Aladdin is a “street-rat” who is tricked by villain Jaffar into retrieving a magical lamp from an impressively animated and magical sand cave in the shape of an intimidating, talking sphinx. Fortunately, Jaffar doesn’t get his hands on the lamp and instead, Aladdin inadvertently unveils a genie who will grant him three wishes. With his first wish he wishes to be a prince so that he can try his hand at winning over princess Jasmine’s heart. Unfortunately, Jaffar gets in the way and forces Aladdin to use his second wish to save himself from drowning. With only one last wish left, Aladdin is put in a tough spot: should he wish for the genie’s freedom or keep him around so that Aladdin can be the prince Jasmine thinks he is? Needless to say, the story’s set perfectly for a suspenseful, daring magic carpet ride.
It is pretty obvious that Disney targeted the boys with this one: now we’re focused on a prince instead of a princess; we have sharp swords, thrilling flight sequences, and evil cobras to battle! So it seems a guy like me should be particularly impressed with Aladdin’s storytelling, but unfortunately, it is rather a big let-down. In exchange for fast-paced, action-packed comedy, we lose a lot of the enchanted Disney storytelling of Beauty and the Beast and the light-hearted charisma of The Little Mermaid. Give it credit for trying to give this film a different vibe, but I didn’t feel like Disney took this project as seriously and thus, it comes off as a childish effort. And although this movie runs for the full 82 minutes, it feels rushed. This is because it scratches at the time it needed to spend on Aladdin and Jasmine to, as I’ve said, appeal to the guys.
Fortunately, Aladdin does not need to make up for its storytelling with its story alone—it receives a lot of help from its cast of characters, starring the undoubtedly best non-title Disney character: the genie. Sounding completely improvised by Robin Williams, the genie is spontaneously hilarious and it’s still a joy to see the animators keep up with what the genie says as a college student, even as his dialogue dates the film back to 1992. The genie adds a refreshing amount of energy in every scene he’s in, and honestly, this film should have been called “The Genie.” The movie’s unexpected decision to concentrate on the genie pays off handsomely in the end when he gets his freedom and alleviates some pressure away from the slightly forced love story. And this is unfortunately the last of the Disney Renaissance movies where the sidekicks will be done well, although the parrot of Jaffar is progressing towards the eventual side-characters of the likes of Timon, Mushu, and those darn annoying gargoyles.
Bringing it all together
Disney does another one of its “find love in three days” thing, which has to be annoying seeing that The Little Mermaid threw that curveball at its audiences just three years prior. Nonetheless, Aladdin and Jasmine sparks some on-screen chemistry because, although a bit hurried and contrived, they share something in common. Both Aladdin and Jasmine feel trapped by the social hierarchy they are unable to disassociate from. Aladdin wants to be rich enough to stop stealing and help those in need, and Jasmine wants to leave the confines of her albeit gorgeous palace and find love on her own terms. This actually carries very nicely with the genie’s desire to break the chains of servitude, and even the villain embodies when this all goes wrong. While our three protagonists, Aladdin, Jasmine, and the genie, all want freedom from their social ranking, Jaffar wants to abuse the system in order to obtain power. This very attentive, but not over-the-top, attack on social status’ serves to give this movie a surprisingly deep amount of substance despite its unimpressive storytelling style.
Moreover, Aladdin also digs into the psychological repercussions of such an engraved economic ladder, as we painfully watch Aladdin’s lack of money translate to his lack of confidence in his personhood. Shortly after being introduced to the noble-hearted title character, we realize that although we, Abu, the genie, the magic carpet, and Jasmine are able to see the good in Aladdin, he is unable to recognize that himself. Until Jasmine accepts Aladdin for whom he really is—a prince.
Aladdin does the same Ariel thing where he falls in love at first sight, but this is, for the most part, forgivable considering the added emphasis on the genie character and all the substance this movie carries. We mustn’t underestimate the fruitful addition of the magic carpet, for without it, we’d lose those gravity-less, animated scenes and of course, how can we forget Aladdin and Jasmine’s romantic ride featuring one of my favorite prince-princess duets, A Whole New World. While Aladdin feels more grounded to reality compared to the fantastical dreams of Ariel and Belle, the magic carpet allows us to escape the pedestrian setting of Agrabah. This really helps to illustrate what Aladdin feels when he’s with Jasmine, and if you’re over thirteen, this will make the first flutters of love feel all very familiar again. The story is ambitious, the genie deserves an encore, the lesson is there to be learned, the magic carpet is magical, the romance functions, and Aladdin is an adventurous take on a familiar Disney formula.