You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me

Aladdin (1992) was an important piece of the Disney Renaissance; for this period, Disney was stepping up the pace and made some really wonderful animated films. They were very well-marketed and truly well-made. I loved this one when it came out, and I’m still a big fan. Watching it again with my sister to do this post, we had a lot of technical cultural questions, but for the most part, artistic license, Disney-fying, and the magic of the Arabian Nights tales account for them pretty well.

As I child, I actually read the 1,001 Arabian Nights, and I have always loved the legendary frame.

Scheherazade (cited in “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me”) told the tales to the king to prolong her own life by keeping him too entertained to execute her; she refuses to finish any story before ending the night, thus keeping him in suspense until the following night. I have always delighted in her cleverness.  The stories are in the collection, and “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” is one of them.

In proper Disney form, they cast notable actors of the time to voice their characters. Aladdin is played by Scott Weinger, who many would recognized as DJ’s boyfriend Steve on Full House.

Robin Williams (click for filmography) played the famous Genie and the merchant “telling” the story in the film. Oddly enough, they did not cast him to play the Genie in the sequel Return of Jafar, but thought better of it and recast him for the third Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Many people attribute the success of these films to his participation. Truly, Genie is just better with Robin Williams.  Iago the parrot was played by Gilbert Gottfried (Problem Child).

However, some of the other voice actors became more dedicated to Aladdin. Linda Larkin is most known as Princess Jasmine, and has portrayed her on video games, TV, etc. to create a list of projects that would keep her rather busy. She has played other roles, but Jasmine is her most notable.

Jonathan Freeman (Jafar) also has voiced Jafar in numerous adaptations and has performed in a few other smaller roles in films. However, he has also branched out into Broadway (which makes sense… look at his enunciation in song) and was even nominated for a Tony.

One of the fun elements of Aladdin are the small jokes. Iago the Parrot is not the first Iago. Iago was a villainous character in Shakespeare’s Othello, who is most associated with envy and conniving, and even bringing about trouble and death to a heroic character. His winged counterpart certainly fits this description.

Romeo and Juliet, anyone?

You also have to appreciate the script’s subtleties… and not so subtleties. Genie (to properly capitalize on Robin Williams’ talent) changes into countless characters and beloved actors. We recognize Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Jack Nicholson, just to name a few.  For more hidden humor, when banishing Aladdin to some snowy exile his line is “his assets are frozen,” and that’s just kind of funny.  Aladdin has a lot of subtle humor, which was particularly popular with this line of Disney films, although the idea was hardly new for them. This tradition continued and later became very important in the Disney-Pixar films.

2 thoughts on “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me

  1. I really enjoy Aladdin, but I have to admit that Robin Williams is probably my least-favorite aspect of the film. He overpowers everything! To me, when I watch Genie, I’m not seeing the character–instead, I’m seeing Robin Williams doing his general shtick. It’s distracting in the end.

    One thing to note: the decision for Williams not to come back for The Return of Jafar was Williams’ alone, not the studio’s. He was pissed that Disney went against the terms of his contract and used his name and likeness to promote the movie. He was replaced by Dan Castellaneta (best known as Homer Simpson), who also voiced Genie in the television series and video game adaptations like the Kingdom Hearts series.

  2. I have read that it was a contract dispute that kept Williams out of “Return of Jafar”. At the time Williams’ friend Billy Crystal turned down the role of Woody in “Toy Story” out of loyalty. Of course, that eventually worked out well for Tom Hanks and for “Monsters, Inc.”

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