Aladdin is the hero of the Arabian Nights story "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp", although it was probably not part of the original Arabic collection. The story has also been made into a successful Disney movie (which, however, has&little to do with the original).

Disney Animated Features
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Release Date: 11 November 1992

The directors of The Great Mouse Detective and The Little Mermaid, Ron Clements and John Musker, chose for their next trick the ancient tale of Aladdin.

The new age of Disney animation was still maturing, and Clements and Musker were eager to experiment. For Aladdin, they decided to play up the comedy aspect of the film. While their previous films had plenty of comedic material, it generally took a back seat to the adventure or the romance. Here, it took front stage.

I don't know how they decided to make the Genie of the lamp the main comic character in the film, but casting Robin Williams in the role was a stroke of genius. Williams even worked for scale (Actor's Guild minimum wage), preventing the film's cost from skyrocketing. Williams' performance was worth much more than he was paid, of course, as the directors allowed him to ad-lib extensively. Animator Eric Goldberg also did a great job of animating the images to go along with the rapid-fire delivery. The result is one of Disney's funniest animated characters, and the key to this film's success.

The rest of the film is fairly standard, but solid. Aladdin is a young man in the Middle Eastern city of Agrabah. The sultan's vizier, the evil Jafar, recruits Aladdin to retrieve a magic lamp from The Cave of Wonders. See, only a diamond in the rough -- someone with a pure heart behind a tough exterior -- is allowed to enter the Cave. Aladdin retrieves the lamp, sure enough, and asks the Genie inside to make him a prince.

As a prince, Aladdin would be allowed to marry the princess Jasmine, who has been dissatisfied with all other suitors. The two hit it off, but Jafar still wants the lamp and the Genie's power for himself...

The voice work for Aladdin, led by Williams, was as good as ever. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lent his distinctive voice to Jafar's hypertensive parrot Iago, providing additional comic relief. Broadway actress/singer Lea Salonga provided Jasmine's singing voice, as she would six years later for Mulan. Animal-voice expert Frank Welker supplied the voice of Aladdin's monkey buddy Abu, and Disney stalwart Jim Cummings had a bit part. The rest of the voice actors are largely unknown, but all did a fine job, as usual. Most of them continue to voice the same characters today (for sequels and cartoons, including House of Mouse), with the notable exception of Robin Williams.

An interesting side note about the voices. In nearly all (if not all) previous Disney animated musicals, the voice actors did all of their own singing. When your voice actors are Phil Harris or Peggy Lee or Angela Lansbury, that's not a big deal. But for Aladdin, Disney hired two non-singers for the lead roles, so they also hired two singers (including Lea Salonga for Jasmine) to take over for the songs. Ever since, Disney has freely used this technique, allowing non-singers (such as Demi Moore and Ming-Na) to take lead parts without worrying about their singing ability.

The music was perhaps a step below that of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Halfway through the composition of the songs for Aladdin, Alan Menken's long-time lyricist, Howard Ashman, died of complications from AIDS. The songs completed before his death are the opening "Arabian Nights," the comic Genie-feature "Friend Like Me," and the rousing march (also led by Genie) "Prince Ali." Disney hired Tony award winning lyricist Tim Rice to help Menken on the final three songs, a reprise of "Prince Ali," the pedestrian "One Jump Ahead," and the award-winning ballad "A Whole New World." Rice's lyrics are adequate, but not his best work. Like the song "Beauty and the Beast," "A Whole New World" was recorded as a pop duet by Peabo Bryson, this time with Regina Bell, and played over the end credits.

Aladdin, like its predecessor, was nominated for and won many awards, too many to list explicitly here. It won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Song ("A Whole New World"). It was nominated for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing; Best Music, Song ("Friend Like Me"); and Best Sound. Robin Williams won a special Golden Globe for his role.

Aladdin has had two direct-to-video sequels. The first, The Return of Jafar, was the first Disney Animated sequel to go direct-to-video, the beginning of a very, very long trend. Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) voiced the Genie in that film. The second was Aladdin and the King of Thieves, with Robin Williams returning to his role. Aladdin, following in the footsteps of The Little Mermaid, was also turned into an animated series, following the adventures of the whole gang, including Iago, between the events from the two sequels. Castellaneta voiced the Genie for the cartoon.

Aladdin is an excellent film, incorporating elements of adventure and romance on top of the obvious comedy. It's probably the most humorous of Disney's animated features, at least until The Emperor's New Groove, and so is also one of the most entertaining. But it wasn't the instant classic that Mermaid or Beauty was, and it didn't really break any new ground in animation. It was just very good and very funny. Nothing to sneeze at, but compared to the revolutionary films before it (including Who Framed Roger Rabbit), it seems today to be less important historically.

But soon to come... Disney's greatest animated film ever?

Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.


10 March 2003: Like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King before it, Aladdin will be receiving the big-screen IMAX treatment, for release on Christmas Day 2003.

It slices! It dices! It plays the saxophone! It's five writeups in one!

(Nobody better ever accuse me of noding for numbers.)


1) The TV Show

Following quickly on the success of 1992's Aladdin and its direct-to-video sequel, The Return of Jafar, Disney set about creating a cartoon series based on Aladdin and Company's adventures after the events of the two movies, to run in its two-hour block of syndicated shows known as the Disney Afternoon. It became one of Disney's most popular animated series, lasting three seasons (86 episodes).

Part of the reason for the show's success - besides it being based on a hit movie and (arguably) having better writers than most children's shows - may have been the unusual fact that nearly all of the voice actors from the movies reprised their roles in the cartoon series. (The only notable exception is the absence of Robin Williams as Genie - Williams had also refused to lend his voice to The Return of Jafar after Disney reneged on agreements he had made with them regarding the use of his voice and character. Dan Castellaneta - best know as the voice of Homer Simpson - replaced him in both the second movie and in the cartoon series.) Usually when a movie spawns a TV show, the latter has different actors - witness M*A*S*H and Stargate SG-1. The fact that this didn't happen with "Aladdin" may have helped the characters to seem more genuine to young viewers.

Some of the characters underwent changes to their personality or demeanor for the animated series. The Sultan, while still rather easily flustered, is a lot less airheaded than in the movie (presumably the effects of Jafar's hypnosis staff had worn off completely by this time). Iago's traded in the malevolence he showed in the movie for mere greed and rudeness, and is part of Aladdin's "posse", so to speak (a development that occurred in The Return of Jafar). Razul, who was portrayed as something of a sadist in the movie, is now somewhat more amiable (he still doesn't like Aladdin, but he doesn't try drowning him anymore). And so on.

Here are the major villains of the series:

Abis Mal: After all that business with Jafar (whose lamp he found in the second movie), you'd think this guy wouldn't want to tangle with Aladdin again. He's a bungling, incompetent oaf, but somehow he manages to keep finding magical items to use against his foe - probably with a lot of help from his much more intelligent right-hand man, Haroud Hazi Bin. Voiced by Jason Alexander (George Costanza on Seinfeld).

Mechanikles: Self-proclaimed "Greatest of the great Greek geniuses." If he were Roman, one might think Mechanikles responsible for the abortive industrial revolution that nearly occurred during the later years of the Roman Empire. He is a master of invention, using his knowledge of mechanics to create all sorts of engines of destruction; from robotic wasps with razorblade stingers to a 50-foot tall battle mech (no, I'm not kidding). Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for Agrabah), his machines always have one fatal flaw that allow Aladdin and his pals to destroy them. Voiced by Charles Adler.

Mirage: An anthropomorphic cat... who also happens to be "evil incarnate". Fun. Her magical ability is very great, and she seems to take perverse pleasure in tormenting Genie. Voiced by Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith from Cheers).

Mozenrath: A young wizard from lands far beyond. His only goal in life seems to be to gain as much power (magical, political, you name it) as possible. He may very well be Aladdin's most dangerous enemy, since his magic can usually match that of the Genie's. Mozenrath was originally going to be the focus of the third and final Aladdin movie (the plot was that Mozey turned out to be Aladdin's long-lost brother), but those plans were scrapped. Mozenrath wears a leather-like glove on one hand as the source of his power, and is assisted by a flying eel thing (his familiar, perhaps?) named Xerxes. Voiced by Jonathan Brandis (Seaquest DSV).

(There were other recurring villains, of course, but these are really the only ones who appeared for more than two or three episodes.)

"Aladdin" currently airs on Toon Disney several times a day.

Sources:
IMDb's pages on the movie Aladdin: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103639
IMDb's pages on the TV Show "Aladdin": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105935
TV Tome's page on the TV Show "Aladdin": http://www.tvtome.com/Aladdin
My own memory


2) Genesis Video Game

Title: Aladdin (A.K.A. Disney's Aladdin)
Platform: Sega Genesis1
Genre: Platform/Action
Developers: Virgin Games and Disney Software
Publisher: Sega of America
Release Date: November 11, 1993 (North America)
VRC Rating2: GA (General Audience - equivalent to ESRB rating of E)

1: An Aladdin game was released at the same time on the SNES, and at some time for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Since I haven't played any of these, I can't really say anything about them - including whether or not they're the same essential game on different platforms. The SNES game is being ported to the Game Boy Advance and is due to be released in October 2004.
2: The Videogame Ratings Council was an advisory board wholly owned and operated by Sega. It provided ratings for their platforms' games for a brief period - about early 1993 til the advent of the ESRB in late 1994. A "GA" rating is defined as "Appropriate for all audiences".


Even in the early 90's, just about every Disney movie or TV show that was even mildly successful branched out into video games. Aladdin was no exception. The Genesis game was released exactly a year after the first LA/NYC showing, which may or may not have been a coincidence. It follows Aladdin's adventures in Agrabah more or less faithfully to the movie.

I can describe the content of this game in two words: Jumping puzzles. For reference, allow me to channel the game developers' thought process:

"Okay, so he's in the streets of Agrabah... I know! We'll have him jump from rooftop to rooftop!"
"Okay, so he's in the Cave of Wonders... I know! We'll have him jump from one inexplicably floating rock to another!"
"Okay, so he's in Jafar's Palace... I know! We'll have him jump from platform to platform, and if he falls in the fountain he'll die (even though it can't be more than a foot or two deep)!"

I think we've seen enough.

Okay, I guess I'm being a little unfair. It's not *all* like that, but a good deal of it is. There isn't really any combat to speak of; every enemy except the bosses is a one-hit kill (with the scimitar, anyway), although some enemies can block your attacks. The main issue is often just getting in a position where you can hit them without taking damage yourself. I'm not saying it's a horrible game, mind; it's certainly good for killing a few hours (if you're not easily frustrated by instant deaths). And it could be that I judging it through the lenses of hindsight, but I think I was similarly irritated with the game when I first played it back in '93 or '94.

I mentioned that the game is pretty faithful to the movie, and I want to elaborate on that. It follows the storyline pretty well; however, there are a lot of little quirks in it that vary from the movie or simply make no sense at all. In the game, for instance, Jafar approaches Aladdin with his proposition, with the caveat that Aladdin has to find the scarab; in the movie, Jafar already has half of it (and the other half is given to him by a hired thief at the very beginning). Then, too, there's the Princess ordering Razul to let you go, when you haven't even met her. And why is Iago attacking you when Jafar just sent you to get the scarab? For that matter, what are the palace guards doing in the middle of the desert, or in their own dungeon? Playing pinochle?

Ah, well. Like I said, it's got its share of problems, but if you're bored, this isn't a horrible game to play.

3) Game Gear/Master System Game

Title: Aladdin (A.K.A. Disney's Aladdin)
Platform: Sega Game Gear/Sega Master System
Genre: Platformer
Developers: Virgin Games and Disney Software
Publisher: Sega of America
Release Date: March 25, 1994 (Japan - can't find exact North American release date)
VRC Rating2: GA (General Audience - equivalent to ESRB rating of E)

I'm not going to say very much about this one, because frankly, I only got to level 3 before I got fed up with the damn thing and shut it off. Remember what I said about the Genesis game being mostly jumping puzzles? (Of course you do. It was only a couple paragraphs ago.) This game really is all jumping puzzles. The animation is jagged, gameplay extremely bad. And the problems here are not due to hardware limitations; there've been many Game Gear games that didn't suffer from such low-quality animation and yawn-inducing gameplay - Land of Illusion (to pick another Disney example) is an excellent example of how much that little 8-bit wonder could do. This was simply a result of shoddy game design, nothing more.

One thing I will say in defense of it, however, is that it's much more successful at keeping the plot coherent than its Genesis equivalent.

4) Goofs and Trivia in the Movie

Powers already did an excellent writeup of the movie Aladdin. What follows is a list of some tidbits and seeming mistakes in it. (For obvious reasons, there are spoilers here.) None of these are listed at IMDb, presumably either because nobody's noticed/submitted them, or because IMDb didn't consider them to be legitimate. In any case, here they are:

  • Aladdin may not have advised that "all good teenagers take off their clothes", but there's at least one rather obvious case of sexual innuendo (or maybe I just have a dirty mind): During the song "One Jump Ahead", when those three sisters sing, "Oh it's sad, Aladdin's hit the bottom", one of them (quite unambiguously) shoves her "bottom" into him.
  • Did you notice when Aladdin jumped through those clotheslines near the beginning of the movie, one of the garments that flies up is a bra? There's an anachronism if I ever saw one...
  • So, are the Agrabahnians Muslims? Because they keep swearing by Allah. I realize, of course, that Arab Christians also use the word "Allah" for "God", but most Westerners associate it with Islam, which is why I figure they're supposed to be Muslims. In either case, it must be a pretty liberal area, considering the way the women act and dress. (On the other hand, the punishment for stealing is still pretty harsh.)
  • Geography: Where would they find "fresh fish" anywhere near Agrabah, a city that's supposed to be in the middle of the desert?
  • Factual Error: Jasmine remarks that when she is Queen, she can get rid of Jafar. The female ruler of a sultanate is a Sultana, not a Queen.
  • Plothole: When Aladdin is captured and Jasmine reveals herself to the guards, Razul is surprised (perhaps shocked) to see the Princess outside the Palace walls; yet he doesn't even suggest that she return to the Palace with him. Strange behavior for the Captain of the Guard. (Obviously this was done so that there would be time for Jafar to have Aladdin "executed" before Jasmine arrived.)
  • Plothole: I don't care how isolated Jasmine has been, how could she not know that things have to be paid for? She made it clear she understood the concept of money, and that in itself implies an understanding of private property.
  • Plothole: Why is Jasmine wearing her Princess clothes under her cloak, anyway? Isn't she trying to fit in with the common people?
  • Plothole:Why isn't Aladdin suspicious that a decrepit prisoner is carrying around priceless gemstones, or that he hasn't left even though he knows of a secret passage out of the dungeon?
  • Plothole: Isn't Jasmine a little curious as to how "Prince Ali" wound up on her balcony?
  • Animation Error: When Aladdin walks over the edge and Jasmine yells for him to stop, his head pops up over the balcony as he asks what's wrong. But when the "camera" pans out to show him on the magic carpet, his head is clearly below the balcony's railing.
  • Continuity Error: Isn't Jasmine a little curious as to how "Prince Ali" (who she knows, after the carpet ride, to be the same guy she met in the marketplace before) escaped from being beheaded? (I'm calling this a "continuity error" because the character is failing to take all past events into account.)
  • Plothole: The fact that the Sultan, or Jasmine, or any of Aladdin's other friends/allies could wish Genie free after he used his third wish never seems to occur to anyone.

    5) Aladdin Special Platinum Edition DVD

    Starting October 4, 2004, Aladdin will be available on DVD for the first time. The Special Platinum Edition will include:

    - The cut song "Proud Of Your Boy" (recorded at a time when the script called for Aladdin's mother still being alive)
    - Fun Facts Trivia Track mode
    - Deleted Scenes
    - Documentary: "A Diamond In the Rough: The Making of Aladdin"
    - Audio commentary
    - "Inside The Genie's Lamp" - 3D "tour" of... the Genie's Lamp
    - Genie's Magical Journey
    - Disney's Virtual DVD Ride: Aladdin’s Magic Carpet activity
    - The Bizarre Bazaar Game
    - New music videos and sing-alongs

    This info's essentially copied (with some paraphrasing) from Amazon.com's list of Product Details for this DVD. When it comes out, I'll alter it to include more... substantial information. Disney is also offering a special "Collector's Edition" which will include lithographs of film scenes, some plush toys, and an "Aladdin Special Edition" book.
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