Saturday, February 18, 2017

Aladdin

4/4

Starring (voices): Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Robin Williams, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seele

Rated G

I remember the first time I saw this movie in theaters.  It was at the AMC Galleria in 1992.  I remember going down the darkened hallway with my family, settling down in my seat.  The little man made of film flew down the screen on a film reel and introduced AMC.  Then the movie started.  It was an amazing experience, and the sound and images enveloped me.  Being able to hear the echoes in wide spaces or deep bass in close-up really made the film come alive for me.  Now, all these years later, the film still holds up surprisingly well.

Aladdin (Weinger) is a young thief living in Agrabah.  With his pet monkey, he gets by on stealing food, but when he dreams of living in the castle, where he would be wealthy and have no problems at all.  At the same time, Princess Jasmine (Larkin) is feeling the pressures of palace life.  Not only is she being forced to marry a prince by her next birthday (which is in three days), she hasn't even been outside the palace.  Feeling trapped, she runs away and meets up with Aladdin.

Meanwhile, the Royal Vizier, Jafar (Freeman), is plotting an evil plan.  Tired of being second fiddle to the doddering fool of a Sultan (Seele), he schemes to find a magic lamp, whose genie (Williams)would grant him the power of Sultan.  To do that, he needs Aladdin.

The highlight of the film is, of course, Robin Williams's Genie.  Famous for his improvisation, quick thinking and effortless humor, Williams was the perfect choice for the outrageous character.  Hilariously impersonating everyone from Ed Sullivan to Jack Nicholson, the Genie is the embodiment of what made Williams so special.  In creating the character, Williams improvised about 16 hours worth of material (much of which was far too inappropriate for a Disney movie).  Due to this, the film was denied a Best Screenplay nomination.  For my money, it's an acceptable trade-off, although I have to admit that it would have been impressive if the actual screenplay contained all the impersonations.

The supporting cast manages to not get drowned out by the Genie.  Recurring "Full House" star Scott Weinger makes Aladdin into an adorable hero.  Bitten by love, beset by insecurity and lies, and with enough integrity to give hungry children his (freshly stolen) food, Aladdin is impossible not to like.  Linda Larkin gives Jasmine a huge dose of spunk ("I am not a prize to be won!" she proclaims).  And Douglas Seele provides some comic relief as the good-natured but simple minded Sultan.

Apart from the Genie, who more or less steals the movie, my two favorite characters are Jafar and Iago.  Jonathan Freeman tears into the role of the evil villain with relish, savoring his malicious lines and wicked plotting.  He's like Alan Rickman on overdrive.  As Iago, stand-up comedian Gilbert Gottfried is having a ball, playing the self-centered parrot.  This is his favorite role and his joy shows.

This is a gorgeous looking film, filled with rich colors, exotic locales, and some truly creepy moments.  Watching it is exhilarating.  What I liked most about it is that it's smart.  It doesn't rely too much on slapstick or potty humor.  Wordplay, motivation and point-of-view make up for a huge portion of the comedy, which makes it all the funnier.  For example, Jafar's motives are simple vanity, but his flaw is the inability to think things through, which leads to some hilarious complications.  Golden Age Disney knew better than anyone that if you have a real script with real characters, you can create magic.

While not the first or even second best Disney movie (those honors go to "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King," respectively), it's still a lot of fun for everyone.  If there's a flaw, it's that the end relies on a pretty obvious deus ex machine.  Not that you'll care.

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