Entertainment Earth


Entertainment Earth


"I'll give you three wishes and the first two don't count."

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator


It is easy to forget the moribund state of feature-length animation before the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast kept the revival going and, with Aladdin, Disney proved that the animated film's resurgence was no fluke. Composer and lyricist Alan Menken rubbed his magic lamp once again to produce a toe-tapping (and Oscar-winning) score, including the radio-friendly A Whole New World. But if any one person can be credited with Aladdin's success, it is Robin Williams. With one-liners galore and imitations of everyone from William F. Buckley to Arsenio Hall, Williams' manic (what else?) genie is a comic whirlwind with an animated body that can keep up with the real thing's boundless energy. Not every joke in Aladdin hits, but more than a few adults were surprised to find themselves laughing harder than the little ones they brought in tow. The film falls a little short of the high mark set by its two predecessors, as its plotting and lead characters are somewhat more conventional. And not all viewers felt that Disney's foray into ethnic diversity was without stereotyping. But overall, Aladdin once again proved the Disney magic for creating an animated film worth watching with or without the kids.

Aladdin was released on November 25, 1992 to positive reviews, despite some criticism from Arabs who considered the film racist, and was the most successful film of 1992, earning over $217 million in revenue in the United States, and over $504 million worldwide. The film also won many awards, most of them for its soundtrack. Aladdin's success led to many material inspired by the film such as two direct-to-video sequels, The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves, an animated television series, toys, video games, spin-offs, and merchandise.

In 1988, lyricist Howard Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After Ashman wrote some songs with partner Alan Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production, picking Aladdin out of three projects offered, which also included an adaptation of Swan Lake and King of the Jungle - that eventually became The Lion King. Musker and Clements wrote a draft of the screenplay, and delivered it to studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1991. Katzenberg thought the script "didn't engage", and only approved it after the screenwriting duo Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio rewrote it. Among the changes, the character of Aladdin's mother was removed, Princess Jasmine was made into a stronger character, Aladdin's personality was rewritten to be "a little rougher, like a young Harrison Ford, and the parrot Iago, originally conceived as a "British" calm and serious character, was reworked into a comic role after the filmmakers saw Gilbert Gottfried in Beverly Hills Cop II. Gottfried was cast to provide Iago's voice. Several characters and plot elements are also based on the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, and many aspects of the traditional story were changed for the film — for instance, the setting is changed from "China" to a fictional Arabian city, Agrabah. Elements from the story Ma'aruf the Cobbler and his Wife Fatimah, another story from One Thousand and One Nights, were also added in, with the final result being a blend of the original two stories.

The design for most characters was based on the work of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, which production designer Richard Vander Wende also considered appropriate to the theme, due to similarities to the swooping lines of Persian miniatures and Arabic calligraphy. Jafar's design was not based on Hirschfeld's work because Jafar's supervising animator, Andreas Deja, wanted the character to be contrasting. Each character was animated alone, with the animators consulting each other to make scenes with interrelating characters. Since Aladdin's animator Glen Keane was working in the California branch of Walt Disney Feature Animation, and Jasmine's animator Mark Henn was in the Florida one at Disney-MGM Studios, they had to frequently phone, fax or send designs and discs to each other.

Musker and Clements created the Genie with Robin Williams in mind; even though Katzenberg suggested actors such as John Candy, Steve Martin, and Eddie Murphy, Williams was approached and eventually accepted the role. Williams came for voice recording sessions during breaks in the shooting of two other films he was starring in at the time, Hook and Toys. Unusually for an animated film, much of Williams' dialogue was ad-libbed: for some scenes, Williams was given topics and dialogue suggestions, but allowed to improvise his lines. It was estimated that Williams improvised 52 characters. Eric Goldberg, the supervising animator for the Genie, then reviewed Williams' recorded dialogue and selected the best gags and lines that his crew would create character animation to match.

The producers added many in-jokes and references to Disney’s previous works in the film, such as a "cameo appearance" from directors Clements and Musker and drawing some characters based on Disney workers. Beast, Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, and Pinocchio make brief appearances, and the wardrobe of the Genie at the end of the film - Goofy hat, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals - are a reference to a short film that Robin Williams did for the Disney/MGM Studios tour in the late 80s.

In gratitude for his success with the Disney/Touchstone film Good Morning, Vietnam, Robin Williams voiced the Genie for SAG scale pay ($75,000), on condition that his name or image not be used for marketing, and his (supporting) character not take more than 25% of space on advertising artwork, since Toys was scheduled for release one month after Aladdin's debut. For financial reasons, the studio went back on the deal on both counts, especially in poster art by having the Genie in 25% of the image, but having other major and supporting characters portrayed considerably smaller. The Disney Hyperion book Aladdin: The Making Of An Animated Film, listed both of Williams' characters "The Peddler" and "The Genie" ahead of main characters, but was forced to refer to him only as "the actor signed to play the Genie".

Williams and Disney had a bitter falling-out, and as a result, Dan Castellaneta voiced the Genie in The Return of Jafar, the Aladdin animated television series, and had recorded his voice for Aladdin and the King of Thieves. When Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired from Disney and replaced by former 20th Century Fox production head Joe Roth (whose last act for Fox was greenlighting Williams' film Mrs. Doubtfire), Roth arranged for a public apology to Williams by Disney. Williams agreed to perform in Hollywood Pictures' Jack, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and even agreed to voice the Genie again for the King Of Thieves sequel (for considerably more than scale), replacing all of Castellaneta's dialogue.

The Return of Jafar
This 1994, direct-to-video follow-up to Aladdin (it's actually four episodes of the Aladdin television program, back-to-back) is a wash-out compared to the Robin Williams-driven animation feature that kicked off the franchise. The story partially involves the villainous Jafar's parrot - Iago - trying to leave his master and befriend Aladdin and Jasmine.

Aladdin and the King of Thieves
Robin Williams returns as the voice of the hyperactive genie in this, the second direct-to-video sequel to Disney's hit animated feature. Aladdin, the street beggar turned Prince, risks all to find his father among the cutthroat 40 thieves and joins his quest to find a Midas-like stone that turns everything it touches into gold. A significant cut above most made-for-video animation, this energetic adventure largely leaves Princess Jasmine and the genie behind for a father-and-son quest. Guest voice Jerry Orbach suggests Sean Connery with his thick-as-molasses delivery as the master thief Sa'luk and, despite his limited screen time, Williams once again delights with his wild flights of fantasy as the big blue Genie. A rousing tale full of last-minute escapes and spectacular, kid-sized thrills that even parents will find entertaining.


The story of Aladdin concerns an impoverished young man who is recruited by a sorcerer to retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave. After the sorcerer attempts to double-cross him, Aladdin keeps the lamp for himself, and discovers that it summons a surly djinn that is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp. With the aid of the djinn, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and marries princess Badroulbadour. The sorcerer returns and is able to get his hands on the lamp by tricking Aladdin's wife, who is unaware of the lamp's importance.

Aladdin discovers a lesser, polite djinn is summoned by a ring loaned to him by the sorcerer but forgotten during the double-cross. Assisted by the lesser djinn, Aladdin recovers his wife and the lamp. The theme of a trickster being outwitted by another trickster of lowly birth is a widespread motif in fables.

The story of Aladdin is a classic example of one of the seven basic plots in story-telling i.e. an example of the "rags-to-riches" story. This type of story presents in three parts: from lowly beginnings, a protagonist achieves an initial success in life, traverses a major crisis in which all seems lost, and finally triumphs over adversity to achieve more stable and enduring success. This final success is only possible because the hero has learned a degree of inner maturity by going through the crisis.

Aladdin's first success came too easily and was not based on his own efforts, but the genie's who helped him; his despair at losing the princess and the palace to the evil sorcerer takes him to a spiritual place at which he needs to arrive before he can develop true strength and wholeness by making his own efforts to succeed. The wholeness he finally achieves is symbolised by the re-establishment of the relationship with the princess. One of the reasons for the enduring interest of the Aladdin story lies in our often unconscious recognition of the importance of its underlying meaning. We recognize our own struggles to grow and develop in Aladdin's journey.

The original full text episode, usually omitted in the bowdlerized versions, in which the naïve Aladdin is cheated and exploited by a treacherous Jewish merchant, and is saved by the Jew's honest and upright Muslim competitor. The late Dr. Yoel Yosef Rivlin who translated the book into Hebrew admitted that although he had a feeling of distaste and felt apprehension that his full translation might ruin an otherwise delightful tale for Israeli readers, he still felt duty-bound to provide Hebrew readers with a full and unexpurgated translation.


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