Lowdown: A slum hero uses three wishes to seize the day and become the prince of Persia.
Aladdin is one of those films that are so well entrenched in my perception of what movies are about that I cannot honestly review it. What I will do instead is provide an account for how this 1992’s Disney animation film became my favorite Disney film ever and perhaps my favorite animation film ever, too.
I did not go to see Aladdin during its cinema release; despite all the praise it won I could not bring myself to watch what I thought would be yet another sloppy Disney affair trying to mimic the glory of old. However, at the time I was also at the peak of my audiophile days; when Aladdin came out on Laserdisc – a special CAV edition, none the less, featuring a new concept called “supplementals” – I couldn’t hold myself back. I forked out more than $70 (a figure worth probably more than twice as much in today’s terms) for that Laserdisc. Actually, that was the standard cost of a Laser at the time: a time when high quality material was generally unavailable and even VHS availability wasn’t half of what you’d get today.
Perhaps I made a mistake that day I bought Aladdin, because during the following week my room became a place of worship. Everyone I knew seemed to want to watch Aladdin. Within a week I watched the film ten times; after that week it took me a while before I could bear watching it again.
I did, however, watch Aladdin again. I watched it many times more, for the simple fact I find the film too good to resist. The tale of Arabia story of an unlikely hero from the slums that captures the monarch daughter’s heart through his offering of freedom, some heroics and the mighty assistance of an all powerful genie granting him three wishes may not be what the original One Thousand and One Night story had in mind, but that original did not have the comedy talents of Robin Williams at its disposal. Even the villains are cool here. Hell, even the songs are: normally I abhor the concept of a musical, always pointing out that throughout my years on this earth I have never witnessed people bursting into coordinated song without the heavy involvement of alcohol or drugs, and even then the effort is always less than impressive. In Aladdin’s case things are different: not only are the songs good, but things actually happen during the singing which means you don’t need to wait for the song to finish in order for the plot to progress.
At its time Aladdin was touted as the pinnacle of animation. By today’s standards the animation is poor and often betrays the old computer technology behind it. Further evidence for issues of yonder with animation lies in the film’s duration of 80+ minutes, testimony to the effort involved but also a bonus: here is a film that doesn’t take its time making a point.
Pinnacle of animation or not, there is a lot to be said about the ethics of Aladdin. The story that preaches being true to yourself and to others (to quote a Robin Williams posing as a bee, “beeee yourself!”) had a definitive effect on me. My appreciation for the truth was always there, but my striving for transparency, calling things the way they are and making sure everyone hears me when I do so, and the urge to always be myself no matter what they say was heavily enhanced by repeat viewings of Aladdin.
Eventually, Aladdin won itself another piece of personal history: it was the last Laserdisc we watched before getting rid of Lasers for good. This week was the first time I watched the film on another format - DVD, the format that drove Lasers to extinction.
Favorite scene: The Prince Ali song is my favourite here. It’s funny and all, but what I like most about it is the reprise: initially, the genie sings it to introduce us to the made up prince, while later on the villain sings it to introduce us to the real Aladdin. It reminded me of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a song that is also very effectively reprised to give a sense of cohesion to an already excellent album.
Technical assessment: In contrast to what we normally expect from an animation DVD the picture here definitely shows the original’s age. So does the sound: the soundtrack that was once considered good (but never wow) now feels too mild; the scene where the rock falls on the flying carpet as the heroes escape The Cave of Wonders used to be a good subwoofer’s test, yet now it just sounds like a mild thump.
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars, if a rating is what you insist on.