Drawn That Way
By Daniel Pellegrino
January 28, 2010
Confession: I've seen Aladdin more times than any other movie in my lifetime. Watching it is akin to watching a home video. It's familiar, comforting. The incomprehensible but loyal monkey Abu is like my brother Bryan. The sturdy and reliable carpet is like my brother Gary. And the Genie...well, the Genie is Robin Williams on a talk show. If you've ever seen Williams on any given talk show, you see him go in and out of impersonations, flailing his monster- (hairy) like arms across your television set as if he is pleading for rescue from a burning building. I know the movie inside and out. The song lyrics are sitting at the tip of my tongue waiting for an offer to "name that Disney tune." A friend and I even performed a reprise of "Riffraff, street rat..." for our high school talent show senior year. The point is, my love for Aladdin is serious. I will always own it, always put it on when I need to feel better or remember a simpler time. More than that, it's an animated fairytale that has just as much for men to enjoy as their female counterpart- the perfect date movie.
Much has been made of The Princess and the Frog finally introducing an African American princess. Some would argue that it doesn't matter what the characters look like - kids will identify with the film. I disagree. As a young kid I had dark hair, olive skin and brown eyes. I look European, often mistaken for Greek or Middle Eastern. Most Disney characters are blue-eyed, brunette or blonde, and Caucasian looking. Sure, I had Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid, but no cartoon characters. Suddenly there was a character onscreen that I saw myself in, the same way that ethnic girls could see themselves in Jasmine. On top of that, Aladdin was an adventurer, someone who found magic, love and respect. In 1992, I saw Aladdin. I was six-years-old and it was one of my very first theater experiences. I was hooked on Aladdin. And because the film offered so much, I was in love with cinema- a love affair that is still draining my wallet to this day.
Aladdin (over $217 million domestic gross) is the story of a homeless boy who lives with a monkey, steals food and dreams of a better life. There are countless men in Southern Los Angeles who live a similar life. I digress. Aladdin meets Jasmine, a princess who can only marry a prince. Evil Jafar takes advantage of Aladdin's youth, sending him into a magical cave where he retrieves a lamp that holds the wish-granting Genie. Aladdin carefully uses his wishes as Jafar tries to get a hold of the lamp. A talking parrot and music ensue.
The film follows the popular formula of fairytale set to music that had proven popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Disney Renaissance. When looking at the films that Aladdin is lumped in with, it isn't the game-changer that The Little Mermaid was and it isn't as epic in scope and story as Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, but it is pretty darn funny. This is no doubt attributed to Robin Williams as the Genie. I'm not sure how much of his role was scripted and how much was ad-libbed, but no one else can do what Williams does. His ability to vocally change from an impression of Jack Nicholson to a high school cheerleader is uncanny. It is really a shame that his performance was not nominated for an Academy Award. The only vocal talent that has even come close to an acting nomination since Williams is Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo. Comedians can do voices and they get no respect (cue the Rodney Dangerfield impression). One day the Academy will realize that a strong vocal performance can be just as challenging as an onscreen role.