October 10, 2010

Disney Canon #31: Aladdin (1992)


BETH Where to start?

BROOM You should start, because your reaction is the freshest.

BETH It seemed very of its time. They had no shame about making very timely cultural references.

ADAM You groaned at Jack Nicholson; that was what killed it for you.

BETH But right before that he was doing somebody else.

BROOM I’ll bet Arsenio Hall is what got you. When he went “woop woop woop.”

ADAM I didn’t even get that.

BETH There was a Schwarzenegger reference, too. There were so many. And they were also very self-referential — Disney-referential — all over the place. I felt like they were trying to stick in as many references as they could. They had the crab from The Little Mermaid briefly. And he was wearing the Goofy hat at the end. There are so many that I can’t even remember specific examples.

ADAM Well, did you enjoy that, or did you resent it?

BROOM How relevant is this all to what you thought of the movie?

BETH The movie was not boring, and kept me interested the entire time. And I thought those jokes were amusing, but in a long-term way, unsuccessful. Although, well…it reminded me of Looney Tunes, how they would always reference things of the era, and now it seems charming. So maybe in twenty years… But it has been twenty years, right?

BROOM Fifteen or so.

ADAM Eighteen.

BETH So I guess it’s charming. But I know those references; kids of the 2040s aren’t going to get any of those weird jokes.

BROOM There are still some that I don’t know. Who is he doing when he says that there are a few quid pro quos? [ed.: William F. Buckley]

BETH When he was being the Macy’s parade float commentators, who were they supposed to be?

BROOM I don’t know if they were specific people.

ADAM When he says “aren’t they lovely, June?”

BETH And “Harry.” [ed.: apparently nobody in particular]

ADAM Some of them were already gone, you’re right. But those jokes in Looney Tunes were actually much of what I enjoyed as a kid. The old vaudeville stuff that I didn’t get. I enjoyed the sense that there was a joke that I didn’t get, and some day I’d get it.

BROOM When someone would look like Mae West for a second?

ADAM You mean, like, Bugs Bunny? Yes, right. I’d strain to get jokes that were over my head, which made me feel included in something really funny.

BETH So maybe it works. Maybe it was fine.

BROOM Well, you watched it now; what did you think?

BETH I thought I was going to be annoyed by Robin Williams, but he was at his Robin-Williamsy best.

ADAM It’s kind of an understated Robin Williams. For Robin Williams.

BETH He was doing the full thing that he does, but not in an over-the-top way.

BROOM Because the directors chose where to use it. Carefully.

ADAM There’s not that much shtick — there’s probably only seven solid minutes of shtick.

BROOM But they’re so fast-paced.

BETH Very. The songs were shitty.

ADAM And yet so magical.

BETH The first song was, I thought, so bad.

BROOM “One Jump Ahead of the bad guys,” or whatever that’s called?


ADAM “Street rat!”

BROOM “Still I think he’s rather tasty!”

BETH He can’t sing!

BROOM He sounds real gay.

BETH But also just nasally and annoying.

BROOM “Gotta eat to live, gotta live to eat! Otherwise we’d get alooong!”


ADAM All right, but “A Whole New World,” I can attest, is a song all my friends know.

BETH I didn’t realize that it was that until the refrain. Then I was like, “Oh, this is the movie where ‘A Whole New World’ comes from!” Even though you had been singing it.

ADAM There’s at least one other song that I think is pretty good. I think “Prince Ali” is a pretty funny song.

BROOM No. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

BETH I don’t even remember it.

ADAM “Prince Ali, mighty is he, Ali Ababwa.”

BROOM I don’t mind “Friend Like Me” and I don’t mind “Whole New World.” The other two are nothin’.

ADAM I like the “Arabian Nights” song at the beginning.

BETH My favorite part was the most Dumbo-y part.

BROOM “Friend Like Me.”

BETH Yeah. That was cool.

ADAM The parade in Prince Ali is funny.

BROOM So as a whole… you said it was interesting the whole time…

BETH It kept my attention. I was getting very tired, but it had nothing to do with the movie, and I didn’t fall asleep.

ADAM I think the Robin Williams sort of cuts the Broadway schmaltz. They have both themes, and they’re both oppressive in and of themselves, but together they’re sort of…

BETH Bearable.

BROOM Well, I thought the whole attitude — not just the Robin Williams but the whole thing — was of very shticky business.

ADAM I mean, Gilbert Gottfried is your parrot?

BETH I thought he was writing his own lines. He was just being Gilbert Gottfried.

ADAM So was Robin Williams. Right.

BROOM But I felt like the use of shtick was all in the same spirit as the Robin Williams. I didn’t think it was like Broadway. Well, I guess it was like “Spamalot.” But I didn’t think there was a treacly Broadway quality. I feel like there’s hardly any emotion in it whatsoever. How did you feel about the story?

ADAM Did you like either of them? Did you root for their love interest?

BETH I didn’t care about the characters.

ADAM He’s so handsome.

BROOM I think the character design is fine, but his eyes and nose wobble around inconsistently.

ADAM No, the way his eyes bulge out — he’s so handsome.

BETH Her eyes drove me nuts. I thought her eyes were the biggest ever that any Disney character has ever had. They were like anime eyes. There was white all the way around her pupils.

ADAM Yes! Right! Because her eyes were so bulgy! His were the same way. I find that extremely endearing.

BROOM I felt like their character animation, their acting, was lacking — they were just shtick figures.

ADAM Here’s a serious question: do you think the Orpheus-slash-Lot’s wife plot device of “don’t touch don’t touch don’t touch — oh, you touched it!” is effective? Ever? Is it ever effective? Because every time it happens in a movie, my heart stops. Did you see … it’s set in Spain during the civil war, and she’s a little girl…

BROOM Pan’s Labyrinth; I didn’t see it.

ADAM There’s the same thing.

BETH But it works on you.

ADAM It always works on me.

BROOM It works as a bit, it works fine. When someone pulls a book out of a bookcase and it spins around, that works for me too. I don’t care. But the actual story of this movie… So Aladdin was “the diamond in the rough” — he was the only person in the world who could enter that cave? Why? Because of what?

BETH Yeah. They cut out the part that explains why.

ADAM Because he’s a good guy!

BROOM It was his destiny.

BETH Because he’s clever.

ADAM Does this actually bother you?

BROOM Does it bother you that the guy who started telling us the story never reappears? That bothered me even when I was a kid.


BETH I didn’t even notice that.

ADAM It’s Robin Williams again, so it doesn’t matter! But no, it never bothered me that, like — why is Frodo the one? It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

BROOM I mean, I understand. The plot is just to keep each scene going; it’s just there to get this show on the road.

ADAM I think her dad was effectively a buffoon.

BETH I liked the dad.

ADAM He had more than one personality trait, and he was funny.

BETH That actor — who is that guy? He plays the bumbly old man in other things.

BROOM Oh, really? I don’t know who it is. [ed. Douglas Seale (?)]

ADAM Although Jafar is offensively gay, even moreso than Ursula…

BROOM But then at the end he’s supposed to be lusting for Jasmine; he has no other motivation than that he actually has the hots for her.

ADAM I understand that.

BETH It doesn’t matter. He’s super-gay.

ADAM It doesn’t matter; he’s the gayest… well, until Uncle Scar.

BROOM That’s right. This was like, “if only we could have had Jeremy Irons!” Then they get him. But he’s good — I like watching Jafar. He certainly has the most interesting designs. He and the genie have cool features.

BETH Is Robin Williams gay?

BROOM I don’t believe so. I believe he’s been married for a long time. [ed.: was until divorce in 2008]

ADAM I think that’s cocaine that you’re thinking of.

BROOM I think that’s chest hair that you’re thinking of.

BETH I mean, he slips into that persona sometimes.

ADAM I saw Mrs. Doubtfire!

BROOM I saw Bicentennial Man! Anyway, at the end — just to finish my plot questions — when he’s like, “you’re free! you’re free!” And then he’s sad because now he can’t marry her, because of that law, and the stupid deus ex machina turns out to be that the sultan could have changed the law at any time. But aren’t you also at that moment thinking, “well, now that the genie is free, he can do favors, right?” He can do whatever he wants for anyone he wants!

BETH I was thinking maybe he’d say, “you get twenty-hundred wishes now.”

ADAM But the genie doesn’t operate by normal human rules.

BROOM He’s not bound by any rules at the end.

BETH I thought maybe he wouldn’t be a genie after he was freed.

ADAM You thought he was going to turn into, like, The Beast.

BETH I thought he would just be a blue man.

BROOM It’s true. He shouldn’t really have those powers. They’re dangerous powers to have.

ADAM And certainly if Jafar is ever set free…

BROOM Ten thousand years in the future — but that could be soon, now!

ADAM Right.

BROOM And also: you’re not allowed to wish for more wishes, but you’re allowed to wish to be a sorcerer capable of doing anything that you want?

BETH Right, that’s not fair. And also, why can’t you wish for more wishes?

ADAM The sorcerer can’t do everything.

BROOM I know they say that, but what could the sorcerer not do that the genie could do?

ADAM Make her fall in love with him?

BROOM The genie couldn’t do that.

ADAM The genie could probably do that, he just won’t do that.

BETH When he was a sorcerer he couldn’t do that.

ADAM The sorcerer can just do conjuring, and sending people places, but he couldn’t transform things.

BROOM He turned himself into a giant snake!

ADAM Yeah, that’s conjuring.

BROOM He encased her in a giant hourglass. All right: I like about this movie that it is visually stylish in a way that hearkens back to the old ones and is also totally garish in a new, 90s way, and is just exuberant about its garishness.

ADAM I love the gardens of the palace.

BETH I do too! That was one of my favorite set pieces.

BROOM I thought this movie had the best backgrounds in years.

BETH It did have really good backgrounds.

ADAM And I like when they’re sitting on the roof of the Forbidden Palace. And I like… … different things.

BETH It seemed kind of stupid, but I enjoyed it.

BROOM It was right on the line for me. Because when I first saw it, I loved it, and now part of me was thinking, “this is so cheesy.”

BETH You know what’s good about it? It’s not preachy, like most of the Disney movies have been.

BROOM It’s just like pixy stix.

ADAM Well, there is a moral, but the moral is, like, “free yourself!”

BETH Yeah, it’s like “be yourself! and free yourself!” but…

BROOM The moral is the least important thing in the script. They don’t care.

ADAM But it is a perfect message for the 90s. It’s this vapid sort of “do whatever you want!” There’s no actual content to it. I suppose he has a sense of duty in that he frees the genie, but afterward he gets everything he wants, basically.

BROOM It is vapid, and that is what was troubling to me about it now. It was flashy in a really obnoxious way, to sell vapidity. I was thinking about that thing that John Kricfalusi said about ‘tude — this is the movie he shows, because every expression Aladdin makes is like [face-scrunch with smirk].

ADAM That’s why he’s so cute!

BETH So he’s your favorite?

ADAM Tarzan is my favorite. But he’s pretty cute. He has those big neotenous eyes that make you just wanna hug him.

BETH But he’s not manly at all. He’s like a boy. He looks like your brother, kind of.

ADAM Oh no!

BROOM Way to poison the well!

ADAM You don’t think [my boyfriend] looks anything like that? With the wide eyes and the mischievous expression?

BETH I see sort of a puppy dog thing going on with both people, but no.

ADAM I mean, he doesn’t have a thieving monkey, but…

BROOM Or does he? It’s funny you say Aladdin is like a boy, because I was going to say, this movie had less of an element of “what am I going to be when I grow up” than almost any other before it.

BETH Okay, but he’s like a seventeen-year-old.

ADAM It has a strong element of that — he wants to be rich. He wants to be consequential.

BETH He wants to be comfortable.

BROOM He wants not to be running from the law all the time, but that’s just wanting to change his life, it’s not wanting to grow up into something new.

BETH There was no mention of growing up.

ADAM Did Belle really want to grow up?

BROOM Yeah, she wanted to leave that town.

ADAM She wanted to go to cool parties. She wanted to go to NYU.

BROOM Yes, exactly, which I think is a metaphor we brought up before. She wanted to go away into her future.

BETH Aladdin wanted to go away to the palace.

ADAM Just because it meant he’d be rich.

BROOM Jasmine’s situation is more the traditional situation.

ADAM And she does leave, she climbs over the wall. I like that she slips back into “but I’m the princess!” as soon as it’s convenient. She actually does mature a little bit over the course of the movie, and so does he. Convincingly so. I believe their character arcs.

BROOM Yeah, it works. Their minor character arcs. But just like we were saying about Home Alone a minute ago — they are very rich. They have everything they want. And all the diversions of the movie take place within the narrow realm of utter luxury.

ADAM He doesn’t, necessarily.

BROOM Yes. He is very poor. She is very rich. Okay, wait, another plot point: his first wish is to be a prince. Then later it turns out he might need another wish to be a real prince. He needs to wish to actually be a prince.

BETH I don’t understand that one.

BROOM If his first wish were to look like a prince, then that would be different.

ADAM I think he got turned into a prince but then the sorcerer turned him back into a street rat, so then he needs to toggle back into “prince.”


BETH Why, once he got hold of the lamp, didn’t it go back?

ADAM Like it should reset?

BETH Yeah, it should reset.

ADAM But then you could just hand it back and forth between you and your friend, forever.

BROOM It’s per person.

BETH Yeah, and why couldn’t he just give it to, like, her?

BROOM Because he promised he would let the genie free. He promised to be the last person to get the benefit of the lamp. Okay, now the greater cultural thing. So we said that the vapidity suited the 90s… Don’t you feel a little bit like you’re looking at….

ADAM The story of Bill and Hillary Clinton?

BETH The economic climate of the day?

BROOM The cultural climate of now. When I first saw it, I remember thinking that “Friend Like Me” was painfully fast. I didn’t understand what half the things I was seeing were.

BETH But now, didn’t you feel like you got them all?

BROOM I’ve seen it enough times. But you, for the first time, you understood everything he was saying and every visual that went with it?

BETH Yeah. But that’s part of being my age. If I were eleven or whatever, I wouldn’t have gotten it all.

BROOM I just felt like it was overloaded and in-your-face in a way that was a little bit beyond reasonable. Even at the beginning, when the shopkeeper is talking, it was already very fast; every half-line has its own visual shtick.

ADAM You just hadn’t seen enough rap music at that point.

BROOM It felt like…

BETH An onslaught.

BROOM Like an overstuffed way of thinking about movie time. At the expense of content.

BETH It’s vaudevillian.

BROOM Well, they think it’s vaudevillian, but it’s such a rat-a-tat machine gun kind of vaudeville. And then Hercules is that, times a few. It’s the same thing cranked even further up.

ADAM Really, this is like Shrek.

BROOM I know a lot of people hate Shrek, but I actually thought it had a sense of pacing.

ADAM I like Shrek, and I like this.

BROOM I enjoyed this, but I feel like this is like enjoying something somewhat distasteful. I feel like if you had showed this to the 1945 audience, or whenever, they would have thought, “that was offensive! and abrasive!”

BETH I think you’re right. It is abrasive.

ADAM But you probably think Christina Aguilera is abrasive. Actually I should really say: you probably think Katy Perry is abrasive.

[digression on this subject ensues]

ADAM I mean, it’s candy-colored and, you know…

BROOM And Jasmine’s waist is tiny, and there’s absolutely no reason to do that other than reflexive sexualizing of everything.

ADAM She’s pretty, and he’s super-hot. And it’s hot to imagine them together. It’s like it’s hot to imagine Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake making out. It’s hot.

BROOM Doesn’t it make you feel that something is distasteful when the culture asks, “what should we show our eight-year-olds? How about Bratz?” Maybe not! So maybe not this either.

BETH I don’t think it was necessary for her proportions to be that extreme. She was also wearing a bikini and had gigantic breasts. Not gigantic, but.

BROOM Not by cartoon standards.

BETH By my standards, those were very large breasts.

BROOM They were just modest 34Ds. Standard cartoon size.

BETH And then her off-the-shoulder whatever.

BROOM That’s how things are in ye olden times. I like that she’s wearing basically a nakedness suit the whole time, and then at the end when he’s slutted up the place, she’s wearing a red suit that is exactly as revealing. Which means “oh, he dirtied her innocence.”

BETH I think somehow the high ponytail equals “slut.”

BROOM She was lugging around a lot of hair.

ADAM I liked that at the end, Aladdin does not get to have a prince hat, but he has a stripey hat that’s sort of rich-colored in its own way. I don’t know where he got it.

BROOM How, when Jafar disguises himself as an old man…

BETH … does he do the teeth??

BROOM Yes! Impossible!!

ADAM It doesn’t matter! He’s a vizier!

BROOM I know, he has all kinds of powers even before he has powers. Bits that I thought were cool, then, and I still like: when he stands inside the window, like a Buster Keaton thing, when the tower is rolling over him.

ADAM I love that. And I love the design of the cave mouth.

BROOM Good use of CGI! You said “oh, CGI-tastic,” but I thought it was well-used throughout. Like, the magic carpet is a good use of CGI.

BETH I really liked the magic carpet a lot. I thought that was well done.

ADAM Albeit, animated exactly like the rug in Beauty and the Beast.

BROOM What rug?

ADAM The rug that turns into the dog.

BROOM That’s a footstool.

ADAM Oh, it is a footstool, but it has similar tassels.

BROOM But they did more interesting things here. Like when he walked away dejected, folded over. I thought all the CGI had aged well because it had been used with taste, with an eye for its otherworldliness. The lion head, and the tower, all that stuff was smart. But yes, the movie is just bit after bit after bit. The Star Wars part when he flies out of the collapsing cave? Okay, sure, we’ll take some of that for two seconds. Now what?

BETH I felt like the people who made this were challenging themselves to do that, to see how much they could pile on. It didn’t have the soul of The Little Mermaid or even Beauty and the Beast. Which is fine.

ADAM Fine guys, go watch The Sorrow and the Pity.

BETH What year is this? 93? Totally Clinton. It feels like it’s of that time.

BROOM Say more about what the characteristic of that time is.

ADAM Vapid. Ahistorical.

BETH Yes, ahistorical.

BROOM That’s my favorite way for things to be!

ADAM Well, it turns out it’s a lot nicer.

BROOM “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

BETH This is the movie that is made during a time of general well-being.

BROOM Yeah, not like Home on the Range.

BETH We’ll see.

[the New York Times review is read as always]



  1. 1.) I feel somehow honored that you watched this on my birthday. Not sure why.

    2.) No talk of the rumor/myth/possible truth that when the genie is the bee, he whispers something like “take off your clothes, children” or something? Also, don’t the clouds spell out “sex”? Or is that a different one?

    3.) I agree with Adam, that Aladdin is totally hot.

    4.) I haven’t watched this movie recently, but from what I can remember, the only time it seems inappropriately Robin-Williams-Standup-y is when he says something (near the beginning) like
    “It’s like, hey laddie…. [whistle]”
    Cause it’s very standup routine-y to just digress about something like that. Anyway, that’s what I remember about that.

    5.) I’m really looking forward to “The Emperor’s New Groove”…. a movie I own and very much enjoy….

    Posted by Em on |

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