On Friday, April 22, 2005, ASIFA-Hollywood hosted the Aladdin Crew Reunion, which occupied the Glendale Central Library and provided a re-cap on the film’s production history as well as several amusing anecdotes. This celebration of the 1992 Disney spectacle involved the following people:
Hostess: Margaret Kerry
Moderator: Tom Sito
Guests of Honor:
Jon Musker, Director
Ron Clements, Director
Eric Goldberg, Supervising Animator for Genie
Andreas Deja, Supervising Animator for Jafar
Tina Price, CGI Artist
Duncan Marjoribanks, Supervising Animator for Abu
The Aladdin Reunion was hosted by Margaret Kerry, the live-action reference model for Peter Pan‘s Tinkerbell, who was actually quite funny. She welcomed everyone, talked about working on Peter Pan “back when the earth was cooling,” then introduced moderator Tom Sito by playing the video clip of him appearing in Aladdin as “Crazy Hakkim” the fertilizer salesman. Will Finn, Supervising Animator for Iago, was scheduled to participate but had to leave before the panel started due to a family medical emergency. Duncan Marjoribanks, Supervising Animator for Abu, who had shown up and paid to get in, was then asked to fill in for Will Finn (sounds like the beginning of a tongue twister). I’d have to say that Duncan is one of the most sedate guys I have ever seen. Whenever he was about to say something the din from the audience would settle to below whisper level, but then several of the things he said ended up being hilarious highlights of the evening. There was a panel discussion for about 75 minutes after which the panelists fielded questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. Following are some highlights. All quotes are paraphrased, yet true to the original intent.
• How did the movie originate?
Ron & John: Lyricist Howard Ashman brought up the idea of doing a movie based on Aladdin. Howard and Alan Menken put together with songs and basic story idea and it was in work for a year before with the tentative title Arabian Nights. The studio got away from that idea, Aladdin originally had three friends (Babkak, Omar, and Kassim), Jasmine (Jewish-American princess type), but the studio didn’t really like this arrangement. Linda Woolverton wrote more of a Baghdad type. Jeffrey Katzenberg met about what to do after Little Mermaid. The projects Ron and John had to pick from were Swan Lake, one was King of the Jungle (turned out to be Lion King), and Aladdin and they picked Aladdin. Wrote script for Aladdin which had a little bit of Howard, who brought some songs, Arabian Nights and Friend Like Me. Howard was sick but completed Prince Ali before passing, also completing the song Humiliate the Boy but it didn’t end up in the movie.
• When did you first hear about the project?
Andreas Deja: My assistant Kathy Bailey told me they were having the genie turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was shocked when I heard this but liked it when I saw the sketches and saw that the Genie was also doing other characters. I wanted to do Jafar. I did not know what Jonathan Freeman looked like so I based Jafar on the voice quality of the actor. When I finally met Jonathan Freeman in person I saw that he looked nothing like Jafar.
• Eric Goldberg told how he had his own studio in London at the time and had been asked for two years to come and work at the Disney studio. He had met John Musker through his wife, Susan Goldberg, and John kept asking him to come and work for Disney. Eric finally relented and said that he would go to Disney to avoid the stress of running his own studio. John asked, “You’re going to come here to avoid stress?!” John and Ron gave him the Aladdin script to read and he immediately wanted to animate the Genie character. He was so happy when he found out that he got his wish that he locked his keys in his car.
• Tina Price discussed having done computer animation in several Disney productions prior to Aladdin but Aladdin was the first Disney movie that used a computer generated character. Randy Cartwright drew by hand the outlines and the tassels for the magic carpet and Tina filled the outline in with the rug’s pattern by computer. Some proprietary software had to be written in order to accomplish this.
• Chuck Oberleitner in the audience asked the panelists how they felt about the subsequent direct-to-video sequels, TV shows, etc. Eric Goldberg fielded the question. He said that the sequels were both a blessing and a curse. He discussed the character of Genie being portrayed as much too clown-like in Return of Jafar but more as originally conceived in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Budgets can go up and down but hopefully they at least keep the character in character; as long as they do there is not too big of a problem with sequels and TV shows.
• Eric told about how a certain high up Disney executive (heavily hinted to be Michael Eisner) watched the final cut of the movie and afterwards said, “That was good but I don’t think we should be making fun of the homeless.” Apparently he had misheard Genie’s line “Wake up and smell the hummus” as “Wake up and smell the homeless”.
• John and Ron discussed that they hoped to not offend anyone with the movie’s portrayal of Arabs but also were not bending over backwards to be politically correct. They felt that there wouldn’t be much of a problem since all of the characters, good and bad, were Arabic. They also ran everything past Rasoul Azadani (obviously of Arabic descent) who thought everything was fine.
• A video clip was shown of some live action footage of an actress playing Jasmine that was to be used for reference by the animators. In the video was a guy dressed in a full body tiger costume doing not much of anything. The clip got a big laugh from the audience and Eric Goldberg quipped, “That video is big at furry conventions”.
• John Musker talked about how somebody approached him and asked why Aladdin at one point in the movie says, “Good teenagers take off your clothes.” John Musker responded, “What in the world?! Aladdin doesn’t say that.” When they watched that part again they realized it was where Scott Weinger had ad libbed some lines by saying something (to Raja the tiger) to the effect of, “Good tiger, take off, scat, go!” Unfortunately many still insist on believing the rumor rather than the truth in regards to this story and use it as ammo in an attempt to prove that Disney is secretly trying to corrupt the youth of the world.
• One panel member mentioned that Al Hirschfeld commented that the film looked like it was all drawn by one person, which the crew took as tremendous praise.
• Jeffrey Katzenberg suggested giving Robin Williams a box of props to riff on in order to record dialogue for the narrator at the beginning of the film. At one point Robin pulled out a bra and exclaimed, “A double yamika!”
• One panel member (John Musker?) discussed going with Gilbert Gottfried to Walt Disney World around the time of the release of the film. Gilbert was given an open mic and asked to simply announce to the patrons of the park that one of that day’s parades was about to begin. Instead, Gilbert grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Hey, everybody! Wanna see a Jew riding an elephant?”
• After hearing some of the initial recordings of Gilbert Gottfried performing the voice for Iago, Jeffrey Katzenberg reported back to John Musker, “I don’t know, his voice is kind of grating.” Musker delivered this line in a mock Katzenberg voice that itself was meant to be kind of grating. The impersonation drew tremendous, protracted laughter from everyone in attendance.
• At one point moderator Tom Sito was discussing the string of hits Disney had beginning with Little Mermaid and continuing through to The Lion King. John Musker then blurted, “And then Treasure Planet killed the streak.” Then Eric Goldberg grabbed a microphone and exclaimed, “I thought it was Pocahontas.” The two quips, both made in good-natured fun, drew moans of bemused sympathy from the audience.
After the discussion and the Q&A session, the panelists gathered on stage for a group photo (and invited everyone present who had worked on the film to join in the shoot), then signed some posters that are to be auctioned off on eBay later and a DVD that was raffled off to a lucky attendee. Then many of the panelists hung around to sign autographs and draw sketches. Overall, the evening was a wonderful way for crew members and fans to gather to celebrate a high point in the history of Disney animation.
Photographs: Mely Torres.