Revisiting a Whole New World | Aladdin at 30
Aladdin showed us a world, that was shining, shimmering, splendid. It was a film with great, memorable characters: although it fell dangerously close to cultural appropriation in its depictions, created a film that will be remembered as a Disney classic. A piece of animation that manages to capture the heart of its viewers with a sense of wonder and beauty. As Aladdin turns 30 this year, let’s fly our magic carpets, over, sideways and under, into this animated film, and see what really makes it so magical.
Aladdin was the first Disney movie I ever owned on DVD, and the first ever DVD that I bought. I still have the special edition lying around somewhere, with its behind-the-scenes features, looking at the making of sections. It was a particular treat for me, thanks to my interests in animation, and I fondly remember going back and watching it every few months. I remember the backgrounds of the setting to be so wondrously different to what I was seeing in other cartoons, and thinking that the characters were so interesting, funny, the story compelling, and the villain, ominous.
Watching back on it for this review allowed me to step back into that nostalgic childhood time capsule and enjoy it all over again. The first thing that I have to notice from this film is the way in which it is animated. The fight, dance and chase scenes are all stunning and really well choreographed. It really feels like a stage musical taking place. The songs are memorable and the voice acting is stellar. Robin Williams captures the Genie essence and runs with it, easily creating an emotionally driven comic relief that feels realistic, heartfelt and three dimensional, making one of Disney’s most iconic characters.
The plot is one that never feels forced, each scene transitions nicely into the next. Each character’s actions feel justified and true, never feeling clumsily written. We get moments of excitement as the cave of wonders melts, amongst other scenes, as we feel for our protagonist’s safety, even though we know that they will succeed. This plot driven anticipation is what truly proves that they are emotionally driven. We feel for them, and that is 90% of the film. The blended elements of CGI throughout and the introduction of strong visuals in the character designs really push the artform. The genie transformations, the clever anthropomorphic carpet interactions, Abu and Iago, and even the thin, spindly, creepiness that is Jafar, all serve their purpose here, making sure that we are given a sense of theatrical tension that is rich and compelling.
Now, there are flaws, of course, and I am very much looking at Aladdin with rose tinted glasses on. The film spawned an animated series, two sequels and a remake that are a huge dip in quality and tarnish the original in many ways. It is also a film that fails to capture the essence of its voices, and has come under constant fire for whitewashing and poor representation of the culture and people it aims to portray. Yes, there are huge areas of problems within Aladdin, but despite all of this, it is still a childhood favourite of many. Why is that? Well, it is because it did something new, yet kept the familiar Disney style nostalgia that keeps the animation giant ticking. It creates a sense of magic that enthralls children and serves as a family movie that all members can enjoy. Does it have problems? Yes. Does it bring the magic that it aims to? For sure.