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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 25, 1992


John Musker;
Ron Clements
Robin Williams;
Scott Weinger;
Linda Larkin;
Jonathan Freeman;
Frank Welker;
Douglas Seale;
Gilbert Gottfried
General audience
Score; Original Song

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Grab a handful of fringe and dig your toes into the pile: "Aladdin" is a magic carpet ride, a flight aboard a supersonic little Persian steered by all the wishes that ever were. Disney quite simply has outdone itself with this marvelous adaptation of the ancient fairy tale.

The studio's third animated feature with composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, "Aladdin" is a rollicking, bodaciously choreographed fantasy right out of Busby Berkeley. Like "Beauty and the Beast," it is a coming-of-age classic with modern characters learning eternal morals. Aladdin (the voice of "Full House's" Scott Weinger), whose adventures were translated from the Arabic in the 1700s, is really a troubled inner-city teen in this incarnation. Modeled on Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox and Hammer, this "diamond in the rough" becomes polished through contact with his abrasive tormentor, the sultan's evil vizier, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman).

Jafar, who looks like Cruella DeVille in drag, sends Aladdin and his saucy pet monkey, Abu (Frank Welker), into the spooky Cave of Wonders to fetch a fabled lamp. By chance, Aladdin rubs the lamp and releases a blue cotton candy genie who not only grants wishes but does stand-up. Robin Williams, rapturously loony as the babbling jinn, will send you to baklava heaven. His inkpot self transforms itself in willy-nilly synchronization with his pell-mell riff.

"Ten thousand years in a lamp will give you such a crick," says the Genie, forming a microphone from his smoky tail. His anachronistic shtick also includes metamorphoses into a light bulb, a drum majorette, a harem girl, Arsenio Hall, Robert De Niro (as Travis Bickle) and William F. Buckley Jr. "You ain't never had a friend like me," sings the Genie, a hip, sweet spirit who helps Aladdin realize that in matters of life and love, it's best to be yourself.

But the lesson is learned only after the boy insists that the Genie turn him into Prince Ali so that he might seek the hand of Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), the Sultan of Agrabah's strong-willed daughter.

While Jasmine is not quite so liberated as Belle, she is advanced considering that she lives in the Dark Ages. Got up in a halter top and harem pants, her long hair caught up in golden barrettes, Jasmine probably has more in common with the heroine of "I Dream of Jeannie" than with a Muslim princess of 850 A.D. And her dream isn't so different from Snow White's or Cinderella's: She is waiting for her prince to come, but he must be a man with both looks and character.

After a romantic transcontinental carpet ride, Jasmine and Ali are about to marry when her dear, befuddled father (Douglas Seale) falls under the spell of the vizier, who with the help of his crabby sidekick, an irascible cockatoo named Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), has swiped the lamp and generally made life miserable for the people of Agrabah. But all is not lost under the minarets as long as young lovers have magical allies.

Influenced by Arabic calligraphy and Persian miniatures, the film's ancient exoticism is imaginatively paired with computer technology. In one charming sequence, the lovers on their carpet startle an Egyptian sculptor about to put the finishing touches on the Sphinx. And thus, the infamous nose job. But there are a thousand and one moments just as disarming.

"Aladdin" is directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, the team responsible for "The Little Mermaid," from a sophisticated script they wrote with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. One of the funniest films of the year, it playfully salutes Mouse Town's own influence on pop culture with references to Goofy, Pinocchio and Sebastian the Crab. With "Mermaid," "Beauty" and this latest glorious achievement, it's as if Disney got hold of the lamp and made three wishes, and they all came true.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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