Picks and Pans Review: Aladdin
Sweetly spirited, brightly funny and forthrightly romantic, this variation on the classic myth would rank among the most enjoyable Disney animated features even without Robin Williams's contribution. But his voice characterization of the bottled-up genie liberated by Aladdin's rubbing of the magic lamp is so active and inventive it sends the film onto a higher level of entertainment.
The story follows Aladdin, an apparently teenage boy in a mythical Arab city, as he pursues the lamp and a gorgeous princess, accompanied by his rascally pet monkey, Abu, who sounds suspiciously like Donald Duck, and is opposed by the sultan's evil adviser Jafar and his pet parrot. (Jonathan Freeman does Jafar's malevolent voice; acidic comic Gilbert Gottfried is the parrot.) Like most Disney villains, Jafar does more looming and threatening than actual damage, but he may scare younger children.
There are some innocuous songs, as routine as filler tunes from a 1940s MGM musical (the composers include Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, collaborators on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber's old writing partner). Williams gets to sing the only witty song, "Friend like Me," as the genie introduces himself to Aladdin ("I'm in the mood to help you, dude").
Williams also gets the hip lines, telling "Al" to "wake up and smell the hummus" and imitating Jack Nicholson and William F. Buckley Jr.
Aladdin and Jafar end up competing not only for the magic lamp but for the princess, until the inevitable but satisfying happy end, which is accompanied by "A Whole New World," a Menken-Rice ballad sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. (G)
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