No 322 - Disney's Aladdin
Directors - Ron Clements and John Musker
Lets be honest. There is one thing which pumps Aladdin into awesomeness. The Genie.Now Robin Williams seems to be pretty hit and miss with his films. He has done some wonderful stuff - I love his performance in the Birdcage for example and I think his performance in One Hour Photo is horrific, yet amazing - but a lot of it seems to be over-sentimental. Or in more modern times just not funny.
Yet, in the olden days, he was a bonkers, anarchic, fastly improvising comedian. It seems odd to think that a Disney cartoon is the vehicle to bring back the madcap comedy of Robin Williams. He brings so many elements to the film that it goes from being a pretty standard Disney film into something so much more.
Recently, cartoons and Kid's films have become more self referential and postmodern. It is something that Disney have also started to do. It is there in the Mystery Science Theatre style Lion King 3, the amazing advertising (far better than the actual film) of Lilo and Stitch. Newer Disney films like Enchanted and even the Frog Princess have throw away sight gags referring to former Disney Princesses.
But none of this is new.... because Aladdin pipped them all to the post.
Firstly there are the Genie's references to other Disney films:
He appears as Pinocchio
He pulls out Sebastian, briefly accompanied to 'Under the Sea'
When packing he wears a Goofy baseball cap.
But then it gets weirder, as he begins to work outside of the parameters of the film, acknowledging that this is a cartoon.
He pulls out the script to Aladdin, and in the final moment rips the animation cell off its light box to talk directly to the audience.
Where Aladdin begins to really differ is by dabbling with pop culture as well. The Genie's fantastical magical state means that there are no laws, and Robin Williams' improving meant that there were no rules in the recording process either. The genie appears as items and people from outside the time line and world of the cartoon. There are so many references that it is impossible to fully get them all, even now I'm not sure of half the characters portrayed by the Genie and I can't find a suitable online list.
For the first time (I think), Disney are giving the adults there own little in jokes, rather than just letting them enjoy the story. Sadly, I think this is needed, because outside of the Genie, Aladdin is not the strongest Disney film - the story is quite week and the plot isn't that exciting. However the film gets by on the strength of the characters (and the songs.... but I'll cover that later).
I think Aladdin is an important character because he is the first Disney 'Prince' to actually be interesting. The Beast has his curse but he is grumpy and dull, all other princes were just catalysts for the Princess's happy ending. But here we have a charismatic, witty, kind but flawed protagonist. A proper hero that you can root for - and he is matched by a feisty feisty princess who is the owner of Disney's first exposed human princess belly button. And she owns a tiger, which is cool.
Aladdin and Jasmine are good characters but they are not the film's most interesting characters. Once we move away fro the Genie's insane brilliance, the best characters remain non-human. Firstly the smart-alec sarcastic new-yoiker attitude of the Parrot Iago played by Gillbert Gottfried. I just find this funny because Gottfried is filth, so I like the concept of him playing a Disney character. Then we have Abu, a character who is lovable in his sulky cheekiness and who is all the more impressive for his inability to speak. On this note however, we must speak about the magic carpet - it is amazing to create a character which not only can't speak. But who has no face. There is no way that the Magic Carpet can emote - no way for it to connect with us. And yet, it does... beautifully. It shows despondence, anger, shyness, pride.... It goes to show just how skilled the Disney animators are and how much experience they have at creating characters.
Because this film is just a celebration of great characters. They keep the film together. They even keep the songs together. The genie's songs are flitting and jolly and bonkers, but the true triumph is A Whole New World - a ballad so beautiful that it remains good even when you can kind of remember the Jordan and Peter cover version (which I won't link to.... I'm not cruel).
This might not be the most exciting Disney film, either in story or in art style (it may have just bee the DVD but it seemed quite grotty at times - certainly not the crisp beauty I associate with Disney) but the protagonists are strong and interesting and the supporting cast are wonderful.
But most of all - you still get that excited Disney feeling when you watch it. Something I hadn't realised I'd been missing until I went to see the Princess and the Frog.