With the release of the live action Aladdin, Alex takes a personal look at the original 1992 film, and the different ways the film expanded.
(Welcome to our new column Raised by Disney! Our founder Alex Lancaster views Disney World as his hometown, and as such, he has some interesting insights into the Happiest Place on Earth, and a life immersed in all things Disney.)
In 1992 Disney released the animated feature Aladdin. The story was loosely based on the Arabic folklore from the collection of Middle Eastern folk tales known as One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights. With music from Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the film featured the voice talents of Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, and Robin Williams. For me, Aladdin means more than just another animated feature; it’s the start of a lifelong love affair with film.
Aladdin was released when I was roughly three-and-a-half years old. At the time my mom, dad, little sister Cassidy, and I lived in an apartment in the suburbs of Chicago. We would continue to live in the Chicago suburbs until we moved to Florida in 1998 to follow my dad’s dream of working for Disney. That dream was born thanks to the impact Disney had on him as a child–not just the parks but the films as well. My dad had lost his father at a young age, and to help keep his childhood alive, my grandmother would take him and his brother to every single Disney film that came out and often taking them to Disney World in Florida and occasionally to Disneyland in California. My father continued that tradition with me and my siblings, and I’ve continued that with my son.
The first memory I can vividly recall is sitting in the theater during Aladdin and seeing the Genie emerge from the lamp. I remember sitting in awe at this enormous blue genie that filled the entire screen, thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world. I also remember leaving the theater because my tiny baby sister Cassidy kept crying and standing beneath the theater marquee with my mom and sister as my dad went to get the car.
Looking up at the marquee and be amazed by the lights after having just been awe of the Genie was the birth of a love for this industry and a love for film. For years I would go on telling everyone that I wanted to be a Disney animator. I wanted to be the person who made things like the Genie come to life on screen. I wanted to be able to create that magic for people. The rest of my life I would chase that dream, until my life pivoted to being a single father and I realized I could share my love of film by creating this site. Once again, Disney is at the forefront of why this site exists today.
The film went on to grow more meaning for me as I grew older. Not just because of that first viewing, but because of the multiple viewings afterwards on a VHS tape that is still around and worn down significantly. Cassidy and I haven’t always had the best relationship; we constantly fought throughout our childhood and only in recent years have we found a strong loving bond. But when we were still tiny kids, we would take a small blanket, lay it out in the living room, sit in the center of it, and pretend we were Aladdin and Jasmine. Each time I would make a flower out of Duplo legos and give it to her when Aladdin gave Jasmine the flower during the “Whole New World” sequence. It was the one good thing we had together as kids, and it still is something we both look back on fondly.
As Disney began to realize the potential for growth with Aladdin, it became an even bigger deal in my life. They released the direct to video sequel, Return of Jafar, which I never owned as a child, but our best friends growing up did. I remember going over to their house and constantly asking them if we could watch it. I would then convince the kids in their family and my sister to let me direct them in a performance recreating the film, which we would put on for our parents. It was my way of getting into this world of creating magic even as a small child.
When we made our first trip to Disney World in 1994, my biggest desire was to meet Aladdin. While at Epcot, we discovered that he was only out for a small amount of time and we arrived to the location just as he was heading backstage. My mom knew how much it meant to me to meet Aladdin, and so we ran through the Morocco pavilion in world showcase hoping to find him and get one quick picture before he was gone. I still remember my mom begging him for just one photo and can hear her saying, “He loves you so much, and his name is Al just like you.” That memory is one of those moments that has always helped remind me of how much my mom cared about the small ridiculous things. In many ways it’s helped us through a lot.
As time has gone on, Aladdin has grown throughout the Disney empire and been there in the different corners of my life. From playing the original Kingdom Hearts game with my siblings as a way for us to bond through our parents’ divorce, to taking my son to see the live action film and watching him clap for Genie, it’s a film that has always been interwoven into my life in every single way and has helped make me what I am today.