Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Aladdin (1992) Review

This is the first review (of three, so far) that I wrote using a longer and somewhat more standardized format, modeled after James Berardinelli's reviews at reelviews.net. The basic structure goes something like this: title, information about the circumstances and date of the review, rating, some information about the film coupled with a very brief summary of my thoughts, a short plot summary, then a more expansive exploration of what I thought about the movie, followed by a brief conclusion. These are also longer, between 700 and 1100 words depending on how much I have to say.

Incidentally, this was written in a McDonalds in Matamata, New Zealand.


First Viewing, 29 August, 2010

Rating: 7.5 Good/Very Good

Aladdin was one of the core releases during the peak of the “Disney Rennaisance” (a period generally considered to consist of The Little Mermaid in 1989 until the Atlantis/Treasure Planet flops at the turn of the century, and to have peaked with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King in the early 1990s), and for good reason. The movie is a classic family film—short and simple enough for young children, with enough material thrown in for their parents (or siblings) to enjoy.

Aladdin is the story of a destitute street rat who gets in over his head. The story begins (after a brief and mostly musical intro) with the villain Jaffar using a dupe to get a magic lamp for him from the Cave of Wonders. The cave, however, is none too pleased, and states (yes, it can talk) that only the “diamond in the rough” may enter. Turns out this “diamond” (a plot point that is subsequently mostly ignored) is none other than our titular hero, whom we meet as he is on the run from the law for stealing a loaf of bread. After meeting disaffected princess-on-the-lamb Jasmine, Aladdin in abducted by Jaffar and tricked/persuaded into entering the Cave after the lamp. Things go awry, however, and Aladdin is trapped within. There he meets the bombastic Genie (voiced with aplomb by Robin Williams), who promises to grant three wishes.

The story, inspired by one of the better-known tales from 1001 Arabian Nights, is simple enough but remains interesting. The movie accomplishes a lot in a very short running time (not even 90 minutes), but never feels rushed. There is a sense of energy to the production, from the animation to the voice acting. The judicious use of musical interludes helps; there are five in total including the intro music, and the final three are all quite strong.

Although the main character can be bland at times (a recurring problem for Disney’s male protagonists), the supporting cast is strong enough to cover. While not one of the top tier of Disney villains, Jaffar still has enough nefarious charisma to be moderately interesting, and the bumbling but well-meaning Sultan is a sympathetic enough dupe of his vizier (has there ever been an altruistic vizier?). Jasmine, the long-suffering and sassy but deceptively naïve daughter of the sultan, is one of the more magnetic and memorable members of Disney’s Pantheon of Princesses, particularly given that she is one of the few who were not the protagonist of her movie (it is worth remembering that, although Jasmine’s perky princess persona seems a bit cliché now, this character was, with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, largely the modern trope maker). This is due in large part to a very strong vocal performance. The movie also makes liberal use of non-human sidekicks; Abu the monkey and a vaguely anthropomorphic flying carpet for Aladdin, Raja the tiger for Jasmine, and Gilbert Gottfried as Jaffar’s talkative (and villainous) parrot partner.

However, special mention must be made of the Genie, who really pushes Aladdin to another level. Robin Williams’ virtuoso performance makes the Genie one of the most memorable supporting characters in western animation. The movie, with liberal help from Williams’ manic improvisation, throws dozens of genuinely funny jokes at the audience, many of which will go over the heads of younger (and some older) viewers. And yet the Genie still manages to be a fairly sympathetic character; we laugh at him, but also feel for his predicament.

With an energetic and engaging story, strong voice acting, several memorable musical numbers, and more than a little help from Robin Williams, Aladdin in one of Disney’s stronger efforts even if it doesn’t quite reach the highest echelon of The Great Mouse in the Sky. A worthy member of the “Disney Renaissance” and well worth a watch.

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