Why would anyone want to review Aladdin? The film came out years ago! Not to mention it’s marketed for children. Well the simple reason is: Aladdin is awesome (a fact we’ll soon find irrefutable). More to the point, realising why Aladdin is awesome will prove useful for any writer or artist wanting to make their work awesome. So let’s look at a couple things that make this animated kid’s film a classic.
Every scene advances the plot: Writers are creative people. However this creativity can backfire when biased minds justify scenes that, actually, have nothing to do with the story. So, for the sake of us poor self-deluded writers, we’ll be more precise and clarify: Every scene advances the plot quickly. The Sultan’s difficulty with marrying off her daughter is conveyed with three curt lines of dialogue as the insulted Prince Achmed leaves with his torn pants. We get it. Never in Aladdin is time is wasted making sure we get it, or even expressing character emotions longer than a single scene/song.
Nothing is just a token: The story can move fast because there’s actually a lot to cover. Not that the story is complex, it’s just that the handful of relationships and character desires are carefully and often reused. The film is so familiar that we forget: The power of the lamp is not revealed until half way through the plot. Before this point the lamp drove the plot simply as a token, a thing Jaffar desired (similar to how the Rabbit’s Foot drives Mission Impossible 3). Unlike many stories however, this Holy Grail becomes real and directly affects the story. The impossibilities and resolved relationships set out by earlier turns of events are now vulnerable to the genies’ three all-powerful wishes. This allows, without the addition of more characters, the Arabian tale to carry on afresh.
Opportunities siezed: Jafar is at odds with the Prince Ali but the sultan is clueless: This is an opportunity for humour. The genie can do anything: This is an opportunity for some excellent design by the animators. Jafar becomes Sultan: this is an opportunity for the Iago’s dreams (stuffing crackers down the sultans throat) to become more than characterisation.
When pure characterisation does occur, it often does so with joint purpose: The genies intro explains why we’ve been after the lamp. The rug’s slow paced intro gives a sense of depth to the epic Cave of Wonders. Every story gives opportunities to create more out of itself. Aladdin uses them well.
Moral to the story: When Aladdin finds himself a magical lamp, surely that’s the end right. He has to win. Of course it doesn’t turn out to be that simple. As the plot develops we learn even the power of a genie cannot help grant us the courage to be ourselves. So like every good kid’s story, we have a presiding moral to the story. However, Aladdin treats the moral in a very mature way. If you were to stop watching the film 15 minutes early, the film would have been a tragedy.
[Is it too late for a SPOILER ALERT? Look if you’ve never seen Aladdin then you should do so immediately. You’ll personally affiliate with Aladdin, who also never had a TV.]
You would see Jafar raining supreme, Aladdin rocketed out of Arabia, and Jasmine enslaved along with her father. All this because Aladdin was pretending to be something he wasn’t, and he broke his promise of freedom to the genie (which actually is an extension of not being himself – observe his early generosity of a piece of bread to the children –back when he had nothing). Aladdin teaches us to be ourselves the way Macbeth teaches us not to be greedy or ambitious, the way Othello teaches us to chill and not get jealous, and the way Hamlet teaches us to hurry up and kill our step-dad.
Flaws? It would be hard to pick apart such a classic. Perhaps the greatest weak point in Aladdin may be its villains. Their motivation is extremely simple: more power. And they have little redeeming qualities. To stay within Disney: Hades at least was dealt a bad hand amongst Olympus, stuck with being god of the underworld, and has a sense of humour. Claude Frollo would probably be the most humane villain. After all he brings up the hunchback, only turning completely evil after being corrupted by lust. Jafar is just a powerful bad guy whose qualities, defeated by cunning alone, exists only to make Aladdin a greater hero.
The villains are ok though, they serve their purpose as the fast moving story shuffles back and forth. It’s fortunate you’ve read this review, for you’ll have little time to analyse the film as you are flung from scene to scene and song to song. The character’s great, the plot is amazing, there’s no chaff in the story: It’s a classic and deservedly so.