Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #88

88. Aladdin (1992)

Following the massive success of both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Disney used the same musical-comedy formula for their next project. The directors of Mermaid began their work on Aladdin while Beauty was in post-production. And they definitely wanted the same songwriters that had brought them Oscar-winning success on the previous two films. Tragically, there was one problem. Howard Ashman, the brilliant lyricist (and un-credited screenwriter) for both films, was dying of AIDS. He was able to write four songs with his composing partner, Alan Menken, but his illness took him before he was able to complete the project. Though Disney and Menken were grief-stricken, they needed a new lyricist and soon. Tim Rice, former Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator on Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, was a huge fan of the Menken-Ashman musicals/films and was willing to fill the void where Disney needed. He wrote two reprises of Ashman songs (Jafar's version of "Prince Ali" and Aladdin's reprise of "One Jump") before tackling the desperately needed love ballad. What resulted was the duet that became the best-selling song of the year, "A Whole New World."

The score is just one of the things to love about this film. The story is well-constructed and even has a few modern touches to make it accessible to a '90's audience (especially in the character of Princess Jasmine). The characters are each defined by their wants, desires and emotions like in a typical musical and the cast is superb. Broadway actor Jonathan Freeman is one of my personal favorites in the role of the villain, Jafar. His voice goes from posh to sinister to downright evil in a matter of minutes and is just perfect. And then, of course, there is Robin Williams. In the role of the Genie, Williams brings his unbridled humor and heartfelt pathos to the film. His vocal performance is the reason we still consider adding a Voice Performance Academy Award. Interesting note I learned from the DVD, the drawings of the Genie were heavily influnced by the drawings of New York legend Al Hirschfeld. It is among the best of the Disney animated musicals (but more on some of those later!).

Next Post: #87

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