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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 27, 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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There's a good chance you're going to enjoy "Aladdin" more than the children. Keep it to yourself, though. They'll never forgive you. Walt Disney's 31st animated feature carries young and old on its magic carpet. A cornucopia of visual splendor, it's also a comic riot, thanks to Robin Williams. As the voice of the Genie, he uncorks another wildly inspired performance.

Based on the centuries-old folk tale popularized in "A Thousand and One Nights," "Aladdin" is set in the mythical kingdom of Agrabah, presided over by the bumbling, benevolent Sultan (Douglas Seale). Anxious to find a son-in-law for his daughter Jasmine (Linda Larkin) and heir, the old man has invited suitors from near and afar. But Jasmine, who seems to have stepped out of the 1990s, resents this family glass ceiling.

The Sultan, it turns out, is under the hypnotic control of power-hungry vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) and his nasty-tongued parrot Iago (splenetic Gilbert Gottfried). Meanwhile, our hero Aladdin (Scott Weinger) is a street urchin who after serendipitously meeting Jasmine falls in love with her. Like the Little Mermaid before him, he dreams of marrying above his station. An opportunity to achieve this desire comes when Jafar hires him to retrieve the magic lamp from the forbidding Cave of Wonders.

With pet monkey Abu in tow, Aladdin meets a friendly magic rug and, above all, the hyper-witty genie in the lamp who grants him three wishes. Aladdin (drawn intentionally to resemble Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox!) decides to become a prince so he can win Jasmine. But when he's presented to her, he stays in arrogant disguise, scared she'll reject the beggar she once met. Meanwhile, Jafar and parrot (Gottfried at his most gravelly) are trying their dastardly best to take over the sultanate.

"Aladdin," quite simply, belongs to Williams. Once he's out of that lamp, there's no stopping him. It's clear he did his manically improvised act before the animators got to work. As Genie, he imitates countless personalities, including Jack Nicholson, Ethel Merman and -- in his piece de resistance -- William F. Buckley Jr. You never know what's going to come out next.

"I'm kinda fond of you, kid," he tells Aladdin at one point. "Not that I want to pick out curtains or anything . . . ."

"Aladdin just won the heart of the princess," he says later, pretending to be a TV announcer and peering at Aladdin through a TV-shaped square formed with his hands. "What are you going to do next?"

If the satirically knowing quips whiz miles above your children's heads, kids are still going to be entranced by the magic and adventure. The Disney team (including the third collaboration of music composer Alan Menken and late partner Howard Ashman) has produced a beautiful palette of dusky colors and stirring animation.

The Cave of Wonders, for instance, is an awesome, tiger-headed formation that opens its cavernous mouth to the pure of heart, but formidably crushes the rest. There's an unforgettably romantic rug ride for prince and princess through night skies and swirling muslin clouds. There's even a little feminist consciousness, as Jasmine refuses to be married off by scheming older men. ("How dare you!" she yells at her father. "Do you think I'm a prize to be won?") So let the kids enjoy the surface pizazz while they're still innocent enough to appreciate it. You can explain William F. Buckley to them later.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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