After the outstanding success of Beauty and the Beast (1991), the next installment in the Disney Renaissance came out the following year. Aladdin (1992), adapts the fairy tale of the same name and tells the story of how a “street rat” named Aladdin falls in love with the beautiful Princess Jasmine, meets a powerful genie, and becomes a prince so he can attempt to marry her. Did I mention there’s also a power-hungry vizier/sorcerer named Jafar who’d like to be Sultan himself and will do anything to achieve this goal?
Aladdin holds a special place in my life. While Beauty and the Beast is my overall favorite, Aladdin is quite possibly the first film I ever saw in the movie theater. It is certainly the oldest film I remember seeing (I will never forget seeing the title card come up on that big screen). Though there is a (small) chance I was taken to see Beauty and the Beast, I have no memory of seeing the film in the theater, so I can’t say for sure.
On the musical side, Aladdin’s score was once again composed by Alan Menken, with songs created by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. This is the final film to feature songs completed by Ashman before his untimely death from HIV: the three songs that feature his work are “Arabian Nights”, “Prince Ali” (Tim Rice completed the reprise of this song) and “Friend Like Me.”
Since “Arabian Nights” opens the film, that is where we will begin. The scene begins with the Peddler riding across the desert on his camel as he sings about the desert. Menken and Ashman originally conceived of this song as being a lot longer, with frequent reprises that would have taken place throughout the film to comment on developments in the story. This idea was nixed, though the opening prologue remained, with one semi-significant change. In the opening verse, this is what we hear:
O 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!
The “flat and immense” line is actually a substitution. The original verse read “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face…” Why they would put that line in a Disney film, I don’t know, but I think we can all agree that it was a good thing they changed it (interestingly enough, the original verse is intact on the CD release of the soundtrack).
The complete song is not very long (just over 1:30) but it includes a great shot of the city of Agrabah, as well as the fantastically huge palace (which I believe was inspired by the real-life Taj Mahal). I loved this opening shot, because once the palace appears, the entire song changes from a relatively slow ballad to a fast-paced Arabian melody.
Now as for the Peddler himself: Disney itself confirmed months ago what we’ve all suspected for years: Robin Williams was indeed voicing the character while he gives his sales pitch at the end of the prologue, which likely means that the Peddler is the Genie in disguise. However, that is NOT Robin Williams singing “Arabian Nights.” It was going to be, but Williams had so much trouble singing the high parts of the song (after Agrabah is revealed) that Disney brought in Bruce Adler (who performed during the crowd songs in Beauty and the Beast among other things) to record the entire song in an imitation of Williams’ voice.
This song is very beautiful, but as I said before, so very short, that I almost wish the longer version envisioned by Menken and Ashman had survived to the final cut. As it stands though, “Arabian Nights” makes a perfect introduction to the setting of the film (it’s certainly a stunning reveal, going from pure desert to a huge palace in a matter of seconds).
That’s all I have for “Arabian Nights”, next time I will likely skip ahead to either “Prince Ali” or “Friend Like Me.” I hope you enjoyed this first look at Aladdin! -Bex
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*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
For more Aladdin, see also:
For more great Disney songs and films, check out the main page here: Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z