Aladdin is finally old enough to rent a car without paying additional taxes and fees!
That’s right, on November 25, 1992, Disney’s animated classic Aladdin first hit theaters, making it 25 years old this year and making the rest of us feel the icy finger of death on our shoulders. A quarter century after introducing us to a whole new world, Aladdin is on the fast-track to becoming a live-action musical movie directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring Will Smith as the Genie. (That’s not a bit; it’s real life.) However, like many of you, I prefer to take a walk down memory lane and relive my childhood, so on today’s episode of The Dan Cave, we’re running down 9 things you don’t know about Aladdin.
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Aladdin was originally modeled after Michael J. Fox
That’s right—Teen Wolf teen heartthrob Michael J. Fox was the original character model inspiration for Aladdin. However, the early designs proved to be a little too boyish for what the filmmakers wanted. To give Aladdin the sex appeal that they were after, they decided to make the would-be prince go shirtless and modeled him after another ’80s icon: Tom Cruise. If you’re having trouble picturing it, just imagine Aladdin playing beach volleyball or jumping on a couch and freaking out Agrabah’s number one talk show host.
The role of Genie was written specifically for Robin Williams
Okay, you probably already knew that. But did you know that in order to get Robin Williams to accept the role of Genie, the film’s directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, had their animators mock up test animations synced to Williams’ stand-up routines? According to animator Ed Goldberg, what sold Williams was seeing his routine about schizophrenia brought to life in the form of the Genie growing a second head to argue with himself. The results, thankfully, spoke for themselves… no second head required.
Robin Williams improvised 16 additional hours of dialogue
Robin Williams improvised a lot while making Aladdin. A lot. Like a looooot. Because the filmmakers wanted Williams’ manic energy and natural hilarity in order to bring the Genie to life, they let the actor go hog wild in the studio. A gifted mimic and impressionist, Williams would perform certain lines multiple times, flitting between doing them as celebrities like Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, and W.C. Fields in rapid succession. At the end of filming, Williams had recorded 16 hours of improvised material on top of his normal dialogue. As for the urban legend that Williams’ epic improv cost Aladdin its chance at being nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar? Well, that’s just wishful thinking.
Williams improvised IRL as The Peddler using a secret box
In addition to playing the Genie, Williams pulled double duty as the merchant narrator at the beginning of the movie, pushing his wares on the viewing audience. Behind the scenes, Jeffrey Katzenberg had the idea to fill a box with unexpected objects, cover it with a cloth, then record Williams describing the items in character as he pulled them out of the box. And that’s exactly what wound up on the big screen! When he pulled a bra out of the box—a product that sadly did not make it to the final version—he joked that it was a double slingshot, a double yarmulke, and then slyly mused, “Mmm, I should have called her.” Look, Disney, it’s been 25 years, so why not release the darn tapes?
Disney had a Genie back-up plan
If for some horrible reason Robin Williams had declined the role he was clearly born to play, Disney needed another hilarious A-list actor to fill Williams’ talented shoes. So the House of Mouse assembled a B-team of actors including folks like Martin Short, John Goodman, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Candy, and Albert Brooks. Thankfully, it all worked out, because the thought of hearing Jiminy Glick’s wretched voice coming out of the Genie’s mouth just feels wrong.
There were almost two Genies
Maybe they could have used one of the B-team after all; in an early version of Aladdin, there were going to be two genies: a Genie of the Lamp and a Genie of the Ring. In this early draft, Aladdin still manages to get his grubby little mitts on the lamp, and summons the big blue Genie we know and love. However, Jafar was going to get his even grubbier mitts on the Ring and use it against Aladdin in a Genie vs. Genie showdown. Thankfully that didn’t come to pass because honestly, no one movie can sustain that many bits. It’d be like Muskwatch: The Movie.
Gilbert Gottfried nearly didn’t play Iago
It’s difficult to imagine Aladdin without the abrasive strains of Gilbert Gottfried coming from Jafar’s sassy parrot pal Iago’s beak, but he wasn’t the studio’s first choice for the role. Originally, they went out to two other famously loud little guys: Joe Pesci and Danny DeVito. I’ll be honest, I’m a little sad that those versions didn’t pan out because I’d love to hear Iago’s lines replaced with Frank Reynolds’ quotes from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Disney murdered Aladdin’s mom
Dead moms are par for the course in Disney movies. I mean, just look at Bambi… or Beauty and the Beast… or Pinocchio… or Cinderella… or The Little Mermaid… or… look, you get it. But in Aladdin‘s case, she was killed by something far more insidious: the production process. In early drafts of the movie, Aladdin sings his mom a sweet song entitled “Proud of Your Boy.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to be proud when you’ve been written out of existence. Thankfully, this song made its way into the Broadway version of Aladdin. After all, an Alan Menken song is a terrible thing to waste.
Sir Patrick Stewart almost played Jafar
While Jonathan Freeman did a phenomenal job bringing the sinister sorcerer Jafar to life with a voice that’s equal parts Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, he wasn’t the studio’s first pick for the part. Disney originally set their sights on another iconic set of vocal chords: Sir Patrick Stewart’s. Everyone’s favorite Starfleet captain turned down loads of Disney roles over the years: King Triton in The Little Mermaid, Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, Zazu in The Lion King, Zeus in Hercules, and Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas, but the one he legitimately regrets? Not being in Aladdin.
What’s your favorite memory of Aladdin? Let us know in the comments below.
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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter (@DanCasey).