Saturday, October 25, 2014

ALADDIN (1992)

Release Date: Wednesday 25th November 1992

The Little Mermaid was a huge success. Beauty and the Beast was an even huger success. Aladdin, beating out the odds, became an even bigger success than the previous two fairy tale musicals, making over $500 million in its initial theatrical run! Directors John Musker and Ron Clements moved straight on to Aladdin after finishing their work with The Little Mermaid. Taking the classic Arabian Nights story as inspiration, they fashioned a new version of the story, and turned it into a rollicking comedy.

But, as with Beauty and the Beast, the movie we know today did not just appear like a magic wish. Only one and a half years before release, head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg looked at a storyboard cut of the movie and said he hated it. They would have to start over.

Thankfully, they didn't start completely from scratch like with Beauty and the Beast, but some fairly dramatic changes took place. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were brought on as screenwriters. They tightened up the story and made some major plot changes. In the original version, Aladdin was a much younger character, and he had a mother. (Funnily enough, Aladdin's mother still managed to make a cameo appearance in the finished film, even though her character had been killed off)

One of the problems with the early script was that Jasmine was a beautiful, captivating princess. It was easy to see why Aladdin would fall in love with her. But what on Earth would she see in him? Aladdin was made older and more handsome, modelled a bit on Tom Cruise, who was a very famous and swoon-worthy star at the time.

As animator Eric Goldberg was designing the character of the Genie, he took inspiration from the art style of Al Hirschfeld, using his curvy character style and "thick and thin line" concept.

The "thick and thin line" idea was adopted for the entire movie. This meant that the poor clean-up artists who would usually have to carefully trace over the animator's sketches, now had to do a second pass on every drawing, creating thicker lines in certain areas. It was a lot of work, but it gives the film a distinct look that separates it from its predecessors.

One of the early ideas was to have master comedian Robin Williams voice the shape-shifting Genie. This, of course, turned out to be the genius masterstroke. Williams's frantic, manic energy matched with Eric Goldberg's animation gave the world a character the likes of which we had never seen before. Watch this clip to see some of the recording sessions and early animation tests.

As Williams improvised celebrity impersonations, the artists wondered if they might be able to somehow incorporate them into the movie. Disney films are always made to be timeless, usually avoiding pop-culture gags that will grow stale over time (watch how quickly those Shrek gags age...) but the possibility of the Genie morphing into different recognisable people was too exquisite an opportunity to pass up, so they went for it.
With the wild comedy being accompanied by a story of being true to yourself and keeping your promises, Aladdin was a monster hit and is still considered many peoples' favourite Disney movie to this day.

The film opens on a dry, scorching desert. Along with the Arabian music, the audience is instantly aware that this is a very different story to what they've seen before.
Singing the opening song, "Arabian Nights," is a travelling pedlar. He tries to sell the audience a lamp, which he claims was the actual lamp from a famous story of a boy who was a "diamond in the rough." He begins to tell the tale...
On a dark night in the desert, the royal vizier Jafar meets a thief called Gazeem and leads him to the fabled Cave of Wonders, which is closed to all except the "Diamond In The Rough." Gazeem tries to enter, and gets crushed to death for his attempt. Jafar realises that to get inside this cave, he needs to seek out this special person.
Little does he know, but the special person is a mere street thief named Aladdin, who with his monkey friend Abu is constantly getting into trouble with the authorities.
In designing the character, the directors had some dilemmas. They did not want to glorify stealing or make it look like being a thief was cool. They overcame this quandry with a scene which shows Aladdin is actually a bit of a Robin Hood, and he looks after those less fortunate than him.
Meanwhile, at the royal palace, the Sultan is having all kinds of problems getting through to his teenage daughter. She is supposed to marry a prince by her next birthday, but she has no interest in any of the princes that have been presented to her. Meanwhile, Jafar holds a secret power over the Sultan using a magical staff.
Trying to take control of her own life, Princess Jasmine climbs the palace wall in the middle of the night and goes to explore the city that she has never seen.
She has hardly walked down the street before she finds herself in trouble. Aladdin quickly rushes to the rescue and saves her. She then goes to visit where he lives and they begin to realise that they have a lot in common.
But their new friendship is suddenly interrupted by guards breaking into Aladdin's home and arresting him. Jasmine confronts Jafar to have her new friend released, but Jafar informs her that he has already been beheaded.
In a jail cell, Aladdin - with his head still on his shoulders - meets a strange old man who convinces him to go to the Cave of Wonders and collect a magical lamp.
Inside the cave, Aladdin and Abu find a mysterious flying magic carpet. Aladdin finally discovers the lamp he came here to find.
Unfortunately, Abu touches something he should not have touched, and the cave begins to collapse around them. After a thrilling escape on the magic carpet, Aladdin and Abu find themselves trapped in the cave with no way out.
Trying to read an inscription, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops the all-powerful Genie! Aladdin is given three wishes. The crafty thief tricks the Genie into freeing them from their underground prison without actually using up one of his wishes.
In a peaceful desert oasis, Aladdin and the Genie begin to ponder what the first wish will be. The Genie tells Aladdin how much he would love to be free, but the only way that can happen is if his master wishes him free. Aladdin agrees to use his third wish to set the Genie free. But first... he wishes to become a prince!
The following day, the streets of Agrabah are buzzing with the arrival of an impressive foreign prince called Ali Ababwa. The Sultan is very impressed with "Prince Ali," but Jafar - who was about to orchestrate a plot to marry the princess himself - is none too impressed.
That evening, Aladdin rides his magic carpet to Jasmine's window to try and win her affections. The princess suspects that he might be the boy she met in the marketplace. After a romantic magic carpet ride around the world, they share a goodnight kiss and everything seems right with the world.
... For a moment, anyway. Jafar has Aladdin kidnapped and tossed into the ocean. Aladdin's second wish is used up and the Genie saves his life. Aladdin rushes back to the palace and exposes Jafar's treachery to the Sultan. The vizier is banished and goes into hiding.
All would seem to be "happily-ever-after." But Aladdin is suddenly hit with guilt and doubt. Yes, Prince Ali would be able to marry the princess. But how could he keep up the charade on his own? He tells the Genie that he will have to go back on his word. He won't use his third wish to free him anymore. This disappoints all of his friends.
While he leaves the lamp unguarded, Jafar's parrot Iago steals it and takes it to Jafar. Now the vizier has the lamp and makes his first wish: to be Sultan!
Aladdin tries to stop the Genie from carrying out Jafar's wishes, but without the lamp, he has no power to stop him.
Sultan Jafar banishes Aladdin, Abu and the magic carpet to a far-off land caught in a blizzard. Luckily, the carpet knows the way home and flies them there for a final showdown.
In the palace, the decor has changed and Jafar is loving his new powers, having used his second wish to transform into the most powerful sorcerer in the world.
Aladdin is discovered on his return and Jafar transforms himself into a gigantic snake. (Final boss battle!) Aladdin convinces Jafar to turn into a genie, neglecting to mention the fact that a genie has to be a slave trapped in a lamp. Jafar falls for the trap and is encased in a black lamp forever more.
Now that Jafar is gone, Aladdin gives up his princehood to set the Genie free. Seeing what the boy has done for his friends and for the kingdom, the Sultan changes the law to allow the princess to marry whoever she wants.

Everybody has a big group hug, the Genie flies off to see the world, and Aladdin and Jasmine live happily ever after.

IRVYNE: This film is a master class in storytelling. There is not a single wasted scene or spoken line. Everything moves the story along towards its conclusion. Every character is enjoyable to watch. Even the non-talking characters - Abu, Rajah and the Carpet - make a real impression and are remembered long after the credits roll.

Of course, no Disney movie is really great without a really great villain, and Jafar is a really great villain! Voiced by Jonathan Freeman, the character can go from deathly quiet and still to joyously manic. It's wonderful that in the new Broadway production they've actually got Freeman to play his role on stage!

Jasmine continues the new generation of Disney princesses who are proactive in the story instead of merely reactive. She is a strong-willed teenager like Ariel, and she goes out of her way to get what she wants, not accepting the laws of her time that tell her what she should be doing.

And of course, you can't talk about Aladdin without mentioning the genius of Robin Williams. He adds an undeniable energy to the film that has audiences - both children and adults - rolling on the floor with laughter.

The many different drafts of Aladdin worked together to create a brilliant tale that can be appreciated over and over again. It's one of the best.

While boasting a very different visual style to Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin is easily its equal in quality. Whereas Beauty and the Beast was very rich with detail, like a classic painting, Aladdin is much broader. There is a constant impression of scale. The big wide sweeping desert, the grand palace towering over the city, the cavernous Cave of Wonders. The tone is much more "filmic," whereas Beauty and the Beast was more like a stage show. (This would partially explain why Aladdin was much trickier to adapt to the stage!)

Aladdin also has a much more intense colour palette. There are lots of very strong, saturated colours, as you can see from the above screenshots. Deep reds, midnight blues, hot oranges. You will notice a distinct lack of green in the colour palette. The only two locations with any substantial green are the palace gardens and the desert oasis.

There is also the Hirschfeld influence, meaning that everything is very rounded with very few hard edges, and all characters are influenced by the "thick and thin line" concept, especially the Genie.

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had been on board as the music team from the very beginning, but Ashman sadly passed away when the movie was half way through production. A heartbroken Menken had to finish the soundtrack without his long-time writing partner. Tim Rice, who had been contracted to write songs for The Lion King with Elton John, was approached to stand in as lyricist. He would write lyrics for "One Jump Ahead," "A Whole New World" and a reprise of "Prince Ali." While Rice was proud of his work on the project, he has claimed that he never really felt it was his movie; he was merely standing in to finish Ashman's work.

A number of Menken/Ashman songs that were created for the earlier version of Aladdin ended up in the recent Broadway musical: "Proud of Your Boy," "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim" and "High Adventure." It took a long time, but earlier in 2014, Aladdin finally followed Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mary Poppins to the stage, and has been playing to sell-out audiences all year. (Side note: I've got my tickets! I'll be seeing it on New Year's Eve! Very excited!)

Menken used a strange cocktail of Middle-Eastern sounds and Big Band jazz to create Aladdin's soundtrack, a mixture that doesn't sound like it would work, but absolutely does! It has become one of Disney's most beloved and enduring collection of songs.

Aladdin has not aged a day in the past 22 years. It's still as magical and entertaining as it was the day it was released in cinemas. The early '90s was a period where Disney could literally do no wrong, and Aladdin was right smack-bang in the middle of that era. I have not yet compiled my list of favourite Disneys, but if Aladdin doesn't make Number 1, it will definitely be very close. It's a masterpiece of animation.

WENDY: It's pretty darn high on my list!

SHENZI: Best. Disney. Ever.

ANNA: It’s hilarious!

PASCAL: I can’t believe that was made just after Beauty and the Beast!

HAKU: The production values on this are miles ahead of Beauty and the Beast! Seeing them side-by-side like we just have today… They came leaps and bounds in a single year!

SHENZI: The lava in the Cave of Wonders looks amazing.

PASCAL: And the entrance with the big head, how it rises up out of the sand.

IRVYNE: I can remember gaping at that when it was first released. You have to remember, in 1992 we really hadn’t seen any amazing-looking computer graphics before. Nothing of this standard anyway. It was ground-breaking! There is clearly a much higher amount of CGI in Aladdin than there was in Beauty and the Beast. They were getting more confident to integrate it into the story.

MALEFICENT: Even the way the light coming out of the cave reflects off the sand, it’s superb. In fact, the art in general, is amazing. They use colour to set the mood for each scene.

IRVYNE: When there’s a lot of red, you know Jafar is in power!

HAKU: The animation on the carpet is just masterful.

IRVYNE: Isn't it amazing? That they can get such character out of a simple rectangle! We all know that the carpet was rendered in CG (There's no way those patterns could warp and fold in perfect proportion with hand drawings!) but it was actually animated by hand. Animator Randy Cartwright and his team drew every carpet shot (which he described as "sort of like acting with origami") and the computer artists would then match each frame with their computer model. This could then be textured with the carpet design. The four tassels remain 100% hand-drawn though.

HAKU: Its tassels can be feet, or hands, or a wagging tail. It's so creative.

MALEFICENT: It reminds me a bit of what Pixar would eventually do with WALL*E, where you have a character who doesn’t talk, and has to convey everything through simple expressions. Jasmine is a beautiful princess too. There is no point in this movie where she does an ugly face like Belle.

SHENZI: The main characters are good, but for me, it's all of the sidekicks that make this movie.

PASCAL: My favourite is Abu.

IRVYNE: I love when he becomes an elephant.

ANNA: I love the Magic Carpet… But Robin Williams as the Genie is the best.

WENDY: There isn’t a single useless sidekick in this movie. Everyone has a reason for being in the story.

MALEFICENT: Iago is a fantastically horrible bad guy sidekick! He’s almost worse than Jafar! Marrying Jasmine and then killing her off was all Iago’s idea. He’s the real mastermind. And how hilarious is Gilbert Gottfried's voice?

ANNA: That bird has a “fowl” sense of humour!

SHENZI: Oh… wow…

WENDY: I learned so many words from Jafar as a child, like “pungent” and “ecstatic.”

HAKU: I hope you learned sarcasm at the same time!


WENDY: I also noticed that both Jafar and Gaston have very prominent canine teeth. It makes them look even more evil.

IRVYNE: That’s an interesting observation! Well they were both animated by the same guy, Andreas Deja. He did Scar too.

MALEFICENT: He’s the dental animator.

PASCAL: There are so many quick little gags that are gone in a second. I love how Iago sees little sultans flying around his head when he gets knocked out. That makes me laugh so hard every time I see it!

HAKU: I'd forgotten how many quick hidden cameos there are in this movie! 

MALEFICENT: Speaking of quick visual gags, how about the Genie!

SHENZI: Exactly! How did they keep up with Robin Williams’s brain? It feels like he just ad-libbed everything.

IRVYNE: But aside from the comedy, he really knew how to bring the heart as well. Rest in peace, Robin. You’ll be missed, but never forgotten.

HAKU: It's great how the story just clips along at a really swift pace in this movie.

IRVYNE: Last time we were talking about some of the nonsensical plot issues with Beauty and the Beast. I only found two with Aladdin today. One thing that’s always irritated me a bit, is to have a narrator at the beginning who’s never seen again. It just seems like sloppy storytelling to me. I believe – and I could be remembering wrong here – the original idea was that at the end of the movie we’d go back to the peddler and find out that he’s actually the Genie.

WENDY: Well that would make sense.

IRVYNE: Especially since they’re both voiced by Robin Williams. But I get it – they wanted to focus on Aladdin and Jasmine at the end. I just think they should have brought the peddler back in some capacity, since he’s supposedly the one who is telling us this story.
The other big question I have is, when Jasmine discovers that Prince Ali is actually Aladdin, why doesn’t she question how he’s alive? Surely her first question would be, “What happened to you? Jafar told me you’d been beheaded!” Why wouldn’t she question Jafar about that? It’s a pretty substantial plot point that just gets ignored.

HAKU: I think she’s just smart enough to figure out that Jafar lied to her.

IRVYNE: But they're very minor niggles on what is otherwise a flawless movie. I couldn't count the number of times I've seen it now, but it's still an absolute pleasure to sit down and watch it again.

"Made you look!"


No comments:

Post a Comment