Friday Night Retro: Aladdin

by on February 17th, 2014
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Just like many, if not all, children in the past generation or so, I was exposed to quite a lot of Disney films in my youth. Though riddled with historical inaccuracies and quite a few offensive moments, Disney remains one of the most recognizable brand names in the world, and deservedly so, as Walt Disney and his company were the masters of entertainment from their conception. And of the many masterpieces that Disney has created, one of my favorites would have to be Aladdin, that Arabian classic.

One of the biggest selling points in this movie, at least for myself, was the phenomenal voice acting. Ignoring the fact that the only character with a proper regional accent was a bit character, the voices all truly left an impression. From the silky smooth baritone of Jonathan Freeman’s Jafar, to the unmistakably annoying Gilbert Gottfried’s Iago, to the always amazing Robin Williams as the Genie, every voice actor brought their character to life without exception. But more on them later.

The plot of Aladdin is typical of Disney films of the decade, though it still manages to keep the story fresh. The main protagonist, Aladdin, is a penniless street urchin making his living off of stealing food from the merchants of Agrabah, along with his faithful simian companion, Abu, and is always on the wrong side of the local guards. (Probably because he has Caucasian facial features in a world of stereotypical Middle Eastern people) Along the way, he meets a mysterious woman, saving her from having her hands chopped off, who he later discovers is Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan, who was just trying to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Unfortunately, Aladdin is caught and thrown into jail just as he discovers this. Meanwhile, Jafar, the royal vizier to the doddering Sultan of Agrabah and resident villain, is doing his best to overthrow the Sultan, using his magic powers that stem from a strange staff that he wields.

Accompanied by his talking parrot Iago, who exists mainly to insert humor into situations that really don’t need it, Jafar uses a magic spell to discover that Aladdin is the only person who can enter the Cave of Wonders, in which resides a magical lamp that will grant him any three wishes. He breaks Aladdin out of prison and brings him to the cave, where Aladdin retrieves the lamp, meeting a magic carpet along the way. Jafar then betrays Aladdin, leaving him to die in the cave once he believes he has the lamp, though Abu manages to steal it back. Aladdin rubs the lamp, which releases the Genie, a wise-cracking and eccentric character with a flair for the dramatic, who helps them escape from the collapsed Cave of Wonders. After promising to free the Genie from his captivity with his final wish, Aladdin uses his first to become a fabulously wealthy Prince, so that he might woo and wed the Princess Jasmine.

This leads to what I consider probably the best musical number in the movie, “Prince Ali,” and a good spot to talk about the great songs in the movie, for which the composer, Alan Menken, deserves applause. In short, the musical arrangements are phenomenal, and instantly recognizable. They range from the upbeat and fun Genie songs, “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” to the lovey dovey duet “I Can Show You The World.” They function in the same method as Italian Arias, as they bring a moment of emotion and reflection to the movie, allowing you to better understand the characters singing them, and they are very well written, both in terms of vocals and accompaniment. The pace of the song and the instruments accompanying the singers help subliminally reinforce what that song is about as well as the message being conveyed to the audience, whether it’s the grandeur of the big brass accompanying the grand reveal of “Prince Ali”, or the gentle woodwinds that can be heard during the “One Jump Ahead” reprise, as Aladdin reflects on how every makes assumptions about him because he has to steal in order to survive. The only problem with the film is a distinct lack of a villain song, unless you count the reprise of Prince Ali by Jafar, which is very disappointing. The music is diverse and appropriate in every circumstance, and brings another whole dimension to the film.

Now, while we were gone, Aladdin met the Sultan, as well as Jafar and Jasmine, neither of whom recognize him. Aladdin courts Jasmine, unsuccessfully at first, but she eventually warms up to him. Eventually, the entire film reaches its climax after a failed assassination attempt on Aladdin by Jafar, who is exposed as the villain, and things really get hectic after Jafar manages to find the magic lamp, exposing Aladdin and becoming the ruler of Agrabah. He quickly meets his end, however, after wishing himself to become a Genie, forgetting that a Genie must remain in its lamp and obey its master. The good Genie then sends Jafar to the Cave of Wonders, peace and order is restored to Agrabah, and Aladdin gets the girl and frees the Genie with his final wish. Cue credits.

All-in-all, even today, Aladdin remains one of my favorite Disney films of all time. It’s a perfect amalgamation of talent from everyone involved, despite numerous problems during production, which even included a rewrite of the script at the very last minute. It includes a fabulous and recognizable score, one of my favorite voice actors, – Robin Williams -an engaging story with a great villain and a great hero, and plenty of emotional and action scenes. It all blends together to form a great film that the whole family can enjoy. And if you haven’t seen it, well then, your childhood is simply incomplete and you need to go watch it now.

Next Week: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the TV series

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