Disney rubbed the magic lantern and its wish came true Aladdin has become the most profitable animated feature of all time. Anwar Brett talks to the filmmakers, while Andrew Pulver finds out how the magic returned to the famous studio.

ike The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast before it, Disney’s latest release, Aladdin, returns to the folklore/fairy tale subject matter that helped build the studio’s reputation. An unlikely romance between an impoverished street kid and a lovely Princess; a larger-than-life Genie (voiced by a typically larger-than-life Robin Williams); an evil Vizier ready to thwart the lovers’ path to true happiness not surprisingly, the mix is finely judged, the songs are catchy and original, and the result is worthy of inheriting old Walt’s legacy.

‘You can wonder whether you’re going to be able to match what the old guys did,’ admits German-born animator Andreas Deja, responsible for creating the evil Jafar in the film, ‘but that shouldn’t be the issue. Aladdin is very different from how they would have done it, but if we were making movies now, wondering how Walt would have approached it, then we would fall flat on our faces. That’s what happened in the 70s and early 80s; if you look at Robin Hood, The Fox And The Hound and The Rescuers, they’re so tired. There was no experimenting going on.’

With the stakes ever higher and costs now matching a middling live-action movie, computer animation is helping to elevate the art to even greater levels. as seen in the ballroom scene in Beauty And The Beast and several key sequences in Aladdin.

‘We’re trying to disguise the computer animation as much as we can,’ explains co- writer and co-director Ron Clements. ‘The main uses of it in Aladdin are in the desert, where the gigantic tiger’s head rises up out of the sand, then for the magic carpet. That was fairly innovative because it’s the first time we’ve used the computer to help animate an actual character. The carpet was just a rectangle, and the animator’s job was to give personality to it; then the computer put the elaborate Persian pattern onto it in a process called texture mapping. so that whenever the carpet moved around, the pattern was always correct. That would have been impossible

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redrawn frame after frame and would have taken years to do, yet still would have wiggled around and not looked quite right. The other use was the rollercoaster ride in the Cave of Wonders, where Aladdin’s riding on the carpet and you feel like you’re on it with him, going through this tunnel. The tunnel was built in the computer to give that sensation. All those things are very elaborate and each one probably took a year to do.’

Yet animators still rely on pen and ink. some of them even demonstrating their points as they speak by sketching on bits of scrap paper. In this way. their inspiration for creating characters can come from literally anywhere. Princess Jasmine was influenced by one of the animator’s sisters; Aladdin is a Disneyficd version of Tom Cruise.

‘Every now and then we’ll look at certain live action role models and see what we can capitalise on for our characters.’ explains Eric Goldberg, the man responsible for the Genie, along with Robin Williams. ‘I think this film would have been very different without Robin. I tend to liken the script to a road map and Robin took lots of detours. Sometimes he would deliver the line five different ways. as five different characters. You then had a whole range of things and you could pick the ones you thought were the funniest. The best things came when Robin did something vocal which we could capitalise on visually. it was the perfect marriage of visual and verbal humour. and enabled us to pepper those little extra treats along the way. If he did Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver, or if I wanted him to dance like Cab

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Calloway, then we would go back and look at the original material on video and find references for those things. I don’t know how many times I watched Taxi Driver just to get those mannerisms right.’

The songs and music from Disney movies are often as memorable as the films themselves, and the studio struck gold with lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken’s contributions to its last two projects. However, Ashman’s untimely death inspired an equally fruitful collaboration on Aladdin between Menken and Tim Rice, who picked up an Oscar for their ballad ‘A Whole New World’.

‘The Oscar was nice,’ admits Rice. ‘but you shouldn’t take it too seriously. You really get it for being in the right place at the right time. Howard’s was a tough act to follow, but the style he used in these films was not a million miles away from Joseph. I didn’t need to change my entire outlook. He had already done the Genie songs. which are brilliant. I was just writing a love ballad for Aladdin and Jasmine, another song for Aladdin and one for the villain, so I was writing for different characters anyway.’

‘At many of the previews we had in the States. there was applause after every song,’ adds Clements, ‘especially ‘A Whole New World’ since it won the Oscar. The reaction to that song is getting better and better as it gets more well known, but we’ve always got a round of applause after the Genie song too. Probably because we have the word “APPLAUSE” flash up on the screen after it,’ he smiles sheepishly. ‘That was actually meant as a gag, not an instruction.’

Aladdin opens in Scotland on Friday 3 December.

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