own any of that :-P but I have worked on playing "A Whole New World" on keyboard.
But isn't it a little overkill that multiple songs from this movie were up for awards, only for the same one to win every time? :-P

"American Idol" fans will remember one year when they did a montage of people auditioning with that song and butchering it, but nonetheless, it is worth all those props.
Except for years, I didn't understand some of the lyrics, particularly "every moment red letter"... it means "a special occasion"

This movie came with a couple firsts for me. My first ever theater experience. My dad took me when I was 6. The one thing that stood out to me was how much I hated one particular scene, where Jafar had Aladdin thrown in the ocean and he nearly drowned. I have since recovered :-P Nowadays, the music and the endings of songs will occasionally struck me with their beauty and I'll tear up.

When I first started getting allowance, the first thing I spent it on was a set of Aladdin figurines at TOYS*R*US. Although I don't remember actually playing with them. I believe it included Jafar, Jasmine, Genie, Iago, Abu and the magic carpet. And at one family birthday party, years ago, I remember winning a Genie figurine in musical chairs.

Yeah, those were the days.
If people who frequent my blog haven't figured this out by now, yes, I am extremely cheesy.

Now onto the important stuff...


Everyone knows of the 1,001 Arabian Nights that included the story of Ali Baba ("Open Seasame!") and Sinbad the Sailor, but "Aladdin" focuses on that particular character and the magical lamp.

Here's the short version:
Aladdin is a teenaged street urchin in the city of Agrabah who lives with his pet monkey, Abu. He falls in love with Princess Jasmine, who is days away from being forced into an arranged marriage.
Thanks to the failed efforts of royal vizier Jafar, Aladdin comes into the possession of a magical lamp and its Genie.
The story follows Aladdin as he tries to use his three wishes to win the heart of Princess Jasmine with Jafar scheming to possess absolute power. 

[Characters and Actors]

As a comedian and a voiceover actor, Robin Williams defines "character." He and Jim Carrey were my favorite comedic actors in my youth for a reason. Their personalities seem too big for the silver screen, yet they managed. Robin Williams is easily the better actor because he does just as well in his dramatic roles. Which reminds me, I still haven't seen "Good Will Hunting" where he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The Genie is a magical character with a huge personality to match. What makes me smile every time I watch is the way he SAYS his lines rather than the dialogue itself. You can just as easily list the limitations on wishes, but he went the extra yard to act it out.

"Rule #1: I can't kill anybody! [cuts off his head] so don't ask.
Rule #2: I can't make anybody fall in love with anyone else [proceeds to pinch Aladdin's cheek and talk to him in a feminine voice].
Rule #3 [falls backwards and rises slowly, looking green and slimy like something out of "Tales from the Creep, speaking like the Crypt Keeper] I can't bring people back from the death. It's not a pretty feature. I don't like doing it!"

So really, Robin Williams and Disney's animators, that's a marriage made in cartoon heaven. Matching all the craziness with the right images, just WOW.

Not surprisingly, according to IMDB, Robin Williams improvises so much they had 16 hours of material... kinda reminds me of something he did in another movie, which I'll talk about next time.

Alongside Abu the monkey, Aladdin befriends a magic carpet that packs a lot of personality for a non-speaking character.

Then there's Jafar's wise-cracking parrot, Iago, played by Gilbert Gottfried. Probably one of the most distinct voices I know. It kinda sucks that we have to say he's the guy who USED to do the voice for the AFLACK duck... talk about not thinking before you speak. He also did the voice for Digit, a bad-guy-turned-good, in the PBS series "Cyberchase" (the bad guy he used to work for, The Hacker, is voiced by another great celebrity voice, Christopher Lloyd).

If anything, Iago is an extension of Jafar's personality, thinking nasty thoughts and even finishing his thoughts. His name might have been derived from the villain of Shakespeare's "Othello," but I'm not entirely sure.
Abu, on the other hand, seems to embody greed, envy, and wrath, leaving Aladdin with a touch of vanity, practically after he starts using wishes.

Linda Larkin doesn't ring any bells because she's best known for playing Jasmine. As for Scott Weinger, it'd be a couple years before I got to know him as DJ's steady boyfriend Steve in later seasons of "Full House"... good looking guy too.
They even got the chance to dress him up as Aladdin when the Tanners went to Disney World and DJ kept seeing Steve as all these Disney characters :-P

Lea Salonga, who did the singing voice for Jasmine also deserves some credit because she provided the singing voice for Mulan as well. (Sadly for Brad Kane, singing for Aladdin was his only credit cuz he sounded good).

Before finishing this tangent, I gotta give props to Robin Williams for his voiceover work as the peddler that begins the movie. That dude is freaking hilarious.

"Combination Hookah and coffee maker... makes julienne fries. Will not break [taps it on the counter a couple times], will not... it broke [tosses it aside]"

[Re-viewing: Years Later]

To prep for this entry, I watched this movie about a year ago. To this day, I still enjoy a lot of It, particularly every scene that involves the Genie. "A whole new world" still stands up as one of Disney's greatest songs and the visuals are breathtaking as they ever were.
As is often the case with kids' movies, I understood more of the jokes and references this time around.

One thing I noticed was how much I liked Aladdin beyond just the character. Even though he gets by by stealing food and such, he has a heart of gold that makes you want to see him succeed. And as animated character, he's one of the most attractive Disney studios has drawn up. For me, he's up there with Shang from "Mulan."
They do even each other out based on their actions.

For whatever reason, I fell out of love with Aladdin after he made his first wish and presented himself to Jasmine as "Prince Ali Abobwa."
Although that reason should be obvious. He was presenting himself as a prince and acting as he thought a prince should act. But earlier in the movie when he met her as a runaway, he charmed her without having to try. Maybe the attraction disappeared because he was trying too hard to be something other than himself.

In essence, that's what the message of the movie should be: "Be Yourself."

[Other Versions and Sequels]
I wasn't super impressed with either of the direct-to-video sequels from "Aladdin." There was really no need for the sequels, other than to give Iago more screentime as a bad-guy-turned-good and show what happened to Aladdin's father (who is the titular "KIng of Thieves" of the third movie).
They also came out with an animated series for the Disney channel of which I maybe saw one episode (we didn't get the Disney channel until I was a teenager), and it featured Sedira, the female version of Aladdin who wanted to steal him from Princess Jasmine.
To me, the third movie didn't make sense because they were going on about how Aladdin and Jasmine needed to prep for their wedding... didn't the first movie END with them getting married? That's what we're left to assume, aren't we?

"Agrabah" was also a world featured in the Kingdom Hearts games. To their credit, they kept all of the same voice actors... except Robin Williams, who they probably couldn't afford for a video game dubbing gig. Instead, they got Dan Castellena, who did the voice of the Genie in "The Return of Jafar".
Sorry, the dude's great as Homer Simpson, but he can't carry such a huge character.

The first one had two settings: the streets of Agrabah, including Aladdin's loft, and the Cave of Wonders, with two levels. As for the storyline, Jafar was still after the lamp, but also wanted to kidnap Jasmine (one of the 7 princesses needed to "open the door") and find the world's keyhole to unleash Heartless. Aladdin's storyline was the same, but the wishes were used differently.
Actually.. he wished to be a prince, but they never got to roll out the parade. He wished for the Genie to get Jasmine away from Jafar, but Iago took the lamp before that wish was granted. But he did use his final wish for Genie's freedom.
Jafar used his wishes differently too, but in the context of the game. 1) to reveal the keyhole for that world, 2) for the Genie to attack the heroes during their first confrontation with Jafar, 3) to become a Genie.

The second game has a lax storyline when it came to Aladdin. Jasmine kept saying how he hadn't been himself, but the reasoning was simply that he didn't feel good enough for her.
They borrowed from "The Return of Jafar" in that Iago changed sides and Jafar was the boss fight in the second visit to Agrabah. The first was primarily, Pete wanted to release Jafar from the lamp but those efforts were thwarted by the heroes... until the Peddler released him because he was "calling him from inside the lamp".

The series "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" features an even more devious version of Jafar as the villain. He's after the genie, Cyrus (who is loved by Alice)... and I assume his grand scheme has to do with possessing a certain number of genies.
In flashbacks, it's also revealed he's the bastard son of the Sultan. When his mother died, he returned to the palace where the Sultan made him a servant to disguise his extramarital affair and he was tormented by the Sultan's other son... who's shorter than him but makes him his whipping boy since he believes his standing entitles him.
Jafar gets his sorcery powers from another sorceress, who teaches him magic until he surpasses her. In fact, he turns her into the serpent staff made famous by this movie. With these powers, he exacted his revenge on the Sultan quite easily, taking him prisoner and his return to the palace revealed the Sultan's son to be the coward he is.

[Coming Soon]

More Robin Williams movie magic, this time in a corporeal fashion... live-action instead of animated. Not to mention the return of one of my favorite directors.

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