8 Things You May Not Know About Aladdin
1. Aladdin’s Origins
Creating an animated version of Aladdin was originally suggested by Howard Ashman, lyricist and co-producer of The Little Mermaid (1989), while that film was still in production. He and Mermaid composer Alan Menken began working on songs to accompany the story, while simultaneously, the co-writers of The Little Mermaid, Ron Clements and John Musker, put together their own ideas for an Aladdin treatment. Plans for the film were temporarily put on hold while Menken and Ashman worked on Beauty and the Beast (1991), but after that film was completed, it was time to revisit the idea of Aladdin. Sadly, Ashman would not live to see his ideas come to fruition, as he passed away shortly after completing the music for Beauty and the Beast. Hired to step in was renowned lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who had famously worked with Oscar- and Tony- Award-winning composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, creating some of the most renowned musicals in theatre history, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.
2. Aladdin’s Black Friday
After the story had been developed, the songs written, and the animation story-boarded, the creative team took their ideas to then-Disney chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who did not like their original concept at all. On what was dubbed “Black Friday,” Katzenberg told the staff that they would need to completely start over with their vision for the film, from the characters to the music to the look of the film. Amazingly, in only eight days the production team was not only able to rework the entire movie, but they did it so well that they got Katzenberg’s approval.
3. Redesigning Aladdin
One of the changes Katzenberg wanted was in the appearance of the title character. Aladdin was originally drawn as quite small in stature, looking like a boy rather than a young man that would be a believable love interest for Jasmine. Katzenberg suggested to the artists that he wanted “less Michael J. Fox” and “more Tom Cruise.” The challenge in the new approach was to keep him as an underdog, in spite of his more heroic appearance. The artists found their answer in creating Aladdin’s character to be outwardly confident, while hiding his insecurities underneath his layers of bravado.
4. Graceful Architecture
A beautifully-exotic setting was necessary to support the colorful characters of Agrabah. The animators based their curved building structures on the architecture of the Middle East, using lines such as those used in Arabic calligraphy, beginning with a slender stroke, thickening in the middle, then tapering back to a thin line.
5. Computer Animation
The use of computerized animation began to take more of a prominent role during this era. In creating the Cave of Wonders, the animators drew on their experiences with the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast, using the same camera and computer techniques that had been utilized for that landmark moment.
6. The First Computer Animated Character
New techniques were pushed even further with Aladdin. While, in the past, computerized animation was used for background images, this was the first time it was used for animating a character, the magic carpet. Yes, with its own movements and personality, the carpet was indeed considered a character! In fact, it was one of the most complex of the film’s characters to construct. The elements of its ornate design – lamps, tiger heads, and flames – represented Aladdin’s journey through the story. With all the carpet’s movement, it would have been exceedingly difficult, if not downright impossible, to draw all these images by hand, so the design was computer-animated and layered over a hand-drawn picture of the carpet.
A technique called “texture mapping” was utilized: the pattern was “painted” over the computer-drawn picture, so that when the object moved, the textures did as well, creating a more life-like effect. The tassels, which were used to express the carpet’s emotions (See? It really is a character!), were drawn and layered over the computer drawing as well.
7. Under the Sea
When Aladdin asks the Genie to make him a prince, the Genie checks his book of “Royal Recipes” and conjures up “chicken a la king,” “Caesar salad,” and a “king crab.” Listen carefully when the Genie holds the crab, and you’ll hear a snippet of “Under the Sea,” which of course is sung by the crooning crustacean Sebastian from The Little Mermaid! (Aladdin composers Menken and Ashman made their Disney debut writing the music of The Little Mermaid.)
8. Starting Off with a Joke
The opening scene of the merchant’s monologue was included so that when Robin Williams returned later as the Genie, his fast-paced improvisatory style would not be such a startling transition for the audience. In order to create that scene, Williams was presented with a table full of objects, covered by a sheet. The sheet was lifted, and he improvised a comic bit on each of the items on the table.