There was this very short-lived show circa mid-2000s called Drew Carey's Green Screen Show. The idea was that performers would improvise game-based scenes in front of, imagine this, a green screen. Then different animators would animate elements over the different scenes. I did rather like the concept overall, since there's something pleasantly pleasing about seeing cartoons playing out to actual spontaneity. And that's what I like most about Aladdin. That's not to say that scripted animated characters can't be funny, but it's no wonder that more and more often you hear - mainly if you watch or listen to the interview and commentaries on DVDs - about contemporary animated movie directors letting the voice actors heavily ad-lib their parts. Wait, did I already talk about this in the post for Rescuers Down Under? Well, if we assume John Candy pioneered the idea, Robin Williams perfected it. And yes, your enjoyment of the Genie character will largely hinge on your fondness/distaste for the Robin Williams....style. But I would defend it by saying that I really couldn't imagine the character being handled any other way. At least, not entertainingly. I'm sure glad it wasn't the typical droning, humorless genie seen in numerous other Arabian Nights adaptations. And, for my Pixar comparison of the week, Genie is like Mater, in that in the same way that I find Mater the Tow Truck more appealing than Larry the Cable Guy, I find Genie more lovable than Robin Williams doing stand-up. Mater acts and sounds like Larry TCG, but the rustic charm works better coming from an actual redneck (rustdoor?) than from a guy who used to be a redneck but is now making millions of dollars but still acts as if he still has the same lifestyle. When Robin Williams acts...like Robin Williams, he's doing it for the sake of being funny, and maybe for attention? But with Genie, you can imagine a guy who's just been BORED for hundreds of years and, once he finally gets to talk with a non-rug*, he finally gets to expand all of that pent-up energy in an overblown and ostentatiousness splashy technicolor way. He's not doing it to make Aladdin laugh - he can't expect Aladdin to get all of his magical predictions of pop cultural references of the far-but-no-later-than-early-90s future anyway! He's just doing it for his own sake, because, hey, he couldn't do all of that from inside the lamp! That's more interesting, isn't it?
What do I have to say about the rest of the movie? Yes, the songs are great fun. Howard Ashman will be sorely missed, and how many ways can I say that Alan Menken is consistently terrific at what he does?
The animation is stellar, with the some of the computer animated bits (Carpet, the entrance of the Cave of Wonders) looking better over time than others (escape from Cave of Wonders). The story....well...
Anytime a story involves the idea of wish-granting there's bound to be, oh, discrepancies. The idea of wishes itself is so vague and open-ended that it just can't be broken down to a science at all. But still. That being said. I'd like to lodge a complaint over Jafar's wishes. He first wishes to be a sorcerer, then uses his second wish to be the world's most powerful sorcerer, and that's just dumb. You couldn't use your first wish to be the world's most powerful sorcerer in the first place? For a guy who's been consumed with finding the lamp for such a long time, you would think he would've planned his wishes better! But that's not even what I want to complain about. There is a clearly-stated rule about not wishing for more wishes, right? But isn't wishing to be a sorcerer pretty much that, just worded differently? It's not made clear exactly what "a sorcerer" can and cannot do (can a sorcerer bring back the dead or make someone fall in love with you?), but given what we see Sorcerer Jafar do, he's pretty much granting his own unlimited wishes on the spot, isn't he? It would've cost him several wishes in saying, "I wish to put trap Jasmine in a huge hourglass!" and "I wish to turn the Sultan into a jester!" and so on and all of those spells that he casts, but by making the Sorcerer wish(es), he gets all of those for the price of 1 (or, 2 ultimately). Hmm. I guess it was a cleverly economical wish strategy after all.
Wishy-washy wishes aside, the characters themselves are well-rounded and focused enough that they make up for the story they're in. Not quite at the same level of cast development as Beauty and the Beast, but still better than the D52 average (so far?). As for the characters themselves...
Favorite character: Abu, partly because I am partial to monkeys, and partly because I am partial to Frank Welker. It's just so astounding that he voices the deep supergrowly Cave of Wonders AND the duckishly squeaky Abu...AND his Abu voice is distinctively different from his Curious George "monkey" voice.
Least necessary character: A main-character genie named Genie...a plot-important carpet* named Carpet...and yet the tiger, who isn't named Tiger but gets to be called Rajah, doesn't seem to do enough to warrant getting its own non-self-referential name.
Overall: Oh, what the hey - it's loads of fun. The only thing keeping me from praising it more highly is that it had such a tough act to follow.
*Correct me if I'm wrong. And I know you will. But I always thought that a carpet covers a floor completely, and always touches the walls, and a rug is what you would place in roughly the middle of a room with space between it and the walls. What I'm saying is, isn't "Carpet" a rug, at least more than he is a carpet? Granted, "Magic Rug Ride" sounds off-putting. Or is this just a cultural linguistics thing?
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