Almost two decades since Disney's Aladdin first plunged us head-first into the sand dunes of Agrabah, it remains one of our most beloved animated movies.
And this past Saturday, a gathering of the film's makers and cast gathered at the D23 fan expo in California. Yet this year the mood was sombre, for a larger-than-life individual was missing from the proceedings - indeed, many of us still can't believe that the acting legend who brought to life the gregarious blue Genie, died just over a year ago.
Eric Goldberg, the animator on Aladdin, recalled the phenomenal artistry that Robin William brought to his character. He said:
"He transcended time and space. [...] We couldn’t have done it without Robin’s warmth.”
Indeed, the actor's involvement was a great factor in the movie's success and the over the course of the expo, his co-workers rained praises on the man who made us love the endearingly hilarious blue genie as much as we do today.
In celebration of Robin's talent and the greatly-anticipated Blu-ray release of Aladdin on October 13, here are 11 fascinating facts about the making of Disney's epic movie (plus a wonderful piece of news at the end!)
1. Aladdin was a "risky movie"
At the time, one part of the directing duo, John Musker, revealed:
“Disney had never down a story like this. The idea with Aladdin was to go in a different direction — to have a more irreverent tone. It was cut from a very different cloth than ’Beauty and the Beast.'”
And apparently, this had a lot to do with the casting of Robin Williams, for he brought such a phenomenal burst of energy to his role that it was an instant winner!
2. Tom Cruise was part of the inspiration behind Aladdin
The first draft of the main character was sort of modeled after Michael J. Fox but they thought he was not "hunky" enough. So, they upped the age-window and sex appeal, took off Aladdin's shirt, and watched Tom Cruise movies. According to the lead animator on the movie:
"There's a confidence with all of his attitudes and his poses."
With this in mind, it would have been far more believable that Jasmine would risk everything for him.
3. John Candy, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and John Goodman were all considered to voice the Genie
Thank goodness it went to Robin Williams... I couldn't imagine anyone else but him in the role!
4. Jasmine was inspired by animator Mark Henn's sister
Speaking about the creative process, Hann remembers that he was suffering from artist's block. He had already animated Ariel and Belle but could not come up with anything for Jasmine.
Only when he saw a photo of his youngest sister Beth, who styled her hair similarly to what we recognize as Jasmine's iconic up-do today, did his creative juices start flowing. And boy, aren't we glad - she's phenomenal!
5. Jafar is modeled on Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty
Similarly, he also wields a staff, has a bird henchman and transforms himself into a giant creature at the climactic end of the movie.
6. Williams improvised 16 hours of material during his recording sessions
Because he was only available for a limited number of recording sessions, Robin would rapid-fire each line in as many styles as possible. Eric Goldberg, the lead in a team of animators responsible for the Genie, spoke about the experience:
"Robin had so much freedom, and [ad-libbing] was always encouraged [...] He always gave us such a huge amount to choose from. He would do a line as written, but he would do it as 20 different characters, and John and Ron and I would take those tracks back to the studio and really put the ones in that made us laugh the most and were the ones that we thought were best suited to the lines. So even though he gave us a W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, and a Peter Lorre on 'No substitutions, exchanges, and refunds,' we said, 'OK, the Groucho one goes here.'”
And because so much of it was improvised, The Academy had to turn down the script for Best Adapted Screenplay.
7. Williams and the producers had a huge falling-out (and it wasn't over money!)
Robin agreed to voice the Genie at a union scale rate on the condition that his voice not be used for merchandising purposes. He also demanded that the Genie did not take up more than 25% of the advertising. This was because at the time, Williams said that he'd done the movie for the pride of being part of the history of animation, and also for his small children. He simply did not want his voice used for anything else.
Now, because the Genie became the most popular character, Disney violated the agreement and as a response, Williams refused to promote the movie and was replaced in the video sequel The Return of Jafar. Robin was apparently so mad that he refused an original Picasso painting that Disney's CEO Michael Eisner bought him as an apology.
Only later did he accept a public statement made by new studio head, Joe Roth, which read:
“Robin complained that we took advantage of his performance as the Genie in the film, exploiting him to promote some other businesses inside the company [...] We had a specific understanding with Robin that we wouldn't do that. (Nevertheless) we did that. We apologize for it."
8. MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" was studied in depth to help animate Aladdin's pants
9. Frank Welker provided the sounds for Abu
He also provided the chattering for the Nazi monkeys in Raiders of the Lost Ark and voices Scooby-Doo.
10. Williams voiced the street merchant at the beginning of the movie
This narrator was originally going to be revealed as the Genie in disguise later.
And the scene alone was produced in 25 takes - the director supplied Williams with a box of props to use during the sequence, many of which made it into the final cut.
11. A make-shift sign stayed in the movie
During the preview screenings, nobody clapped after the songs so an "Applause" sign was added at the end of "Friend Like Me." And seeing as it worked, from that moment onwards, it stayed in the movie.
12. A tribute to Williams is on its way!
Robin Williams tragically passed away just over a year ago, and as a tribute, Goldberg has personally sifted through all of the outtakes from the making of the movie. On October 13, prepare yourselves for a whole new world of Genie entertainment because he has animated a number of his favorites to be released with the Blu-ray version of Aladdin. Check out the trailer for the Diamond Edition below:
The hilarious outtakes will not only give us a glimpse into the genius at work behind the Genie, including never-before-seen clips of the blue spirit as a referee and as a punch-drunk fighter, but will also make us realize yet again how much Robin is missed.
Because just as the song goes, we ain't never had a friend like him...