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15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Aladdin

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Nearly a quarter-century after its original release, Aladdin—Disney's Oscar-winning animated film from 1992—is getting a 21st-century upgrade with its much anticipated Blu-ray and digital edition. Read on to discover a whole new world of dazzling things you might not have known about this beloved Disney classic.

1. TO LAND ROBIN WILLIAMS, THE ANIMATORS CREATED TEST SEQUENCES OF THE GENIE PERFORMING THE COMEDIAN'S STAND-UP ROUTINES.

Eric Goldberg led the team of animators who were in charge of creating Genie. When he was first handed the script by co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, Goldberg was also told to dig up some old Robin Williams comedy albums. “John and Ron said, 'Pick a couple of sections from his comedy albums and animate a genie to them,'" Goldberg told Entertainment Weekly. "That’s essentially what I did." Williams came in to see the test, and, Goldberg says, "I think what probably sold him was the one where he says, 'Tonight, let’s talk about the serious subject of schizophrenia—No, it doesn’t!—Shut up, let him talk!' What I did is animate the Genie growing another head to argue with himself, and Robin just laughed. He could see the potential of what the character could be. I’m sure it wasn’t the only factor, but then he signed the dotted line."

2. THE PRODUCERS HAD BACK-UP CHOICES IF WILLIAMS DECLINED THE ROLE.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

Though the role of Genie was written specifically for Williams, then-studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg had many reasons to doubt that they’d be able to sign him: Money, timing, contracts, and, of course, landing an A-lister for a voiceover role. He insisted the team come up with alternative choices. Had Williams declined, Genie could have been voiced by John Candy, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, John Goodman, or Albert Brooks.

3. ALADDIN MARKED THE END OF VOICE ACTORS IN DISNEY MUSICALS NEEDING TO BE MAGNIFICENT SINGERS.

Getty Images

Linda Larkin was the voice of Princess Jasmine. However, she never sang a single note attributed to the princess; that was done by singer Lea Salonga. Aladdin marked one of the first times a voice actor in a Disney musical didn’t also have to be a magnificent singer. Larkin says that this was the result of the film being built around Robin Williams, who was such a powerful force that Disney's priority was finding strong actors who could keep pace with him. "They came to me and asked, 'Do you sing?'" Larkin recalled. "And I said, 'I do … but not like a princess!' And they said, 'No problem, we’ll find a singer to match your voice.' And they did. And to me it’s such an amazing match to my voice that it’s almost seamless when they go from dialogue to the song and back to dialogue. And you see what happened … from that point forward that opened up the world of Disney animation to everybody. They no longer needed actors who sang.” 

4. The character of Aladdin was meant to do for Disney Princes what Ariel and Belle had done for Princesses...

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

Disney in the '90s knew that their traditional princes, though charming, were much too bland for modern audiences. According to Glen Keane, lead animator for the character of Aladdin, ''I could never understand why Snow White and Sleeping Beauty fell for those princes. Those guys were cardboard symbols, and the love relationship was assumed. We wanted there to be a how to the princess falling in love.'' So they set about doing something Disney hadn’t really done before: Making a prince who was cunning, bold, funny and lovable, not just handsome.

5. But Aladdin still had to be really handsome. Enter Tom Cruise.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

At first, animators sort of modeled Aladdin after Michael J. Fox, but found the end result too cutesy. So they upped his age to late teens, took off his shirt, and watched Tom Cruise movies. ''There's a confidence with all of his attitudes and his poses,” Keane said of Tom Cruise. Once Aladdin could reflect that sort of sexy cockiness, it was more believable that he’d be the sort of boy Jasmine might risk everything for.

6. Gilbert Gottfried wasn’t the first choice for Iago.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

The role of the sarcastic evil parrot was first offered to Danny DeVito and Joe Pesci, but they both declined. 

7. The boy who voiced Aladdin was the boyfriend of D.J. on Full House.

Seventeen-year-old Scott Weinger was sure he’d blown the voiceover audition when his voice cracked on the first song. Luckily, he had no idea he was auditioning for Disney’s next powerhouse feature, or he would have been much more worried. In the end, it didn’t matter. Disney thought his voice personified the cocky street urchin perfectly (Aladdin's singing voice, however, would be performed by Brad Kane). At the same time he was voicing Aladdin he was also playing Steve Hale, D.J.’s boyfriend, on Full House. The series made a bizarre nod to Weinger’s dual roles when the Full House girls visit Disneyland (as seen in the clip above).

8. The genie’s lines were recorded up to 20 different ways.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

Williams was only available for a handful of recording sessions, so he'd give a rapid-fire delivery of each line as written—in as many different styles as he could create. “Robin had so much freedom, and [ad-libbing] was always encouraged," Goldberg told Entertainment Weekly. "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.'”

9. JEFFREY KATZENBERG USED A SECRET BOX TO INSPIRE WILLIAMS' PORTRAYAL OF THE PEDDLER. 

At the beginning of the film, the Peddler—also voiced by Williams—tries to interest the audience in his wares. The products weren’t in the script; they were in a box. Says Goldberg, “One of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s great ideas was to fill a box with stuff, put a cloth over it, and then when Robin’s in front of the mic, pull the cloth off and he riffs with whatever he picks up out of the box. And that’s exactly how we did that character.”

10. The illustrators tried make the characters look unrealistic on purpose.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

In Aladdin’s predecessor, Beauty and the Beast, immense effort was devoted to making the characters' faces, bodies, and movements as realistic as possible. Supervising animator Andreas Deja, who drew Gaston in Beauty and Jafar in Aladdin, told the Los Angeles Times that "We now refer to some of our earlier efforts as 'chiseled realism': On Gaston's face, we established a lot of planes on his cheekbones and chin to achieve that realism.” They did away with that approach for the magical world of Aladdin and used simple two dimensional shapes as references for all the characters. "Aladdin is composed of two interlocking triangles formed by his chest and his pants; Jasmine is sort of pear-shaped, Jafar is basically a T—a very skinny body with these broad shoulders," Deja said. "I kept that T shape in mind while I was animating: making sure it came through kept me from cluttering up the drawings."

11. That unrealistic fashion was inspired by great artist and caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

You know Al Hirschfeld’s work, even if you don’t think you do; he famously created exaggerated line drawings of everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the The Rolling Stones. Aladdin supervising animator Eric Goldberg wanted to recreate Hirschfeld’s use of clean flow lines. "I look on Hirschfeld's work as a pinnacle of boiling a subject down to its essence, so that you get a clear, defined statement of a personality,” he said.

Hirschfeld was alive to see the honor bestowed, but he took no credit. "I'm very flattered that the animators say they were influenced by my use of line," he said. "But art isn't a 50-yard dash—it's more like a relay: You keep handing it on to somebody else, and there's no beginning or end to it. I didn't invent the line: That simplification that communicates to a viewer goes back to the cave drawings at Altamira." See Hirschfeld’s take on Goldberg’s take on Hirschfeld here.

12. Not all of the song lyrics on the video release were the same as in the theatrical release.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

The first song of the film, “Arabian Nights” has the Peddler describing Arabia. The original lyrics were, “Oh, I come from a land/From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam/Where they cut off your ear/If they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.”

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee took offense to the brutality implied in the song, as well as many other aspects of the movie. Disney conceded to change only the song lyrics, with the permission of the original writers. The verse became: “Oh, I come from a land/From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam/Where it's flat and immense/And the heat is intense/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.” Disney also noted that the barbarism mentioned was alluding to the climate, not the people of Arabia. The AAADC wasn’t impressed.

Don Bustany, who was president of the Los Angeles chapter of AAADC in 1993, said the song change was "nowhere near adequate, considering the racism depicted in Aladdin. There still remains the very sleazy, burlesque character in the prologue and the scene where a merchant is going to cut off the hand of Princess Jasmine because she took an apple from his stand to give to a hungry child.” Albert Mokhiber, president of the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, expressed disappointment that Disney officials refused to meet with the committee. “Certainly I think it would be different if the situation involved African-Americans or Jewish-Americans," he said.

13. The Return of Jafar was Disney’s first ever attempt at marketing a straight-to-video sequel.

Disney used the success of Aladdin to see if consumers would buy a sequel that was never intended to play in theaters. In 1994 they released The Return of Jafar, and by 1996 it had sold 10 million units, putting it in the top 20 video releases of all time. Williams didn’t do the voice for Genie, and for the most part critics thought it was terrible (it holds a 27 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). But its financial success paved the way for direct-to-video sequels for almost every popular Disney feature ever made. 

14. Williams’s famous feud with Disney had nothing to do with money.

Getty Images

When Williams refused to do the voice of Genie for the first sequel (replaced by Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta), rumors flew as to his motivations. Disney “insiders” suggested he was insulted to have been paid “scale” ($75,000 for a project that grossed $650 million within four years). But Williams didn’t care about the money. He stated that he’d done the movie for the pride of being part of the history of animation, and for his own small children. The problem was breach of contract, at least according to Williams: Williams didn’t want his voice used for anything but the movie.

"[A]ll of a sudden, they release an advertisement—one part was the movie, the second part was where they used the movie to sell stuff," Williams said. "Not only did they use my voice, they took a character I did and overdubbed it to sell stuff. That was the one thing I said: 'I don't do that.' That was the one thing where they crossed the line."

Disney made no official statements until the studio president Jeffrey Katzenberg was replaced by Joe Roth. Then an official apology was issued. “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," Roth told the Los Angeles Times. "We had a specific understanding with Robin that we wouldn't do that. [Nevertheless] we did that. We apologize for it."

15. Robin Williams agreeing to portray Genie changed the entire genre of voice acting

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks ... the A-listers who have voiced characters in animated films reads like the seating chart at the Oscars. And it’s all because of the Genie.

Prior to Aladdin, “real” actors seldom stooped so low to do voice work unless they were on the desperate end of their careers. Even Bea Arthur reportedly refused the role of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. The work was left to professional voice actors. Disney even kept a stable of regulars throughout the decades. (Think of Winnie the Pooh’s voice. And the Cheshire Cat, the snake from The Jungle Book, the Stork in Dumbo ... These are just some of the characters voiced by the sweet quavery voice of Sterling Holloway.)

But then came Genie, who was written exclusively with Robin Williams in mind. His work on Aladdin, combined with the rising quality of Disney films, gave a new respectability to voiceover work. Soon, celebrities were happy to lend their voices to talking toys and singing monkeys. But where did this leave professional voice actors, who spent years perfecting their relationship with a microphone? Are celebrities stealing work and exposure they don’t even need, or does their involvement help the profession?

According to Voices.com, the trade site for voiceover artists, a voiceover workshop posed that question to its participants and “The consensus was that 'No—celebrities actually raise the profession to a new level, making VO a more recognized career choice and perhaps even elevating the pay scale long term.'"

BONUS: Aladdin holds enough “evidence” to support the fan theory that the story actually takes place in a distant, post-apocalyptic future.

Disney, via disneyscreencaps.com

Since we’ve peeked behind the curtain so much here, we know that many script inconsistencies in Aladdin were the result of Robin Williams’ freestyle. But if you were to take the movie as presented, it practically screams post-apocalyptic future. Key elements that theorists favor: Genie first emerges from his lamp declaring he’d been inside for 10,000 years. That, combined with him later criticizing Aladdin’s wardrobe as "much too 3rd century," and his impersonation of 20th century personalities, would suggest that Genie was trapped in his bottle after these events. That would make the date of his emergence closer to 11989 AD, where Arabic culture had become dominant on the decimated Earth—possibly because Earth’s climate had so changed that only those familiar with desert-dwelling could survive. Remnants of an advanced civilization still exist; hovercraft technology in the magic carpet, genetic mutations that allowed animals to talk. Of course, that is just one of many theories, the most popular of which is that Aladdin is a cartoon and completely, wonderfully illogical. 

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15 Super Facts About Megamind

In 2010, the superhero craze was on the rise in the wake of such hits as Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man. which made it the perfect time to launch a silly sendup of the genre. And so came Megamind, an animated action-comedy about a clumsy villain whose world turns upside down once he actually defeats his superhero nemesis.

1. THE PREMISE WAS INSPIRED BY SUPERMAN.

Essentially, the pitch boiled down to "What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?" Except instead of Luthor being a wealthy, vicious human, the film offers Megamind (Will Ferrell), a cowardly, odd-looking (but still bald!) misfit from another planet. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) is more the Superman type, an alien from another planet who is strong, handsome, and can fly. It's easy for the people of Metro City to love Metro Man, whereas the oddball with the big blue head is instantly regarded as "other" and "bad." It's up to Megamind to prove himself, and find his true path.

2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A VEHICLE FOR BEN STILLER.

The original script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons was pitched to Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films, with hopes he'd star as its titular baddie. "[It] was written as a live-action movie," Stiller explained in the spring of 2008. "But we thought it would work as an animated movie so we brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO of DreamWorks Animation], and now we're in pre-production."

3. STILLER TURNED DOWN THE LEAD, BUT STILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN MEGAMIND.

Instead of voicing Megamind, Stiller opted to executive produce the movie—but he does pop by for a quirky audio cameo as the curmudgeonly curator Bernard, who works at the Metro Man Museum.

4. PRODUCERS WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR. FOR THE LEAD.

Riding high off the career revitalization of his live-action superhero hit Iron Man, Downey was game to bring his sarcastic charms to Metro City's menace. But scheduling conflicts ultimately killed the deal. So producers turned to beloved funnyman Will Ferrell, who brought a zany charisma to Megamind, and some crucial gags.

5. THE FILM CYCLED THROUGH VARIOUS TITLES BEFORE MEGAMIND STUCK. 

In the fall of 2008, Stiller was teasing the movie as Master Mind. In that version, Megamind's longtime foe was named Uberman (a more overt spoof of Superman), but by spring of 2009, the title had changed to Oobermind, while Uberman had become Metro Man.

6. SEVERAL DIRECTORS TOOK A CRACK AT MEGAMIND

"There were two or three sets of directors on the movie, each of which started making a different version of the movie before it went to someone else," illustrator/author Jason Porath, who helped with the film as an employee at DreamWorks Animation, told Mental Floss.

The project was kicked off by Gary Trousdale, who had co-helmed a string of Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Next, Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, who'd directed the DWA short "First Flight," were brought on. But the final version of Megamind is credited to Tom McGrath, who had co-directed Madagascar and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa with Eric Darnell, and would go on to helm Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (also with Darnell) and Boss Baby. For their earlier efforts, Trousdale, Jefferson, and Hood ultimately received a special thanks credit on Megamind.

7. IT'S PRETTY COMMON FOR AN ANIMATED MOVIE TO CHANGE DIRECTORS. 

In the case of DreamWorks's How To Train Your Dragon, credited directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought on about one year before the film's release. Then, the beloved movie about a boy and his pet dragon would have been unrecognizable to its fans. "At that point, I think Hiccup was like 9 or 10 years old, all the dragons could talk, and Toothless as we know him didn't exist," Porath tells us. "Those little bug-eyed tiny green dragons he fights for fish in the first movie, one of those was supposed to be his companion dragon. It was a lot closer to the book source material."

This practice extends far beyond DreamWorks: At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur went from Bob Peterson to Peter Sohn. Mark Andrews replaced Brenda Chapman on Brave, and Brad Bird took over directing duties from Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille. At Sony Pictures Animation, Hotel Transylvania cycled through six directors before committing to Genndy Tartakovsky.

8. OTHER VILLAINS VANISHED THROUGH PRODUCTION. 

DreamWorks Animation

One version of Megamind had its eponymous fiend as part of a supervillain league known as the Doom Syndicate. To concoct this crooked but colorful crew of criminals, DreamWorks had an open call, encouraging its artists to pitch villain ideas. Story artist Ryan Savas has publicly shared his sketches for such quirky baddies as White Zombie, The Barista, The Ectopus, the Liberace-inspired Rhinestone, and Alec Baldwin, who can "hypnotize his victims with awesome acting skills." But as the script became streamlined (and the budget got tighter) the Doom Syndicate was cut from Megamind, meaning characters like Destruction Worker, a smoking skeleton, and "geriatric flame-wielder" Hot Flash never made it to the big screen—but they didn't disappear completely.

Three years after the film's release, DreamWorks unleashed the video game Megamind: Ultimate Showdown for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Some of the Doom Syndicate characters reappeared here, including Hot Flash. But Porath told us the fiery old broad made her mark at the animation's offices as well. "Every year, DreamWorks Animation has a big Halloween costume contest," he shared. "And the winner one year was one of the producers who dressed up as Hot Flash."

9. SOME CHARACTERS WENT THROUGH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGES. 

Concept art reveals that love interest/journalist Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) had a variety of longer haircuts before the filmmakers settled on her perky pixie cut. During his Uber Man days, Metro Man's Elvis-inspired look toyed with some more outlandish iterations, which involved fur collars, sunglasses, and plenty of glitter. Some test sketches even showed Megamind with spiky hair. But the biggest transformation came to the cunning character's devoted sidekick.

Though fans of the film have come to know Minion as a fanged, talking piranha who gets around in a robo-ape mechasuit, his origins were once far less fantastical. Early concept art shows a version of the character imagined as a chubby man with a tiny jetpack.

10. STILLER WANTED TO SATIRIZE THE SUPERHERO GENRE.

This is an image of Ben Stiller.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

"This genre's been done so many times, that it's always interesting to try to find a postmodern version of it," Stiller told MTV. So he spearheaded a story about how people are not always what they seem.

Notably, this wasn't Stiller's first tme parodying superheroes and villains. In 1999, Stiller starred in the comedy Mystery Men, which followed a batch of wannabe superheroes as they face off with a nefarious foe who was way out of their league. Their powers included farting, bowling, being furious, and shoveling "well."

11. MEGAMIND UNDERWENT A GAG PASS TO MAKE IT EVEN FUNNIER. 

In an informative blog post, Porath explains that a "gag pass" is essentially the part toward the end of production where filmmakers find opportunities to work in more jokes. In this case, the writers and storyboard artists crafted humorous dialogue and visual gags. Meanwhile, Ferrell was encouraged to improvise to bring some more of his unique brand of comedy to the mix.

12. THE FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

To promote the film, Ferrell invited all wannabe superheroes to suit up and join him for a party on October 4, 2010, just a month before the film's opening. But the event also set a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Superheroes. With 1580 costumed attendees, Ferrell and his friends made hero history, breaking the old record by 79 superheroes.

13. THERE'S AN ANCHORMAN EASTER EGG

Toward the end of the movie, Megamind is channel surfing and crosses a news report about a water-skiing squirrel. A very similar story is covered in Ferrell's 2004 comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

14. MEGAMIND WAS HURT BY DESPICABLE ME

Cruel timing meant that Megamind opened four months after audiences went wild for Universal's Despicable Me, an animated movie about a villain who goes good. While Megamind pulled in a decent $321 million worldwide, Despicable Me boasted $543 million, spawning sequels and a spinoff for its cuddlier Minions.

The closeness of their premises and release dates hurt Megamind with critics, too. Roger Ebert wrote, "This setup is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as The Incredibles with its superpowers and Despicable Me with its villain." USA Today's Claudia Puig was even more cutting, concluding, "Do we really need Megamind when Despicable Me is around?"

15. MEGAMIND FOUND REDEMPTION AS HOME ENTERTAINMENT. 

Released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25, 2011, Megamind pulled in another $74 million in domestic sales. Readily available in this fashion, its popularity grew. Today, Megamind is warmly remembered and rewatched by fans happy to mispronounce "Metro City," "school," and "spider" like the lovable villain at its center. And despite its bumpy ride through production, it's fondly remembered by the fleets of artists who brought it to life.

You can see their enthusiasm in the blogs linked above, where they've proudly shared concept art and sketches. But perhaps Porath puts it best, declaring, "To put in perspective: almost every movie goes through radical shifts like this. Megamind had a bit longer journey than others, but not by much. I would by no means consider it an outlier. There were a phenomenal number of talented, funny people working to make it great, and it was a fun time at the studio. DreamWorks treated us all really well; I will never work for somewhere that took better care of me."

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Hayao Miyazaki's Greatest Hits Are Coming Back to Theaters This Fall
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STUDIO GHIBLI FEST: Castle in the Sky
Courtesy Fathom Events // GKIDS

Get ready, anime fans. As part of an upcoming film festival, some of Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s best-loved films will be coming back to U.S. movie theaters this fall.

Fathom Events and the North American animation distributor GKIDS are running a film festival devoted to Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's Tokyo-based animation studio. As part of a series of monthly events that began in June, the festival will be showing Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Earlier this summer, the festival showed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Due to the festival’s popularity, Studio Ghibli Fest is adding an extra day of showings, beginning with the August re-release of Castle in the Sky. Instead of two days of movies, there will be three screenings on three different days.

The films will be shown on the last Sunday of the month, with subsequent screenings the following Monday and Wednesday. The Sunday and Wednesday films will be dubbed in English, while the Monday showings will have subtitles. The festival runs until November 29.

Since it’s through Fathom Events, the films will be shown at hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check where screenings are available near you by entering your ZIP code here.

Miyazaki is technically retired, but he hasn't been able to resist the call of Studio Ghibli. He's scheduled to release Boro the Caterpillar, a film he's calling his last (several years after saying the same about 2013's The Wind Also Rises) in 2019. So maybe we can expect an extended Studio Ghibli Fest in a few years.

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