“A whole new world” exists for those visiting Broadway, as Aladdin, the classic Disney animated film featuring the Oscar-winning music of Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and Howard Ashman, finally hits The Great White Way. It took more than 20 years, but as critics have indicated, it is well worth the wait.
But why does everyone love Genie, Jasmine, and Jafar? Let’s unleash a few potential reasons from the lamp.
Like any Disney film released during the Renaissance of the late ’80s/early ’90s, a host of common factors contributed to how Aladdin was regarded then and continues to be viewed with such esteem. From a comedic perspective, bringing in Robin Williams to voice Genie, among Disney’s most hilarious and endearing characters, was a triple threat of brilliance. He sings, he acts and he makes people laugh.
The comedian was at the height of his career upon getting one of his paramount roles. Williams had received Oscar nominations for Dead Poets Society and Good Morning, Vietnam at the end of the 1980s. 1992 brought an amorphous blue guy, making Williams’ Genie many a kid’s comic inspiration. The writing skews quick, sharp, and even a bit adult at times, but the constantly transforming aide to Aladdin consistently causes both parents and children to laugh as new jokes emerge out of Williams.
Genie pops up most everywhere in the Disney world. He is the principle character of the Musical Spectacular show held on both Disney Cruise Line and at Disney California Adventure Park. Genie’s humor, often changing to reflect pop culture trends, leads viewers to return to the theater after catching it on multiple occasions.
Sure, Genie often shines above every other face in the Aladdin franchise, but the brand boasts a variety of characters we wish we knew in person. Every little girl – who didn’t want to be Ariel or Belle – hoped to live Jasmine’s life. Every little boy, and probably almost all grown men, sought to marry someone like the self-determined and spirited princess. Aladdin himself embodies the understandable everyman who changes from sometimes-selfish street rat to giving hero. The smaller sidekicks rock, too. Abu, Iago, and even anthropomorphic Carpet add more flavor.
The most flavor, however, comes from the songs that we came to learn as we listened to the Aladdin audio cassette or VHS tape on an endless loop. Well, that is, after rewinding. “Arabian Nights” brings a rather ominous aura, whereas the fast “One Step Ahead” playfully tells about Aladdin’s thief-like tactics. “Friend Like Me” gives William a showstopping platform of comedy in less than three minutes. What tune do we know all the lyrics, too, though? Surely it is not the equally funny and fast “Prince Ali.” Instead I am focusing on Disney’s ’90s anthem “A Whole New World.”
To write about how perfect these songs are in their orchestration and wordplay does not give justice to the three men behind the music: Menken, Rice, and the late Ashman, who passed before the project finished. Menken played a collection of his pieces at D23 Expo 2013, and dedicated several minutes to Aladdin. After hearing Menken play these tunes twice in person – once earlier at the Destination D event – I have no reservations in calling Menken one of the most gifted musicians to ever write for film or Broadway. The video medley is below.
The characters and music define much of why we love Aladdin so much. But it must all be encapsulated in a compelling story that draws us to want to know what happens to these new friends. The narrative, while containing some cliches that do not venture too original, possesses enough pizzazz in its other arenas (comedy, songs, animation techniques, etc.) to make up for the occasionally lacking structure. Nevertheless, Disney’s translation of the show to alternative forms reminds us that the sometimes-shaky framework in the movie is resolved in other capacities.
Aladdin was adapted into a successful television series, a thrilling video game about Jafar’s nefarious sister, and even a handful of attractions found across the globe. Have you traveled to Tokyo DisneySea? The Arabian Coast section is all Aladdin, all the time. Aladdin‘s pop culture relevance and continued fanbase contributed to one the most commented editions of Disney In Depth upon the film’s 20th anniversary.
Now Aladdin enters Broadway, the ultimate stage where some shows last an eternity (props to you, The Lion King) or fall off a rope soon after arrival (not literally you, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark; but rather you, Tarzan). Disney has experienced more successes than flops in New York City, and let’s hope that Aladdin chooses to “bee itself” (wink to you, film fans) and offers audiences something novel and instantly winning. That will result in more sold-out shows and perhaps some Tony nominations. Let us all wish for Aladdin to be greeted by audience amazement and acclaim each time it plays at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Check out more about the Broadway musical by watching videos on the DisneyOnBroadway YouTube channel, including this clip below.
Will you be heading over to Broadway to see Aladdin? Comment away!
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.