15 Fun Facts About Aladdin

Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Scott Weinger, and Frank Welker in Aladdin (1992)
Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Scott Weinger, and Frank Welker in Aladdin (1992)
Walt Disney Productions

Nearly 30 years after its original release, Aladdin—Disney's Oscar-winning animated film from 1992—is getting a 21st-century upgrade with Guy Ritchie's much anticipated live-action edition. Read on to discover a whole new world of dazzling things you might not have known about Disney's original animated 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 movie’s producers had back-up choices if Robin Williams declined the role.

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.

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 Disney Princesses.

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. Aladdin had to be really handsome. (Enter Tom Cruise.)

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.

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.

Teen actor Scott Weinger, who was 17 years old at the time, 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.

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

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's 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.

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.

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.

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 33 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.

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.

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.'"

Updated for 2019.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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