Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Aladdin

Here on Fishing in the Discount Bin, been going through my collection of Disney films, settling on the big four of the Disney Renaissance.  We get to film #3, Aladdin, today.  This is in my notes at October 3, 2015.

Now, in the big four of the Disney Renaissance, each one brought something new to the table.  The Little Mermaid brought that Broadway sensibility to the proceedings.  Beauty and the Beast brought us a slew of technical breakthroughs in animation.  And Aladdin...well, Aladdin brought us big time celebrities and pop culture references. 

Don't get me wrong, Disney had employed celebrities to do voices in their animated films before, but no one near the level of Robin Williams as the Genie, who was, quite frankly, the biggest movie star in the world at that time.  Too bad Disney kind of screwed him over with it.

I remember sharing this story with a few folks at the time of Robin Williams' death.  See, back in those days, when you did a voice in a Disney animated film, you got paid scale, which is actors' minimum wage.  Williams did the voice of the Genie largely as a favour to the president of Disney, but Williams laid down one condition:  because he was getting paid so low, Disney couldn't take advantage of his fame in promotion of the film.  So, they couldn't slap "Starring Robin Williams as the Genie!" all over the promotional materials.  Anyway, the movie comes out, and what happens?  We've got "Starring Robin Williams as the Genie!" slapped all over the promotional materials.  It took several large payouts, an original Picasso, and a very public apology for Disney to get back on Williams' good side, but the damage was done.  Williams never worked for Disney again...after he did Aladdin and the King of Thieves and Flubber, which was one of the conditions of Disney's very public apology.

Which is a shame, because Williams truly steals the show as the Genie.  Williams did call it the truest and most accurate filming of his stand-up act.  I mean, seriously, Williams makes that movie.  To this day, what's the #1 thing people remember about the film?  Robin Williams as the Genie. 

And as many animation historians will point out, a lion's share of the credit also has to go to Eric Goldberg, who was the lead animator on the Genie.  What made the Genie work so well was Goldberg and his team of animators being able to keep up with Williams. 

Aladdin is also a sad note in that it's the final film with songs by Howard Ashman.  Along with his composer Alan Menken, Ashman gave us the songs for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  And from what I gather, Aladdin was kind of his pet project.  He and Menken got their foot in the door by pitching it.  Ashman passed away when he'd written about half the songs for Aladdin, and it's a fine send off to his career.

This was the first one of the Disney Renaissance that I got to see in the theatre when it actually came out...no re-releases here.  It came out in the holiday season of 1992, and while my brother and my dad when to one end of the Cineplex to see A Few Good Men, I went with my mother and sister to see Aladdin.  And those were the two main reasons I wanted to see it:  a)  I was starting to kick myself for having missed The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in the theatre, and b)  Robin Williams.  I've blogged that seeing Good Morning Vietnam when I was 10 was what made me want to get into radio, and at that point in my life, I thought he was the funniest guy in the world. 

And while everyone raves about Robin Williams, how about the rest of the voice cast?  I mean...Frank Welker as Abu.  And the growling giant tiger Cave of Wonders.  This guy is the reigning best voice actor in the world, and this is probably his most prominent role in the Disney Renaissance.  He's able to make Abu just this wonderful and beloved character.  And Scott Weinger as Aladdin.  Outside of this, he's probably best remembered as DJ's boyfriend Steve on Full House.  I listened to a podcast where he was interviewed not too long ago, and he said that, with Robin Williams, this really was the transition from voice acting in animation going from "just another gig" to "celebrity vehicles," as he auditioned for it just like everyone else. 

And Jasmine.  Oh, Jasmine.  I know I was a really big trekkie at the time, but I'm pretty sure that the Disney Princesses did more for my sexual awakening that any green skinned alien woman ever did.  And when Jafar puts her in that red slave outfit.  Sigh....

But man o man, I just keep going back to Robin Williams.  As many a sharp-eared viewer has realized, he also voices the peddler who sets our story in motion.  There's a reason for that.  Originally, the peddler was going to serve as our narrator, and narrate the film through reprisals of the song Arabian Nights.  And then, at the end, the peddler was going to reveal himself as the free Genie, telling us his tale.

This was the second Disney Renaissance film for Jon Musker and Rom Clemments, who made this film between The Little Mermaid and Hercules, and this makes a good transition film.  It teeters the line between the more serious Little Mermaid and the zanier Hercules.  Solid work from these two. 

But the film will forever belong to Robin Williams.  He`s just so good in it, you guys. 

One last note:  Disney Afternoon ruined this movie for me.  I hear Arabian Nights, and I think it`s the start of the TV show...not the movie.

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