Today! Because life is your restaurant/and I’m your maitre’d!
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring Robin Williams (x4), Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale, Frank Welker, Brad Kane, Lea Salonga
1992, am I right? Despite being the most represented year on this list, this is the second to last film from that great period spanning my seventh and eighth grade years. Eighteen movies, and only one is cracking the top 100! That’s crazy. That also explains why, when commenting about the greatest years in movie history, I’ve never even considered including ’92, even though it landed so many films here. I’m curious, when we revisit this whole endeavor in ten years – obviously, for the Set of 1000 – will ’92 have forty movies on that list? Fifty? Don’t worry – you’ll never get a chance to find out! I’m never doing this again.
Aladdin is the first animated movie I remember loving when it came out. Figure, the vast majority of Disney films up to this point are aimed squarely at children – at least the newer movies when I was a kid – so they are funny, but in dumb squeaky voice/pie-in-the-face type ways. I really liked Beauty and the Beast when I saw it – I thought Gaston was hilarious – but that’s more in the princess column of Disney animation than anywhere, and twelve-year-old Joe wasn’t going to admit loving that thing. But Aladdin! This is a boy animated movie, to be sure, right? Not only did we have Al and Abu driving the plot, we had a sinister dude as the villain, we had Gilbert Gottfried providing some yuks as Iago, and we had Robin Williams providing all the wild Robin-Williams-ness.
And I’d like to say, after all these years, that there is way more to this movie than the Genie – that Williams got an unfair amount of praise for this film – but I’m not going to. Look, the songs are fun – the Genie’s songs, mostly – and the finale is terrifically exciting, but the overarching criticism of this movie is also accurate. Aladdin and Jasmine are kinda vanilla characters, and the whole movie has an undercurrent of racism that’s hard not to notice. Sure, if you grew up with the movie, maybe you don’t think about it as much, because nostalgia takes hold and you just reminisce on how much you loved this when you were younger. But watch it again – there’s a lot of ugly stereotyping shit here.
So no, it’s still the Robin Williams show after all these years, and it’s still wonderful. I’ll admit, Williams shtick could be kind of exhausting – did you ever see him on Letterman or Leno or Carson? It’s insane – it’s just ten minutes of stream of consciousness lunacy that’s funny, but like, unhinged funny. His earlier movies managed to harness this into scenarios that made sense – Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, etc. – but in time logic seemed to be that you could just wind Robin up, stick him in some nonsense, and it would still be entertaining.
But Aladdin is almost certainly his comedic masterpiece. It manages to take his freewheeling voices/impressions and channel them through this wacky character morphing into different shapes and sizes. He would do other voice over performances – which makes sense, as he seems so suited for this, but the likes of Happy Feet and Robots and the direct-to-video third Aladdin movie weren’t great showcases for his abilities, even if they are okay movies. I remember thirteen-year-old me being outraged that the Academy wasn’t going to nominate him – there was (and still is) this bias against voice work – but the Globes did give him some honorary award for Aladdin, so that was nice of them. I mean, ultimately, Williams won an Oscar, two Emmys, four Grammys, and five Globes, along with countless comedy awards, so it’s not like he went unrewarded.
Aladdin was the highest grossing movie of 1992 and the top animated movie of all-time, for about 18 months, until it was surpassed by The Lion King in the summer of 1994. It was nominated for five Oscars – winning Best Song for “A Whole New World” and Best Score, while the Globes put it up for Best Comedy/Musical, and the BAFTAs threw it a nomination for Best Special Effects. I’m guessing because the magic carpet was digitally rendered? Otherwise, that seems like an odd nod for an animated film, no?
Williams is the only advancing guild member today, joining the Four-Timers after his roles in #341 Good Morning, Vietnam, #148 The Fisher King, and #365 Popeye. But I’d like to shout out the great voice actor Frank Welker, who performed Abu, Rajah, and the Cave of Wonders. In a bunch of animated films on this list Welker has some minor credit, typically in a quick animal cameo, and so I didn’t always include him in the list, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been in a ton of these movies too. Spotlight!