There was a legend of a magic lamp in ancient Arabia, one which has resonated down the centuries, but now the truth can be told of how it fell into the possession of a street urchin named Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger). The Sultan (Douglas Seale) had in his court the powerful Grand Vizier (Jonathan Freeman) who was intent on getting hold of the lamp, and he thought he knew where it was - out there in the desert somewhere, not to be found by just anybody but able to be found by him. The trouble was, he needed a lowly beggar to fetch it for him...
The Little Mermaid changed a lot for Disney, as all of a sudden, or so it appeared, their animated movies were bigger business for them than seemingly at any time since the late sixties. Call it nostalgia, call it goodwill finally bearing fruit, call it a new roster of talent who were injecting new blood into the studio's formula, now everyone seemingly wanted to go and see their movies again. Beauty and the Beast was even an bigger hit, even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in an unprecedented move, but those two films hitting the cusp of the nineties had mainly been popular with the female fans of Disney, and in 1992 they needed something to appeal to the boys.
Aladdin was that film, and with a celebrity voice at the forefront of the production, the first time what sounded like an obvious idea had ever been implemented, Aladdin went on to be one of the biggest blockbusters of its year. It was simple, really: here was a Disney movie which acted like a Tex Avery cartoon, maybe not quite what Uncle Walt would have had in mind, but at last it felt you could legitimately laugh along with The House of Mouse, and Robin Williams' voice of the Genie of the Lamp was that selling point. The comedian had never been bigger news than he was back then, Mrs Doubtfire was about to send his stardom stratospheric, and his gifts for improvisation were rarely better served here.
The animators matched his stream of references and gags in cartoon form, presenting celebrity caricatures for the impressions and throwaway visuals to keep the jokes coming at a dizzying pace. Even when Williams' star began to wane and his public began to find his schtick overfamiliar and not as funny as they used to, there was always Aladdin to look back on and think, hey, he's not so bad, not bad at all, but much of that was down to directors Ron Clements and John Musker surrounding the big, splashy comedy of Williams with genuine fairy tale spirit. The plot was not exactly Aladdin, it owed more to The Thief of Bagdad though if you were going to seek inspiration there were worse places to go than a stone cold classic of fantasy cinema, so sure enough the magic rubbed off.
A lot like the lamp. Aladdin on first meeting is a rogue, he'd not stoop to murder but he has no qualms about stealing food to survive, though we see he has a conscience and helps other less fortunates out as well. It is on the streets of Agrabah that he meets cute with Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) who has escaped the palace for the day, sick of her father's insistence that she marry any available prince, and the two quickly hit it off as potential partners, though the class difference is a issue. When Jaffar enlists Aladdin to fetch the lamp, he becomes its keeper, frustrating the villain but benefitting the young man with three wishes, and us for it means that after over half an hour Williams was unleashed. What came before was fun, but now the film ramps up the entertainment to frantic heights, not least because of the songs - A Whole New World was the hit which won the Oscar, but Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's Prince Ali was the true gem. Not everyone gets a genie as a life coach, but Aladdin offered a glimpse of the dazzling amusement if you did.