Disney’s 31st animated feature updated the classic folk tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp with a 1990’s liberated heroine and a fast-talking genie. As usual, Disney buoyed up the story with a number of catchy musical interludes, and lavish computer-assisted graphics assured that the kids in the audience would sit up and pay attention.
“Street rat” Aladdin and his monkey pal Abu survive by petty thievery on the streets of Agrabah, getting them in trouble with the Sultan’s guards. The Sultan himself is a short old fuddy-duddy with a headstrong daughter, Princess Jasmine. When the Sultan insists Jasmine find a suitable husband (a prince) within three days, Jasmine runs away into the city and encounters Aladdin. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s vizier, Jafar, and parrot sidekick Iago scheme to retrieve a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Needing a ”diamond in the rough,” Jafar recruits young Aladdin for the task.
Aladdin successfully enters the cave and finds the lamp, uncorking the madcap, all-powerful Genie, who offers him three wishes. Another discovery is a sentient flying carpet, which helps whisk Al and Abu out of the cave. As the movie continues, Aladdin tries to woo the princess, Jafar hypnotizes the Sultan and tries to take over the kingdom, and the Genie riffs through one comic bit after another before the ultimate showdown between Al and Jafar.
Aladdin was tailor-made to the comic anarchy of Robin Williams as the Genie. Williams had always seemed more cartoon than man, and the shape-shifting genie gave him the opportunity not only to do impressions, but to morph into whomever he was impersonating. The Genie entertained parents with rapid-fire pop culture references, while kids were enthralled by the dazzling adventure story.
Also notable was the Alan Menken score and songs from Alan Menken, the late Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. Both the score and theme song “A Whole New World” won Academy Awards, the third time in four years an animated Disney film accomplished this feat.
A tremendous success in theaters, the film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels and an animated series.