"Beauty and the Beast." What a tough act to follow. In fact, the animation graveyard is strewn with summer of '92 cartoon flicks that failed to live up to expectations.
But leave it to the folks at Disney to come back a year after "Beauty and the Beast" with something completely different. "Aladdin" isn't a romantic musical laced with comedy and cutesy characters. It's a flat-out comedy-adventure, an anachronistic, wacky effort that looks more like something the old Warner Bros. cartoonists (Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng) would concoct than Disney.
The story is, of course, based on the oft-filmed "Arabian Nights" tale of a young street thief who finds a magic lamp, rubs it and releases a genie who offers him three wishes. The film has its "Raiders of the Lost Ark" moments and is enjoyable as an action picture but it is the wild comedy that pushes it to a superior level of animated entertainment.
Much of this is due to the already ballyhooed voice performance of Robin Williams as the genie. Williams really cuts loose, impersonating dozens of celebrities with his one-of-a-kind comic aplomb. Not all of the comedy comes from him, however much of it comes from the artists, whom he has obviously inspired. The sight gags that accompany his verbal virtuosity are just as hilarious, right down to a couple of pokes at Disney, cameos by Pinocchio and Sebastian the crab. Still, there's no question that Williams handily steals the show.
The story has Aladdin and his pet monkey being forced by an evil wizard to obtain the magic lamp from a hidden, mystical treasure trove. When things go awry, Aladdin, the monkey and a helpful, amazingly expressive magic carpet are trapped with the lamp, and when Aladdin innocently rubs it, he releases you-know-who. From this point on, no holds are barred as Williams cuts loose with a a barrage of rapid-fire gags aimed at an uncountable number of comedy targets.
Other aspects of the film that cannot be ignored, however, are the amazing blending of computer and hand-drawn animation, which lends an unprecedented depth to the film's look, and another humorous voice interpretation, Gilbert Gottfried as a nasty parrot perched on the shoulder of the wizard. It's also nice to see the two young romantic leads here drawn with an Arabian ethnic look, another unprecedented move from the Disney folks.
"Aladdin" is a terrific film, a highly entertaining experience but it is by no means strictly for children. In fact, many of the gags will go right over their heads. How many kids know who William F. Buckley or Ed Sullivan or Carol Channing are, anyway?
Cartoon or not, "Aladdin" is simply a hilarious comedy.