‘Aladdin’: 25 Things You Didn’t Know About the 1992 Animated Classic!
By Joe Bergren
Twenty-five years ago -- November 25, 1992, to be exact -- in the city of Agrabah, a street rat, an outspoken princess and an eager-to-please genie were at the center of another groundbreaking animated musical from Walt Disney Pictures.
Telling the story of a young man who falls in love with a princess and befriends a genie as he aspires for something more in his life, Aladdin quickly became a touchstone in Disney’s canon of animated films. Following the romance-driven The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the 1992 movie boasted a bigger sense of humor -- largely thanks to Robin Williams’ performance as Genie -- and more action.
Earning universal praise, Aladdin earned $217 million at the U.S. box office and maintains a 94 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But like its predecessors, the soundtrack, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, propelled it to awards success, winning it two Academy Awards, including one for “A Whole New World.”
The film will soon join the list of Disney’s live-action retellings of its animated classics with a film directed by Guy Ritchie and Will Smith taking over as Genie.
With an enduring love ballad, a comedy legend’s one-of-a-kind performance and a lesson on the importance of staying true to yourself, Aladdin became an instant classic, continuing Disney’s successful run at the box office while ushering in a new age of animated cinema. To commemorate its milestone, ET digs back into its vaults to bring you 25 facts and tidbits you may not have known about the film:
1. Beauty and the Beast set a high bar for success.
At the time, Beauty and the Beast -- the critically acclaimed film about an enchanted kingdom and the young woman who breaks its spell -- was the first animated movie to gross over $100 million in North America, and was Disney’s most successful theatrical release. It also became the first animated movie to ever be nominated a Best Picture Oscar -- a feat not repeated until 2009 with Up -- in addition to picking up a nomination for Best Sound and taking home two awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.
“We saw Beauty and the Beast when it was completed last year at the wrap party and we just sort of just slumped down in our chairs, because we saw how good it was,” Aladdin co-director John Musker told ET at the time. “We're like, ‘Oh, no. We have to follow this one.’”
2. It took a LONG time to complete the movie’s animation.
Still largely hand drawn, the animating process was lengthy, with five feet of film equating just a few seconds of screen time. “An artist could spend a week just trying to get a few seconds of a performance … If they can do that, that’s good,” Musker said of the animation team, which included 40 principals -- more than on The Little Mermaid -- who worked on the movie for nearly a year and a half.
3. The Genie was written for Robin Williams.
“Right from the start, we saw the Genie as a very special character in this movie, and the concept of him being able to change form constantly was there right from the start,” said co-director Ron Clements. “We wrote the script for Robin Williams from the beginning.”
“One thing that I really enjoy about Robin's performance is that we could have gotten any number of people who could do very slick impressions or who could do lots of funny schtick, but underlying it all is Robin's warmth in his performance,” said Eric Goldberg, the character’s supervising animator.
4. Inspiration for Genie's design included The Thief of Baghdad and the letter “S.”
“We had genies in turbans and vests and things like that,” Goldberg said of the animation team’s initial ideas for the character. “And we eventually arrived at the kind of strongman genie that we've got in the final film. A partial influence on that is the 1940 Thief of Baghdad film, where he kind of has that build.”
He was also designed with elegant curves to reflect the calligraphy and architecture of the period, which also provided Genie with his trademark array of expressions. “His body shapes were also generally based on large, curvy 'S' shapes. We wanted him to look like a wisp of smoke,” Goldberg added.
“They act with a pencil. What they do is, I kind of give an inspiration and then they go with it,” Williams told ET at the 1996 premiere of Aladdin and the King of Thieves. “They take it to the next level and they're the ones who do the six months of tedious, tedious work.”
5. Williams does over 60 characters as Genie in the film.
“When we finally got Robin into the recording studio, we wanted him to be improvisational. We didn't quite know how improvisational he was going to be until out came all of the celebrity impressions,” said Goldberg.
Animators took Williams’ recordings and narrowed down his performance to about 60 different characters. Goldberg added, “Robin spoiled us for choice. We would go in with about three script pages and come out with about four hours of material.”
6. Not wanting to get political, some impressions were left on the cutting room floor, including one of then-President George Bush.
7. Aladdin’s look was inspired by Tom Cruise.
“At one point, when we were working on Aladdin, I was thinking of him more like a Michael J. Fox character,” revealed Glen Keane, the supervising animator for the character. As the film was developed, Jeffrey Katzenberg (then chairman of Walt Disney Studios) pointed out how well defined Jasmine’s personality had become, while Aladdin’s was lagging behind. Katzenberg suggested they base his look and persona off Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
“I got the film and I looked at him, and what I noticed was all of his poses. His attitudes. There was this confidence. The way his chest stuck out. There was a cockiness to him,” said Keane. “And Aladdin, we wanted to have a little bit of that edge on him.”
8. Aladdin was more difficult to animate than Beast.
“When you're animating a character that has a lot of inside emotion, it's always going to be more difficult,” Keane said, explaining that it’s easier to convey emotions with characters that have more extreme features. “On Beast, I had six animators on him. On Aladdin, we had between 12 and 20 animators working on him at the same time.”
9. Jasmine’s dress was almost pink, with the prospect of selling more toys.
A Disney film’s toy line has always been integral to its popularity and success, but Aladdin’s directors strived to focus on the story first. “Certainly, there is a lot of merchandising that goes on with these movies, and sometimes the merchandising people will say, ‘Jasmine should wear a pink dress, because a pink dress will sell more than a blue dress,’” Clements revealed. “But we don't try to be influenced by that.”
The directors also recalled how the hair on Ariel dolls was changed to a blonder color before The Little Mermaid premiere, out of concern that redheaded dolls wouldn’t sell well. Of course, kids wanted dolls that looked like the characters, and her hair was changed back to red once the movie opened.
10. Iago has a full set of human teeth because of Gilbert Gottfried.
“Iago is the only bird I've ever had to draw that has a full set of teeth, because his voice is Gilbert Gottfried and you can't have Gilbert for a voice without great big teeth in the mouth,” said Will Finn, the character’s animation supervisor.
11. Iago was also given Gottfried's physical characterizations.
“A lot of his body gestures are derived from Gilbert's shrugs and his looks. I tried not to just do an out-and-out caricature of Gilbert as a bird, [but] the idea is to make him look like he sounds,” said Finn.
12. Jafar’s large shoulder pads were needed accommodate Iago's movements.
“We created almost a little stage set for the character with the broad shoulder pads that Jafar has so the parrot can pace up and down,” said Andreas Deja, the character’s animation supervisor.
13. A brand-new combination of conventional and computer animation was used to bring the magic carpet to life.
“The carpet is a real interesting character in this movie. It's the first sort of combination between traditional animation and computer animation,” Clements said of the unique animation method, which had previously been used in The Rescuers Down Under and Beauty and the Beast. While its rectangle and tassels were hand-drawn, computer enhancements maintained the texture and pattern design throughout the magic carpet’s many forms and movements.
14. Linda Larkin, who voiced Jasmine, sounded too much like a princess at first.
“Originally, it was just my voice. When they hired me it was just me,” Larkin said. Katzenberg requested a slight modification and had the actress lower the register of her normal speaking voice. “It was important to him that she wasn't a fairy princess, and my voice is very airy and whimsical naturally.”
15. Scott Weinger, who voiced Aladdin, would get shirtless during his performance.
“I really got into it while I was recording. I'd have to take off my watch and my shirt, and I'd be going, ‘Genie!’ This and that. I'd get really wild,” Weinger revealed.
16. The same performer voiced Abu, Rajah, and the Cave of Wonders.
A legend in the field of voice actors (with jaw-dropping IMDb stats), Frank Welker provided the voices of Aladdin’s thieving monkey pal, Abu; Jasmine’s pet tiger, Rajah; and the feline-shaped Cave of Wonders.
For Aladdin’s faithful companion, Welker studied spider monkeys at the zoo and tried to find a way for a way for Abu to react by “speaking.” “In seeing what kind of monkey he was, I knew he kind of had to have a little voice, and at first there was no dialog whatsoever,” Welker told ET. “He didn't speak at all, but they wanted to give the impression that he had his own little language.”
Rajah’s noises, he revealed, were a combination of a lion, a tiger, a dog and a “kitty cat for the purring sounds.”
17. Several songs did not make it into the movie.
More than twice as many songs were written than were used in the final film. Famed composer Alan Menken first collaborated with songwriter Howard Ashmore, and later Broadway lyricist Tim Rice after Ashmore passed away during production. Some of the songs that Ashmore composed, including “Proud of Your Boy,” were later repurposed for Disney’s Broadway adaptation of the animated film.
18. Menken saw Aladdin and Jasmine as “Valley kids.”
For Aladdin’s songs, Menken explained it was their mission to find a middle ground between pop culture and authentic Middle Eastern music. “It's so much of the Disney style to make the characters also very recognizable, American types within that context,” he said. “So, Aladdin and Jasmine are kind of Valley kids, as well as being these Arabian characters.”
19. The singers had just met each other when they recorded "A Whole New World."
Brad Kane and Lea Salonga, who has returned to Broadway this year in Once on This Island, provided the singing voices for Aladdin and Jasmine, respectively. They met for the first time when they recorded the movie’s iconic ballad. “We're standing there singing to each other. It was weird. It was a strange situation, because when you just meet someone you know nothing about them,” Kane said.
20. The movie broke Disney records for its box office performance and VHS sales.
Grossing over $217 million domestically and over $504 worldwide, Aladdin became the most successful Disney movie until The Lion King was released two years later. When it was released on VHS, it sold over 10.6 million copies from just over 100,000 outlets in its first week, eventually selling over 25 million copies.
21. It received five Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Original Song (“A Whole New World”) and Best Original Score.
Along with nods for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, “Friend Like Me” was also nominated for Best Original Song.
22. Robin Williams won a special Golden Globe award for his performance.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave Williams a special achievement award in 1993, citing how his performance didn’t fall into any of their traditional categories. During his acceptance speech, the camera briefly cut to Smith, the future live-action Genie, cracking up at Williams’ hand puppet impression of Mother Teresa. While the speech was a typical, joke-filled affair, he ended simply by saying, “This is extraordinary.”
23. “A Whole New World” is the only Disney song to win a GRAMMY for Song of the Year.
The ballad took home one of GRAMMY’s most coveted trophies during the 1994 ceremonies. In addition, Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle won for their rendition of the song that played over the credits. The ballad also continues to be the only song from a Disney animated film to top the Billboard Hot 100 list -- a feat that even Frozen’s “Let It Go” couldn’t match, peaking at No. 5.
24. Being a Disney princess sounds as great as you would imagine.
“This will be around longer than even me. My children and my grandchildren will see these movies,” said Larkin. “It's almost like being immortalized.”
25. Weinger’s involvement with Aladdin did not end after the movie premiered.
"Wherever I was, a car would come and find me and bring me to a studio,” said Weinger on the Nerdist podcast in 2015, describing how the movie’s massive success led to Disney needing him to essential be on call as the titular character 24/7 throughout the ’90s. When Full House went to Disney World the following year, Weinger even reprised the role in the flesh.
He and Larkin returned for two more sequels and a TV series, while continuing to lend their voices to an assortment of Disney properties, such as video games, parades in Disney parks and Aladdin on Ice.