Something magical happened at the D23 Expo: there was a full-on reunion of both the creative talent and charming voice cast behind the animated classic Aladdin (coming soon to Blu-ray, HD Digital, and Disney Movies Anywhere). And we were there! It was like using all three wishes on one amazing thing without having to actually use any wishes. Here are some highlights:
1. Scott Weinger and Linda Larkin Reunited…
While Linda Larkin, the voice of Jasmine, was anointed a Disney Legend two D23 Expos ago (which is always our measurement for the passage of time), she doesn’t make it out to things like this very often and had to come in yesterday from her home in London. Scott Weinger is now a successful television writer, currently working on ABC’s Blackish (he is not, as of yet, a Disney Legend). You could tell both hadn’t seen each other in a while, and only recorded a single sequence together while making Aladdin (the date sequence where Genie tells him to “bee-himself”), which made their interaction even more magical. Co-director John Musker said that they cast Larkin without meeting her because of the “musical, lyrical” quality of her voice, while Weinger had to audition from his home in Florida with his mother (and her thick Brooklyn accent) standing in for the Genie. Also, they sound exactly the same as they do in the movie. It was hard to not get immediately transported back to our childhood.
2. … And So Did Much of the Creative Team
Not only were Scott and Linda on stage, but they were on stage with the entire core creative team – Ron Clements and John Musker, who co-wrote and directed the film, Eric Goldberg who animated the Genie, and Mark Henn, who animated Jasmine. Not only that, but they were later joined by Brad Kane, the singing voice of Aladdin. It was an embarrassment of riches, with each participant fondly remembering their experience crafting what would become a genuine animated masterpiece, even if they didn’t know it at the time (Weinger said he would have been much more nervous if he hadn’t initially brushed it off as “some cartoon”).
3. Robin Williams’ Casting Was Inspired by a Disney World Attraction
Disney fans of a certain age will remember that part of the Magic of Disney Animation attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios included a short film called Return to Never Land. In the film, Williams was transformed into one of the lost boys and was scolded by Walter Cronkite. And it was this short film that inspired Ron and John to cast Williams as the Genie, particularly in the sequences when Williams was transforming into other characters.
4. Brad Kane Has Only Sung “Whole New World” Once Since the Film
Brad Kane, the singing voice of Aladdin (who is also now a television writer), said that throughout the years he’s been approached to duet on a rendition of “Whole New World.” And he’s always refused… except for one time, when he told his eventual wife that, “When we get married, I will sing the song with you and you do the Jasmine part in front of the whole wedding.” And that’s exactly what happened. He said, “I sang it that one time and never again since.” Of course, since this is D23 Expo and anything can happen, an unseen figure in the crowd (later revealed to be YouTube sensation and Disney•Pixar animator Nick Pitera) started singing to Brad in a pitch-perfect approximation of Jasmine’s voice. Brad joined in and made the announcement that he would be holding auditions for singing partners and that at the end of the day (today!), he’d do a duet of “Whole New World” with a lucky D23 Expo attendee.
5. There’s a New Sequence as Part of the Blu-ray Release
One of the more heart-tugging sections of the panel involved a tribute to Robin Williams and the news that a sequence that Williams had worked on, but that Goldberg had never actually animated, would be seen on the upcoming Diamond Edition release. Goldberg pored through files and found the original artwork and voice recordings and then did new sketches to go along with Williams’ original tracks. In the sequence the Genie transforms into a number of things, including a boxer. They didn’t show the sequence but you could tell it’s going to be incredible. “It’s really a tribute to Robin,” Goldberg said, choking up. And we did too.
6. Linda Larkin Had a Feeling the Film Would be Huge
Most of the cast and crew didn’t anticipate the phenomenal success that Aladdin would become, although Larkin had a feeling. She first read her part in the car on the way to the audition (because everything was “top secret”) and remembers being completely moved by the material. “When I was reading it, I thought, This is so beautiful.” Still, after she didn’t hear from the casting director for many months, she had forgotten about the project, before abruptly being called back and eventually winning the role. May this be a lesson in never (ever) giving up hope.
7. Animating Robin Williams Was Like “Eating Too Much Dessert”
A lot of the panel had to do with the Genie, from the stylistic aesthetic inspired by legendary caricature artist Al Hirschfeld, to the way that they maintained certain touchstones despite the character being able to change into pretty much anything. But the thing that really got to us was when Goldberg was describing the enormous amount of energy and passion that Williams brought to the role. “It was like eating too much dessert,” Goldberg said. He confessed that the hardest part of making the Genie work was getting you to care about a character who was so oversized and goofy. The trick, Goldberg said, was “making people believe he was sincere.” After a moment, Goldberg continued: “And we couldn’t have done it without Robin’s warmth.”
Aladdin comes to Diamond Edition HD Digital, and Disney Movies Anywhere September 29 and Blu-ray October 13.