The hit animated Disney movie opened 25 years ago this week
When Disney’s Aladdin debuted in theaters 25 years ago, it opened up a whole new world for Disney animation.
The film — part of what many now refer to as the Disney Renaissance alongside The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and more — shook things up with its more adult sense of humor and constant stream of jokes and pop culture references courtesy of Robin Williams’ Genie.
EW critic Chris Nashawaty described Aladdin as “candy-colored kiddie entertainment and as a more sophisticated joke delivery system for the grown-ups in the audience” in 2015. “As wonderful and beautiful and seminal as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were, it was Robin Williams’ antic, pop-culture-riffing Genie who really invented that one-for-the-kids/one-for-the-adults joke formula that has become the contemporary blueprint of just about every animated film, whether it’s created by Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, you name it, ever since,” he wrote.
In honor of the film’s 25th anniversary, here are 25 interesting bits of trivia about the film.
- Genie was originally conceived as a black character in the style of Fats Waller and Harlem stride-piano playing from the 1940s.
- The trumpet sound Robin Williams vocalizes in “Friend Like Me” was originally supposed to be instrumental until he improvised it.
- The peddler at the opening of the film (who is also the narrator) is actually the Genie in disguise – directors Ron Clements and John Musker confirmed this long-held fan theory in 2015.
- Princess Jasmine was partially based on Audrey Hepburn’s iconic civilian-for-a-day princess exploring Rome with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.
- Lyricist Howard Ashman wrote the original 40-page treatment for the film complete with songs and it was envisioned as a campy 1930s musical – a lot of his version was scrapped but has been revived in the Broadway version of the show.
- The 1940 film The Thief of Baghdad was a major source of inspiration for the movie. The name of the villain Jafar comes from that movie and there is a human sidekick named “Abu,” whose moniker became that of Aladdin’s pet monkey.
- Howard Ashman wrote “Prince Ali” from his hospital bed while suffering from symptoms of AIDS. The last song he ever wrote was a piece for Jafar called “Humiliate the Boy” that did not end up in the final film.
- One of the earlier versions of the film featured a younger Aladdin, and his relationship with his mother was central to the film, including a song called “Proud of Your Boy” which has found a second life on Broadway.
- “A Whole New World” and the idea of a romantic flying magic carpet ride came from a scene in Superman (1978) where Superman (Christopher Reeve) flies Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) through the night sky.
- Robin Williams recorded four four-hour sessions with a ton of improvisation (that’s 16 hours of material!) for the animators to study intensely while bringing the Genie to life – animators transcribed every word from these sessions and selected what they wanted to include in the film.
- The film originally ended with a reprise of “Arabian Nights.” Eventually, the song was used in the third film, direct-to-video sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
- Robin Williams was the first major movie star to voice an animated role, and he opened the door for actors like Tom Hanks, Mike Meyers, and more to take on animated characters.
- The directors of the film, Ron Clements and John Musker, have voice cameos as two men in the marketplace outside the palace. Listen here.
- The Genie’s lamp can be seen on the back of treasure-hoarding crab Tamatoa in Moana, also directed by Clements and Musker.
- To convince Williams to take the part of the Genie, animator Eric Goldberg animated some segments of the Genie to recordings of Williams’ comedy albums.
- The voice of Aladdin, Scott Weinger, is also D.J. Tanner’s high school boyfriend Steve on Full House. The TV series made a funny nod to this when D.J. imagines Aladdin is Steve while missing him on a trip to Disney World.
- Lyrics in “Arabian Nights” were changed for the film’s video release after the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee flagged them as offensive. They originally read, “Oh, I come from a land/From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam/Where they cut off your ear/If they don’t like your face/It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” They changed the questionable lyric to “where it’s flat and immense, and the heat is intense.”
- The Return of Jafar marked Disney’s first ever direct-to-video sequel and its immense financial success (in 1996 it was in the top 20 video releases of all time) prompted a slew of such titles, including a third Aladdin film.
- Howard Ashman initially passed on Beauty and the Beast because he was so passionate about making this film and wanted to have time to finish it before succumbing to his illness. He posthumously won an Oscar for Beauty and the Beast, and Tim Rice finished the Aladdin lyrics after he passed away.
- Animators reportedly based the look of Aladdin on Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future initially and then, once they decided to make him older, on Tom Cruise.
- Animator Glen Keane said he had to turn to videos of MC Hammer dancing to know how to animate the movement of Aladdin’s iconic “harem” style pants.
- Jafar’s character design, down to his staff and his bird henchman, is based on iconic Disney villain Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.
- Animators looked to caricaturist Al Hirschfeld for his inspiration in creating their line-heavy characters.
- The Genie’s final outfit of a Hawaiian shirt and a Goofy hat appear to be based on Robin William’s outfit in a 1989 Disney-MGM studios short called Back to Neverland.
- The film was originally set in Baghdad but with the start of the Gulf War, they decided to place it in a fictional location – Agrabah came out of various attempts to make an anagram from Baghdad.