This diamond in the rough finally has an HD release, so we feel like sharing tons of secrets. Like that Prince Ali was Aladdin all along!
The medium of Blu-ray might still offer some of the best picture quality and extras, but mega-corporations like Disney have gotten a bit slow with releasing classic films on physical media. However, like a magic wish granted by a manic blue djinn, the Aladdin: Diamond Edition has been freed from the Disney Vault to be enjoyed by fans new and old before returning to the Cave of Wonders. What’s so special about this riffraff, streetrat? It basically changed animated films as we know them.
Aladdin is a landmark film for many reasons, not the least of which are breaking box office records and continuing the new era of timeless Disney animated features begun with The Little Mermaid. The late Robin Williams stole the show as the iconic Genie, and nearly every American cartoon since Aladdin has leaned heavily on casting famous comedians to make parents and kids laugh in equal measure. But even if you’ve memorized every one-liner Genie ever said, there’s still much you don’t know about Aladdin. Cut songs, secret cameos, Robin Williams’ anger – we’ve got on it all right here. Keep these all under consideration when watching the Aladdin Blu-ray as it’ll likely make it even more fun.
The Genie was modeled after Robin Williams
Think about it: How many Disney characters actually look like their human counterparts? Aladdin was a troubled project for Disney and it’s inception at the studio dates back as far as 1988. Not only had the script undergone several massive rewrites, altering or outright omitting many characters, the studio reportedly had Martin Short or Steve Martin tapped to play the role of Genie. Once the idea of Williams came in, they charmed the pants off him with an animation test reel featuring Genie performing material from Williams’ “Reality: What a Concept!” album.
The Genie would retain Williams facial features and the script would be rewritten so as to better take advantage of Robin’s comedic talent. Not only did Robin Williams’ involvement shape the character and the final product, it changed the tone of all of Disney’s animated productions forever. Aladdin followed The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast which were both beautiful films, but somewhat templated additions to Disney’s long legacy of straight-forward fairy tale adaptations. After Aladdin, comedy came in equal measure with heart and song. Robin Williams infused Aladdin with so much humor, it spilled over into every Disney movie that came afterward.
Robin Williams got mad at Disney
Good Morning, Vietnam had pulled Robin Williams’ career out of a slump during the mid-eighties, so he felt as if he owed it to Disney to meet with them about taking the role of Genie. Having just finished work on Hook and Toys, Williams was supposedly tired, yet still willing to return a favor and excited by the idea of his kids seeing him in a Disney movie. Robin Williams waived his $8 million upfront fee and was paid SAG minimum to voice Genie, reportedly somewhere between $485 a day and $75,000 total, for about 30 hours of voice over performance work. His agent demanded a back end share of the profits but Robin wasn’t interested in that either and waived that too. Because how much could an animated movie make?!
Aladdin went on to earn half a billion dollars at the box office. And that’s not counting video sales, merchandise, video games, a spin-off TV show, and everywhere else you’ve seen the Genie since.
While it wasn’t about the money for Robin, he did have a few demands prior to release. He didn’t want Disney to use his voice too prominently in trailers or to push merchandise (consult your childhood and see how that agreement held up). Robin also asked that they not use his name to promote the film. Williams and his Good Morning, Vietnam collaborator Barry Levinson had a movie coming out (Toys, which he’d agreed to do first) within weeks of Aladdin and Williams didn’t think it was fair to have two of his movies in theaters cannibalizing his fanbase.
The Genie was a supporting character, after all. Or at least he was until the movie was basically resculpted to include more of Robin’s improv and test audiences immediately responded overwhelmingly to one giant blue character above all others. Disney continued to step on Williams’ seemingly small demands until it came to point that the company actually had to follow a hard rule. The Genie was in 25% of the movie, therefore he should only occupy 25% of the marketing. For example, the Genie couldn’t be in more than one quarter of a TV commercial or trailer. Disney initially made good on the arrangement, however, this was how they did it:
In order to stick within their 25% agreement, Disney shrunk every other character so they could still present Genie as their biggest star in the movie. The company would eventually break the 25% rule with enormous all-blue, all-Genie bus ads which further infuriated Robin, and Disney’s probably lucky Williams didn’t sue. So let’s look at it from Robin’s perspective: he earned chump change, got almost nothing that he did ask for, and the pet project he was trying to protect was an enormous bomb (Side Note: I love Toys, but that’s a weird fucking movie and it was destined to fail with or without Aladdin). You can find his distaste for Disney in a couple of written interviews, but he doesn’t go beyond thinly-veiled jokes and rarely gets into specifics. He didn’t have to. The situation was quickly becoming Hollywood legend. But if you’d like to see a great example of Williams being an all-around nice guy mixed with some good ol’ onscreen animosity, look no further than his acceptance speech from the 1993 Golden Globes. The ceremony basically manufactures a special award just for him and his role of Genie, and then he spends three whole minutes on stage avoiding any mention of Genie, Disney or Aladdin.
Williams’ issues with Disney even affected the Aladdin video games
Aladdin came out in 1992, when the 16-bit console wars were at their peak. The Genesis and Super NES versions (which came out in 1993) are very different and there’s a never ending argument over which is best – I’ll just say that swinging a sword is much cooler than tossing apples, and leave it at that. Regardless, Robin Williams’ issues with Disney’s Genie promotion even extended to the games. Genie is all over the gameplay, but legal issues impacted the box art across many different versions of the game.
Before masterminding Resident Evil, game design legend Shinji Mikami worked on Aladdin for Super NES, and Mikami recently revealed that after the US release, Genie had to be scrubbed from the international box art. Just as Williams didn’t want Genie prominently on the movie posters, having him on the box art also became a no-no, so the blue guy was gone from boxes in Japan and Europe. As you can see above, that “No Genies Allowed” rule extended to the NES, Game Boy, and PC versions as well.
Genie’s outfit At the end is a direct reference to Robin’s early Disney work
Robin Williams’ passing is one of the saddest celebrity deaths in recent memory (sorry to bum you out again), but it came with a small consolation. It gave people everywhere a chance to rediscover some less-seen work of his lengthy career. That included a promotional video where Robin teamed up with Walter Cronkite of all people to discuss Disney’s animation process. While rarely seen outside of theme parks, it had very direct reference during Genie’s final appearance in Aladdin.
As we’ve explained before, Back To Neverland is a short film shown at Disney’s MGM/Hollywood Studios theme park that explains how cartoons are made, though there’s little mention of shipping a majority of animation to Korea. At the start of the 10 minute featurette, Cronkite meets Robin dressed as the stereotypical Disney park attendee, wearing a Goofy hat and Hawaiian shirt. Back To Neverland’s director Jerry Rees details the filming on his blog, and even suggests that Robin’s great work led to his casting in Aladdin. Rees goes on to say that Robin’s costume appears on Genie as a hat tip from the directors of Aladdin, recognizing when they first realized Williams and animation are an unbeatable combination.