Ron Clements and John Musker were just up-and-coming animators when they first got the chance to direct The Little Mermaid. That decision worked out pretty great for Disney. Now, after Beauty and the Beast, which was the product of a different team, the studio was more than willing to give these two proven powerhouses the reigns to Aladdin.
For their part, Clements and Musker wanted to work on Aladdin because they felt it could be different from other Disney movies in the past. It was fast paced and more contemporary. It would pack in jokes and pop culture references, all while building on the amazing song and story style that Clements and Musker had perfected with The Little Mermaid. It was a new challenge, and they were ready for it.
We'd say they succeeded. Aladdin would go on to become the top-grossing movie of 1992. It also won an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature, a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, and a Los Angeles Critics Award for Best Animation. Bam.
Ron Clements and John Musker, by the way, would go on to direct Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana.
Hey, if it ain't broke, just keep on directing it.
Ron Clements and John Musker were fresh off the success of creating, writing, and directing The Little Mermaid. (A different team worked on Beauty and the Beast.) Now, when you manage to revolutionize the way Disney animated movies are made, you get to pick your next project. So, what would it be?
Working off an initial story by lyricist Howard Ashman, Clements and Musker put together a story reel (basically a rough cut of the film with voices and some drawings) to show to Jeffery Katzenberg, the dude in charge of all things Disney animation at the time. It was April of 1991, and the movie was supposed to be released in November of 1992. Would he love the movie? Or really, really love it?
None of the above. Katzenberg hated it.
Lots of stuff wasn't working. For starters, the character of Aladdin just wasn't compelling. Clements and Musker had imagined him as a kind of younger Michael J. Fox type of guy. It seemed like all the other characters were overwhelming him. How do you have movie called Aladdin if you don't even care about Aladdin?
So, Aladdin got hunked up. That meant losing the shirt and giving him more of a Tom-Cruise swagger. Finally, Aladdin was starting to look like the kind of guy a princess might fall in love with.
These script changes also meant ditching some of the human characters. Aladdin originally had a mom. She was gone. He also had three friends—Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Gone—though they ended up coming back for the Broadway musical version of Aladdin. And the Genie? He was originally supposed to grant unlimited wishes. Now that was down to three.
In the end, Disney brought in two more screenwriters—Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio—to kick the script up that final notch. This was good news for Elliott and Rossio, who didn't have long and illustrious résumés before working on Aladdin. They would go on to write several blockbusters, including Shrek and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Looks like the Genie made them into royalty, too. Hollywood royalty, that is.
Aladdin was made by a little production company you may have heard of before: Walt Disney Studios.
Yeah, we probably don't need to tell you too much about the history of Disney. If you want the long version, you can read about it here. We've got the tl;dr version for you here.
Basically, it all started with a mouse.
The man behind the whole empire was—surprise—Walt Disney. In 1928, he debuted a seven-minute cartoon short called Steamboat Willie, which featured a new character called Mickey Mouse. The mouse became an instant hit.
In 1937, Walt Disney would make history again when he created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated film ever made. Like Steamboat Willie, Snow White was a huge, gigantic, monster smash. Audiences wanted more, and Disney was happy to give it to them.
What followed was one part of the golden age of American animation. Walt Disney oversaw the release of classic films like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty. But when Uncle Walt died from lung cancer in 1966, the quality of Disney movies took a bit of a nosedive.
Things didn't really pick up in terms of animation until the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989. Beauty and the Beast followed in 1991, and it was the first animated film ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. Not too shabby. Then Aladdin came along and knocked everyone's socks even further off. These guys were on a roll.
Aladdin and the hit movies that would follow in the early 90s were all part of what became known as the Disney Renaissance. The idea was that Disney had returned to its roots. They were producing quality movies with world-class animation, captivating stories, and catchy songs. Once again, audiences couldn't get enough.
Today, Disney has nearly achieved its goal of total global domination. In fact, it's the second largest media conglomerate in the world. They make movies, music, books, toys, theme parks, TV shows—the list goes on. If you can enjoy it, Disney probably makes it…or licenses their characters for it.
And to think, it all started with a mouse.
As Aladdin was being developed, the world of animation was going through some changes. Computers were finally getting advanced enough to create cartoon movies that looked just as good as the stuff skilled artists could draw. Within three years of Aladdin's release, Pixar would change the game entirely with Toy Story, the first full-length animated movie done completely on computers.
It was also the first movie to make us feel bad about donating our old toys, but we digress.
Aladdin was still old school. That means the movie was mostly drawn by hand, basically through the same process that Uncle Walt had first introduced with Snow White. First, animators would draw images on paper, one by one. Then, each image would be painted onto clear pieces of transparent plastic called cels. Photograph those cels and run them through a camera really fast, and the animation would look like it was moving. Magic.
Okay, we made that sound easy, but it definitely is not. It takes hundreds of animators years to create just one movie. A single second of animation for just one character requires about 24 drawings. Eric Goldberg, the animator in charge of all the Genie's scenes, made around 10,000 drawings for "A Friend Like Me" alone. Whoa. Our hands are cramped just reading that.
You might have noticed that we did say Aladdin was mostly hand drawn. That's true. While the majority of the film was handled by traditional animators sketching their hearts out, there are quite a few sequences that were done on computers. Aladdin's escape from the Cave of Wonders has big computer-generated backgrounds. The patterns on Carpet were also put on digitally because it would have been pretty tough to redraw those in every single cel.
The tiger's head at the entrance to the Cave of Wonders was also done by computer. The animators for Aladdin believe that it's the first CGI character ever to appear in a full-length movie. Well, the first one with actual dialogue, that is. Future CGI characters salute you, Cave of Wonders.
The score for Aladdin was yet another musical triumph for Disney. Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, the tunes from the movie would go on to win Oscars, Golden Globes, and Grammys. Not bad for a cartoon, right?
But let's rewind a little to get the big picture.
When Disney decided to reboot its animation efforts with The Little Mermaid, they went in a different direction musically from previous Disney movies as well. Specifically, a Broadway direction. Older Disney movies had lots and lots of great, hummable tunes, of course, but those weren't necessarily the kind of show-stopping musical numbers that you would see on the Great White Way. It's just a different style.
That's where Alan Menken and Howard Ashman come in. Ashman wrote lyrics, Menken composed music, and they both had success in musical theater. (You might have heard of one of their shows, Little Shop of Horrors). They thought that animation was the perfect fit for these big Broadway-style musical numbers, the kind of numbers that can both drive a story forward and reveal a character's innermost hopes and dreams.
Plus, you can put in lots and lots of animated jazz hands if you go the Broadway route.
When Menken and Ashman wrote the score for The Little Mermaid, it turned about to be a smash hit. Then they did it all over again for Beauty and the Beast. That's double success.
In fact, it was Howard Ashman who pitched the idea for Aladdin to the Disney big wigs in the first place. He and Alan Menken wrote six songs and a 40-page summary of what the story could be about. And the movie got the green light. That's how much clout these guys had.
Okay, now here's the sad part.
Even though Howard Ashman loved Aladdin and wanted to focus all his energy on the movie, he had to finish the music for Beauty and the Beast first. Plus, he was sick. Very sick. He'd been diagnosed with AIDS and had been getting progressively worse. He died on March 14, 1991, before production had really got under way on Aladdin.
As the crew worked to make Aladdin, they found that some elements of the script had to change, which meant that some of the original songs Menken and Ashman had written had to be scrapped. For example, originally, Aladdin had a mom, but she got cut, which meant her song, "Proud of Your Boy", was gone, too. You might also notice that Jafar never gets a villain song like other classic Disney baddies. Menken and Ashman initially wrote "Humiliate the Boy", for him, but that got 86-ed as well.
Now, Menken-Ashman songs "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me," and "Prince Ali" did stay in the film, but three songs wouldn't be enough, so Alan Menken brought Tim Rice on board to help with fleshing out the rest. The two teamed up on "One Jump Ahead," which borrowed elements from another cut song, "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim", which had to go when Aladdin's three human friends were cut in favor of one monkey friend. They also collaborated on a little tune called "A Whole New World." You may have heard it once or twice.
Yeah, we're just gonna come out and guess that if anything has a fandom to rival the Star Wars mega-fandom, it's Disney.
What do Disney fans love about their beloved media conglomerate? Pretty much everything. The theme parks? Of course. The movies? Oh, yes. There's even a dating site called Mouse Mingle so that devoted Disney fans can find each other online. We wish them all happily ever afters.
Aladdin is a big part of what people love about Disney. You can find folks creating elaborate cosplay outfits. Turbans and M.C. Hammer pants are a must. And, of course, there's tons of fan art. We bet those Aladdin super fans would totally ace this BuzzFeed quiz, too.
There are also loads of fan theories out there about this movie. Like the one about the Peddler at the beginning of the movie actually being the Genie in disguise. (That's been confirmed by the directors. Nice work, fans.) Or the one about Aladdin being set in a post-apocalyptic future. Or the hunch that Aladdin's story was in the book that Belle read in Beauty and the Beast ("far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise"). Those last ideas didn't get as much support from the filmmakers, but, hey, two out of three ain't bad.