While Aladdin holds up as a beautifully animated motion picture with awesome songs, there’s a major flaw in casting non-Persians.
Fresh off of The Little Mermaid, directors Ron Clements and John Musker went to work on Aladdin. Walt Disney Animation Studios had offered the pair a choice between Swan Lake, Aladdin, and some film about lions in the jungle but they were like, “Who would want to see that?” The latter of which went on to become The Lion King–the rest of which is history. Troubles plagued the production especially once Black Friday hit. This was when Jeffrey Katzenberg saw the film during a test screening. As a consequence of his reaction, new writers were hired to help rework the film. This was 18 months out from release. One-third of the film was excised! It’s bad enough having to rework a live-action film but animated films require a process.
But enough about what happened behind the scenes. We’re here to discuss what happened on the screen. Aladdin would never have happened without the involvement of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, especially the latter. It was Ashman who scripted a 40-page treatment only to watch it sit idle. Without him, the film would have never been put into production by Disney. Following his tragic death from AIDS, Ashman was replaced by Tim Rice. Among his final contributions were “Prince Ali” and “Humiliate the Boy.” The film features a number of show-stopping tunes including “Friend Like Me.” The soundtrack as a whole will ultimately go down as one of the best Disney soundtracks in history.
The casting of Robin Williams as the Genie marked a groundbreaking change in voice casting. Until Aladdin, voice roles in animated films traditionally went to traditional voice actors. After Williams took on the role, the animation industry would never look back. Williams doubled as The Peddler at the start of the film where he breaks the fourth wall by addressing the crowd. In tackling the Genie, Williams plays to his strengths as a stand-up comedian. It’s a markedly fun take but not without flaws. I’ll get to that here in a moment.
Scott Weinger and Linda Larkin were cast as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, respectively. What’s wrong with the casting of these two? Neither actor are of Persian descent. Yet the roles have followed them. For what it’s worth, Larkin will be heard later this year in Wreck-It Ralph 2. We have every right to be critical about casting non-Persian actors. Aladdin was made during a time in which celebrity actors weren’t really used for voice-roles. Despite all of this, Disney went with non-Persian actors anyway. It’s insulting in its own right!
With lasting songs that will never be forgotten, Aladdin rightfully earns its place in Disney history.
DIRECTORS: Ron Clements and John Musker
SCREENWRITERS: Ron Clements & John Musker and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
CAST: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried and Douglas Seale
First released by Walt Disney Pictures on November 25, 1992, Aladdin kicked off the Tuesdays with Robin Williams series at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.