Disney's 'Aladdin': 25 magical fun facts for 25th anniversary

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 25, 1992, Disney released Aladdin, an animated feature based on the Arabian Nights folktale and featuring a literally transformative voice performance by the inimitable Robin Williams. The film was a huge hit, continuing the studio’s stunning renaissance that had begun with 1989’s The Little Mermaid. To celebrate a quarter-century of Aladdin, we’ve collected 25 tidbits you never knew.

1. Aladdin owes a big debt to the classic 1940 live-action film The Thief of Bagdad, which features a powerful genie, a scheming vizier named Jaffar, an easily manipulated sultan, and a magic carpet, while Aladdin’s monkey pal takes his name from The Thief of Bagdad’s young hero, Abu.

Image: United Artists
Image: United Artists

2. The story evolved dramatically during the course of filming. As originally conceived, there would be two different genies: the Genie of the Lamp and a separate Genie of the Ring. At one point Jafar would get hold of the ring, leading to an epic clash between the two magical beings.

3. The merchant who opens the film is voiced by Robin Williams. In an initial version of the script, the character was supposed to be an earlier Genie of the Lamp who had escaped and assumed human form, which would have been revealed at the end of the film when the character was supposed to return, one of many sequences that were scrapped during production.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

4. The animators crafted the Genie around Williams’s rapid-fire improv. Co-director Ron Musker said Williams did 25 takes for the movie’s first scene, “and they were all different.” The entertainer would stick to the script for the first few takes, “then he would riff.” Musker said Williams recorded 16 hours’ worth of material, forcing the creative team to piece the character together “like a ransom note.” The clip below reveals the tough choices the directors had to make.

5. Among the famous voices Williams imitates in Aladdin: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, Robert De Niro, Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Nicholson, Peter Lorre, and Alec Guinness. Other celebrities he channeled but didn’t make the final cut: John Wayne, George H.W. Bush, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

6. Patrick Stewart was this close to playing Jafar but had to turn down the role due to scheduling conflicts with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

7. Aladdin was drawn to resemble Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise in <em>Top Gun</em>. (Photo: Paramount)
Tom Cruise in Top Gun. (Photo: Paramount)

8. Animator Eric Goldberg revealed that the team studied MC Hammer’s dance moves to capture the look of Aladdin’s baggy pants.

MC Hammer
MC Hammer

9. Legendary lyricist-librettist Howard Ashman, who had won Oscars for co-writing Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast music with collaborator Alan Menken, wrote and pitched the original treatment for Aladdin. Ashman, who was rapidly declining from AIDS-related complications, would have three final song credits in Aladdin; however, the very last song he wrote didn’t make the cut. “Humiliate the Boy,” performed by Jafar as he subjugates Aladdin, was deemed too harsh by Disney.

10. Ashman’s friend Tim Rice stepped in to finish the songs alongside Menken. One song that he penned, “Why Me?,” was to be sung by Jafar when he transforms into an all-powerful sorcerer at the end. The song was cut from the movie but later restored for the stage musical.

11. As noted, the story changed dramatically over the course of its production, as studio execs and test audiences weighed in. After one early screening failed to elicit enthusiasm, the filmmakers added the “applause” sign following Genie’s performance of “Friend Like Me,” which became a huge laugh line.

Image: Disney via Giphy
Image: Disney via Giphy

12. Per Disney tradition, Aladdin is stuffed with Easter eggy references to the studio’s other animated classics. There’s Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

13. Pinocchio makes a cameo.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

14. Speaking of Pinocchio, every time Aladdin lies while he’s in his “Prince Ali” guise, his feather falls down.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

15. Jasmine and Aladdin’s carpet ride takes them by an ancient Greek temple similar to one in 1999’s Hercules. Because Jasmine and Aladdin later meet Hercules in an episode of Disney’s Hercules: The Animated Series, there’s a popular Reddit-spawned theory that their carpet ride appears as a shooting star in Hercules.

16. Jasmine’s tiger Rajah briefly sports Mickey Mouse ears during a transformation scene.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

17. The Beast is hiding among a stack of toys.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

18. The Beast’s cameo isn’t the only link between the two films. In Beauty and the Beast, released a year earlier, Belle notes in her opening number (at the 1:55 mark below) that her favorite book features “far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise,” which the internet believes is a reference to Aladdin.

19. As the Genie prepares to explore the world at the end of the film, he’s shown wearing a Goofy hat and a Hawaiian shirt.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

That’s the exact same look sported by Robin Williams in “Back to Neverland,” a 1989 short film in which he and Walter Cronkite guided fans through “the magic of animation” that was part of an attraction for Disney-MGM Studios.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

20. Musker and Clements drew themselves into their movie in a crowd scene.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

21. In Moana, their most recent Disney animated feature, Musker and Clements included multiple nods to Aladdin. That’s the magic lamp in the crab Tamatoa’s treasure hoard.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

22. And Magic Carpet makes a cameo in the form of a tapa rug.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

23. Carpet also pops up in The Hunchback of Notre Dame — and Belle is there too.

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

24. Magic Carpet’s influence also extends into Disney’s live-action realm: the VFX team for Marvel’s Doctor Strange took cues from Carpet to animate the Sorcerer Supreme’s Cloak of Levitation.

25. Finally, inveterate Disney fan Lin Manuel-Miranda confirmed that he snuck a tiny ode to Aladdin in the lyrics to “My Shot” from his blockbuster musical, Hamilton.

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