Voices: Make way for another blockbuster from Disney’s animation caravan, almost certain to join “Beauty and the Beast” as the only $ 100-million earners on the cel block. Floridly beautiful, shamelessly derivative and infused with an irreverent, sophisticated comic flair thanks to Robin Williams’ vocal calisthenics, “Aladdin” probably won’t equal its beastly predecessor but should still enjoy a magic carpet ride through the holiday season.
More an adventure-comedy than “Beauty” and less appealing in terms of its romantic component, “Aladdin” represents the ultimate synthesis of filmmaking and marketing–extracting winning elements from Disney’s last two animated hits as well as more venerable sources, particularly the 1940 version of “The Thief of Baghdad.”
Beginning with the sure-fire material in “Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid” aimed at kids and their parents, the studio has sought to expand the animated form’s allure with Williams’ hip humor as the Genie, whose lightning-fast references will, the filmmakers hope, bring in reluctant adults and teenagers.
Toward that end “Aladdin” also includes some spectacular action sequences–among them a break-neck magic carpet ride through a cavern recalling “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”–as well as an homage to the first Christopher Reeve “Superman” on the inherent romance of flight.
The film may lose a little something in the process, since Williams’ high-energy performance
–coupled with broad slapstick built around comic Gilbert Gottfried, voicing the villain’s sputtering parrot–could raise the decibel-level too high for some adults, while the 90-minute length and few flat stretches may try the patience of the youngest kids.
Still, that’s ultimately nit-picking about an otherwise remarkable product from producer-directors John Musker and Ron Clements as well as composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman, who simply mastered the art of the animated musical.
Lyricist Tim Rice (whose credits include “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita”) filled in seamlessly on three of the six songs after Ashman’s death, and while Menken’s score may not be as instantly hummable as “Beauty’s,” it’s still impressive, with two show-stoppingly elaborate numbers to rival the “Be Our Guest” and “Under the Sea” sequences, respectively, in “Beast” and “Mermaid.”
Physically resembling “Mermaid’s” Prince Erik, Aladdin is a thief and street urchin who stumbles across the defiant and (again, like Belle in “Beauty”) anachronistically liberated Princess Jasmine, who flees the palace to escape a law dictating that she must marry aprince.
The bad guy, functional if not one of the great Disney villains, is the Sultan’s adviser Jafar, a sorceror who recruits Aladdin to help claim the magic lamp from a huge cave hidden in the desert.
The narrative moves somewhat unevenly before the kid uncorks Williams, at which point things kick into another level.
Metamorphosing the Genie into whatever personality he adopts, from Jack Nicholson to William F. Buckley, Williams’ talents yield a comedic feast and inspire a tour-de-force of animation. (There are also a couple of staggeringly funny Disney allusions, such as where a young lad would celebrate after winning a princess’ heart.)
Showy as that performance is, “Aladdin” suffers no shortage of winning characters and its most remarkable accomplishment may in fact be the magic carpet, which expresses a range of emotions not found in the entirety of a typical Joel Silver-type action yarn.
Film buffs will marvel at how deftly the creators have taken the lead from their protagonist and politely borrowed from others, mining Disney’s vaults and “Thief of Baghdad” down to character design, such as Jafar’s resemblance to Conrad Veidt.
“Aladdin” overcomes most story flaws thanks to sheer technical virtuosity, a trademark of Disney-animated features since sinking into the darkness of “The Black Cauldron.” Meticulously designed, each frame offers an explosion of color, with a mix of looks and animation disciplines.
It may not equal the emotional wallop packed by “Beauty,” but “Aladdin” certainly rivals it in many other respects and proves a worthy successor to the standard the new generation of Disney animators has established. With all that going for it, it doesn’t take a magic lamp or crystal ball to foresee that it’ll rub audiences the right way.