(as Jack Nicholson):
Okay, Sparky, here's the
deal: You wanna court the
little lady, ya gotta be
a straight shooter,
do ya got it?
What is the one element that can push a conventional plot over the top, making a standard story an occasion for singing and dancing? I'll give you two words: Robin Williams. Without him, the two leads, Aladdin (Scott Weinger speaking, Brad Kane singing) and Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin speaking, Lea Salonga singing), couldn't carry this animated feature. But with him, what a show it is!
The rapid-fire comic shtick of Robin Williams is matched by the versatility of the animation in Aladdin: he appears as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, Robert De Niro, Carol Channing, Julius Caesar, Arsenio Hall, Elvis, Walter Brennan, Ethel Merman, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Nicholson, and William F. Buckley Jr, among others -- not to mention his great rendition of the Menken and Ashman song "Friend Like Me." The songs are pleasant, though the award-winning Menken and Rice collaboration, "A Whole New World," allows us to hear far too little of the exquisite Lea Salonga. Salonga also sang the lead in Mulan (1998) and has been one of my favorites since she thrilled me in London as Kim in Miss Saigon.
Some of the character names were borrowed from the 1940 film Thief of Baghdad (Abu, Jaffar). The plot could be summed up as: an urchin courts a princess with the help of a genie (voice of Robin Williams), a monkey side-kick who is sometimes an elephant, and a magic carpet with deep-pile personality; against them are the scheming palace vizier, Jafar (voice of Jonathan Freeman), an abrasive parrot (abrasive voice of Gilbert Gottfried), an enchanted cave with a gaping maw, a cruel face and plethora of pointless treasures (if you take any, you die, so what's the point of it all?), along with various scummy-looking Arab types.
In fact, that's one of the cavils I have with the film: the Arab types are caricatures when they are bad guys, but white-bread American-looking when they're good guys (I happen to think Arab features are quite attractive). Even Aladdin and Jasmine don't look like their countrymen. Fat people are funny and funny-looking. And, of course, to be politically correct, Disney had to make Jasmine's character, as princess, rebellious, non-traditional and strong. The other cavil a friend brought up: Aladdin steals for a living. The character explains that it's the only way to survive as a "street rat," but my friend (a mother) points out that that is not a good enough excuse and that it's hard to explain it away to kids -- "but Aladdin steals!"
These quirks aside, I thought Aladdin was 90 minutes well spent.
Aladdin (1992) 90 mins. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Written by Roger Allers (story), Ron Clements, Ted Elliott, John Musker, Terry Rossio. Cast (voices): Robin Williams as The Genie, Scott Weinger as Aladdin (speaking), Brad Kane as Aladdin (singing), Linda Larkin as Princess Jasmine (speaking), Lea Salonga as Princess Jasmine (singing), Jonathan Freeman as Jafar (Grand Vizier), Frank Welker as Abu (the Monkey), Gilbert Gottfried as Iago (the Parrot), Douglas Seale as Sultan, Bruce Adler as Merchant, Narrator (singing), Jim Cummings as Razoul (the Chief Guard), Russi Taylor as Rajah the Lion (uncredited), Kathy Zielinski as Begger the Prisoner/Snake Jafar (uncredited), Additional Voices: Charles Adler, Jack Angel, Corey Burton, Philip L. Clarke.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.
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