The ’90s were an absolute peak in Disney animation as the stories became grander and pushed the boundaries of 2D animation to new heights, and loads of people hold these movies close to their heart. One of those movies is Aladdin so it makes sense to see why Disney would want to create a live-action remake of a movie many people remember fondly. With the remake releasing this May, I thought it’s the perfect time to revisit this animated classic and see if it holds the test of time as well as how it will compare to the 2019 remake. Thankfully, the 1992 original still holds strong with gorgeous hand-drawn animation, outstanding voice work and a great story about how we need to escape the labels attached to us and how it’s what’s on the inside who defines us and not how we present ourselves.
Just like most of Disney’s movies, the story of Aladdin is based on a fairy tale but the two stories do differ and for the better. In the story, Aladdin lives with his mother and is given to a magician posing as a merchant so he can earn some money for his family but is tricked into getting a magic lamp for him. He’s then trapped in the cave where the lamp was, he rubs a ring the magician gave him and out pops a genie, and Aladdin then wishes to get out of the cave. It’s not until he returns home, and plans on selling the lamp, does he discover the power of the lamp. Right at the beginning of the story there are major changes, first being that the mother doesn’t exist in the movie – she did in early storyboards but was eventually dropped, as Disney loves dead parents – and he doesn’t meet Jasmine until after he wishes to be rich, and the way Jafar tricks Aladdin is quite different as he tempts him with money instead of love. There are other changes too like the genie really isn’t a character wanting freedom, Abu is nowhere to be seen and Jasmine is nothing more than a girl waiting to be married, which is why I like how Disney improved the story for their animated feature. They made Aladdin want money without making him seem greedy, they made Jasmine an actual three-dimensional character, which made the romance between her and Aladdin actually believable. I also love how they made the genie a full-fledged character instead of an object that just obeys someone.
The story Disney made of the adaptation, if you don’t know it, focuses on a “street rat” named Aladdin, who’s always “One jump ahead of the breadline” and lives in an abandoned tower with his monkey Abu. One day he comes across Princess Jasmine in the market, who has disguised herself as a peasant because she’s being forced to marry a prince while having no choice in the matter and wants a man who loves her for who she is and not what she has. The two bond but can’t marry because she can only marry a prince but when the Sultan’s adviser Jafar tempts his passion for love into getting a magical lamp, the story soars with a desire for the power that comes from the lamp as one man wants love while the other wants to rule Agrabah.
It’s been a while since I last saw the movie and this story rocks. They built the characters so well that you know the motivations of Aladdin and Jasmine, so one doesn’t feel like just a love interest who can’t find the person of their dreams. Both come from a place where they don’t want to be seen a certain way and wish for a new way of life. They long for freedom away from the labels put upon them by the people around them, and it helps flesh the characters out and gives them both a suitable arc. Even the Genie, who’s supposed to be a supporting character, plays a big part in Aladdin’s character as he and Aladdin relate to each other, wanting to escape from a life where they’re forced to be something they don’t want to be. It’s a brilliantly told “rags to riches” story that works so well. There are a couple of characters that aren’t as deep as Aladdin and Jasmine and that’s the Sultan and Jafar. I can excuse the Sultan because he’s a supporting character but for as a good a villain as Jafar, he’s just evil to be evil and I wish there was more of a motive for him. He definitely brings a menace that oozes evil but I’d love to know more about what makes him evil.
The story wouldn’t be nearly as strong if it wasn’t for the top-notch animation. The hand-drawn animation is awesome with loads of detail but it’s whenever the Genie is on screen does the animation team kick it up to a whole new level. Robin Williams didn’t make it easy for them with how often he went off script which left the animation team to keep up and match the creativity of his performance which I can say they absolutely nailed it. His “Friend Like Me” song really shows it off, with what’s on the screen matching the words, and is a standout. The animation all around pops with vibrant colours which is impressive for a movie taking place in the desert. It was also at this point in Disney’s animated movies that they started to play around with 3D animation and some of it works while other parts show its age. The magic carpet and cave of wonders are great examples of times the 3D animation works but when Aladdin is trying to escape the cave, it stands out and not in the best of ways.
Speaking of the voice talent, it’s great across the board with a clear standout in Robin Williams as the Genie who made a side character into something more and stole every scene he was in. Rest his soul because his voice work is truly something special and made the Genie an iconic character. Apparently, he went so off script, so often, that there are hours and hours of unused material. His quick delivery of lines works so well mixed with celebrity impressions and other things really make him a standout. Scott Weinger voices the title character of Aladdin and he voices him well with some really great moments to let him shine like when he has realized that his wishes aren’t changing who he really is and that this new person isn’t his true self. Linda Larkin voices Princess Jasmine who does a great job in selling this character who’s more than just a whiny princess who can’t seem to fall in love with anyone and gives her some depth. Jonathan Freeman voices the menacing Jafar and he just chews up the dialogue and you can tell he’s really having fun with it. The chemistry between him and Gilbert Gottfried as Iago is great and together they really seep this evil into the crevices of every scene they’re in. We feel Jafar’s evil so much that he doesn’t get or need a song but instead gets a brief one where he turns the “Prince Ali” number against Aladdin.
On the topic of music, Aladdin has a lot of great numbers. There’s a sense of epicness in “Arabian Nights”, we feel the wonder and love between Aladdin and Jasmine in “A Whole New World”, Aladdin has a sense of royalty in “Prince Ali” and my favourite song, “Friend Like Me”, gives a great sense of who the Genie is. The songs help move the story along and are not just songs to be songs. The orchestral score is also extremely good and I feel is often overlooked because of how good the other songs are remembered. It helps that the movie is written so well that the songs help with the story so that when the movie wants to be funny, it’s really funny when the movie wants you to feel the danger, you’re cheering for Aladdin and it’s very well done.
Aladdin is an extremely well-made movie with well-realized characters, awesome voice work, catchy music, beautiful animation, and a smartly written story. It’s part of that peak of 90’s Disney classics and it makes sense why so many people hold this movie close to their hearts. Not everything works like the 3D animation and I wish I could’ve gotten some more character depth from Jafar. It’ll be interesting to see how Disney recaptures the magic from this classic in their 2019 remake.
Aladdin is brilliant animated classic that stands tall in the peak of 90’s animation due to outstanding voice work, especially from the late Robin Williams, beautiful animation, iconic music and very well told story. The inclusion of 3D animation may not work all the time and Jafar could’ve used some more needed depth. It’ll be interesting to see how much magic the 2019 remake can recapture.