Thursday, February 11, 2010

#31: Aladdin (1992)

Not losing any steam, the Disney Renaissance just keeps on going with "Aladdin," again a musical, but takes more of a wacky, comedic angle in its style. Set in the ambiguously Middle Eastern Agrabah, a street urchin Aladdin goes through each day dreaming of a higher level of life. Meanwhile, there is unrest in the kingdom: Princess Jasmine will not pick a willing suitor, valuing true love instead, meanwhile the sultan's adviser Jafar is conspiring to take control of the whole palace, but needs the help of a magic lamp, hidden away in an underground cavern in the desert. Learning the man for the job is in fact Aladdin, Jafar sends him in to get the lamp, but it falls from his grasp into Aladdin's. Turns out the lamp contains an all-powerful wise-cracking Genie, who gives Aladdin three wishes. I tire of writing this synopsis, so I'll stop here. You guys know the movie, right? Good.
Now the movie isn't as strong musically as "Beast;" while most of the songs hit their intended mark, they're not quite as memorable. I know people like "Friend Like Me," and they LOVE "A Whole New World," but I wasn't as taken by them. They were good, but I think having just watched "Beast" tainted them a bit. As for the film itself, its story is solid enough; the pauper fulfilling his wishes to be a prince concept is not bad, but again, more cookie-cutter leads. What is it with Disney and bland main characters? Aladdin seems debonair and at times cocky, but he's pretty much a stock character. Not only that, he seems inconsistent. Like he saves the disguised princess in the marketplace at the beginning of the film, and they spend some time together, and it's very clear that they like each other. Then later he finds out it was actually the Princess as she saves HIS life from the guards. Then MUCH later when the Genie gives him his prince facade, he says he thinks if he reveals himself to be a pauper, Jasmine won't have him. But not only did she already obviously like him, she saved him from being killed! It just seemed that he needed to feel that way to fulfill the obligatory moral. That's another thing at issue here: "Beast"s moral of inner beauty was handled with some subtly, but here the message of "be yourself" is pretty much blatantly said and repeated multiple times. There's a lot of expository talk going on in the film, especially at the end, that would have been a lot more powerful if it were cut and just played out with the visuals. For instance, the Genie wishes to be set free, and Aladdin promises him that. So at the end, the Genie tells Aladdin that he CAN marry the princess if he uses his last wish to be a prince, legally allowing him to do so. Now wouldn't it been great if Aladdin had hesitated and thought, and wished Genie free? Instead, we get a good minute of talking about his promise, true love, being someone you're not, etc... TOO MUCH DIALOGUE.
I actually didn't know this, but up until "Beast," Disney was still using storyboards rather than a script for their stories, but not that it's all written, it's almost like they feel the need to write more dialogue when it's not needed. The visuals can tell a lot more than the dialogue if done properly. That being said, the character animation is similar to before, serviceable enough, but nothing as spectacular as we've seen in the past. As such, characters like Aladdin and Jasmine who are pretty bland stay bland. The villain Jafar has a sinister look and design, but is also pretty much stoic. The stubby incompetent Sultan is in the same boat too. We get some better stuff with the sidekicks, particularly the great animation of the magic carpet, who does not speak, but has its emotions told through actions, which is even more incredibly since he's just a square shape. Aladdin's monkey Abu is amusing at times, but nothing too special, as is Jafar's shrill squawking parrot Iago, who's taken to new levels of greatness thanks to the brilliant and hilarious voice of Gilbert Gottfried. Lastly is the Genie of course, played by Robin Williams. People love the Genie, and a lot of people love "Aladdin" solely on him. Well let me tell you, I don't. I do like the idea behind the character, that a genie would just be bursting with life and energy being stuck in a lamp for thousands of years, and even making him an explosion of comedy is fine, but he just irritated me so, but then again, so does Robin Williams' comedy. He just steals and detracts from every scene he's in, which is sort of the point, but with him involved, it becomes like another movie. Plus I really didn't care for all his schtick and impressions. Like, honestly, what are impersonations of Rodney Dangerfield and Jack Nicholson doing in a movie about "Aladdin"? It all just didn't fit, and felt superfluous. And the worst part about it is, however unintentional it may have been, Robin Williams being the big draw of the movie is basically what got the ball rolling for animation studios to typecast movie stars in their animated films, which is still rampant today. Mike Myers is rolling in "Shrek" money thanks to Robin Williams, and I don't like that image.
So the character animation is nothing special... what about the rest of is visually? Well I can tell you this, I think Disney spent the cost of a small island on red and blue paint alone. EVERYTHING in this movie is either red or blue, and which do you think represents good and which evil? Hmmm... well, Aladdin's street pad, desert scenes and anything involving the Genie is blue, while the Agrabah marketplace and everything involving Jafar is red. A lot of the time it's even the same shades of red and blue, reused again and again, you've got your lighter blues for the Genie, and your deeper darker reds for the backgrounds, but it all seems like colors you'd pull from a crayon box, even worse than the garish fish in "Mermaid." The whole movie is just one big wash of two colors; the "Whole New World" sequence is almost entirely blue with its blue sky, blue clouds and blue surroundings, and the end climax with Jafar is basically entirely red. It's all very bright and assaulting, and kind of annoyed me. Think back to the wonderful color palettes used in Pinocchio, Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp, taking colors from nature and striking for visual appeal, and now look at "Aladdin," it's night and day, which in this movie are blue and red, respectively.
Verdict? I'm running out of energy here... Despite my incredibly long gripes... man, this has got to be my largest rant... I mean, review, I didn't hate "Aladdin," in fact I like it better than "Mermaid." This film has an energy, and somewhat of a focus, and at times is amusing, but most of those times are before the Genie shows up and steals the movie. I know I'm probably in the minority, but I feel he distracted from the movie big time, and wasn't very amusing. Throw in your typical stock leads and an absolutely assaulting two-color scheme, and you've got a film that didn't too much appeal to me. Sorry Aladdin, you promised wacky comedy, but all I got was eyestrain. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stare at some lavender for a while.

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