"Like so many things, it is not what is outside but what is inside that counts," notes a storyteller at the beginning of Aladdin. But sometimes it takes a little magic to get that message across.
In this animated musical version of the classic story from "The Arabian Nights," Aladdin survives by his wits on the streets of the Arabian city of Agrabah. The townsfolk think he's just riffraff. "If only they'd look closer," Aladdin tells his best friend, Abu the monkey, "There's so much more to me." Princess Jasmine, the Sultan's daughter, also believes she can do better than the traditional role she's been assigned. She longs to make her own choices, especially about whom she will marry.
These two meet when the Princess runs away from the palace and Aladdin rescues her in the crowded marketplace. But their budding romance is cut short when he is captured by the evil Jafar, who recognizes the boy as the "diamond in the rough" needed to retrieve a magic lamp from a cave in the desert. Aladdin, however, ends up with the lamp and the bonus inside a Genie who is able to grant him three wishes.
Anxious to be reunited with Jasmine, Aladdin asks to be made a prince. He makes a grand entrance into the city and later takes the princess on a magic carpet ride. Yet he is filled with self-doubt. Would she love him and would he be anything without the Genie's magic? Jafar soon puts him to the test.
In the big production number of the film, the Genie tells Aladdin "You've Never Had a Friend Like Me." That's certainly an understatement! This Genie is voiced by Robin Williams in a bravura performance of celebrity improvisations and witty asides about American popular culture. Aladdin also boasts dazzling Disney animation, computer enhanced backgrounds and special effects for the action sequences, music by the Academy Award team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and additional lyrics by Tim Rice (particularly the love song "A Whole New World").
It is the message of the movie, though, that is most endearing. Aladdin wins the girl and the kingdom only when he stops pretending to be someone he's not and relies on his own power. Then can not only enjoy the blessings of the Genie's magic, he can give some of it back.