The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on November 27, 1992 · 53
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The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada · 53

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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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Friday, November 27, 1992
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53
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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT SECTION F PAGES F1-F8 Modv3s TV LISTINGSF4 New film a departure for Francis -. -si vi 9 Robin Williams uncorks Genie's magic By Jamie Portman Southam News for the Citizen ;. 'i ORLANDO, Fla He's not even listed in the credits, but Robin Williams repeatedly steals the show in Aladdin. Williams supplies the voice of the Genie in Disney's 31st animated feature, and his zany contribution is a key reason why this film, which opens today, will occupy a unique place in studio annals. At 86 minutes, Aladdin is the longest animated story produced by Disney. It's decidedly hip in tone. Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken has written a bouncy musical score which he describes as "very comedic, very action-oriented, very 1940s, the kind of thing Fats Waller and Cab Calloway used to perform." There's also been an attempt to make its hero (Aladdin) and heroine (Princess Jasmine) more believable and less sugary. There's still a traditional Disney villain the menacing Jafar. But here, too, there's an attempt to portray him with greater complexity. Furthermore, Iago, the villain's obnoxious parrot sidekick, is very much a creature of the '90s, thanks to the casting of former Saturday Night Live comedian Gilbert Gottfried as his voice. There are hilarious sight gags and new advances in animation and computer technology, including a magic carpet with personality, and an astonishing flight through the Cave of Wonders. And finally, there's that irrepressible Genie who emerges from the magic lamp to grant Aladdin his three wishes. Visually, the Genie is the creation of supervising animator Eric Goldberg who says he knew from the beginning that he needed a character with "a sense of freedom and spirit," a jovial creature able to shift shapes and character with the greatest of ease. In other words, a cartoon creation capable of matching the mercurial temperament of a Robin Williams. Williams is the film's not-so-secret secret weapon. As soon as the Genie opens his mouth, you know there's only one person who could be supplying that voice. Disney veterans John Musker and Ron Clements, who wrote and directed Aladdin, conceived the idea of the Genie with Williams in mind. "We didn't know if we would get him or not, but we were hoping," says Clements. "We pictured the Genie as a shape-shifter, as someone who constantly takes on different forms and identities, and if we took Robin with his mercurial nature and shifting voice and put the two together, we felt we would have something special." A man of many talents Just how special emerged when Williams went into the recording booth to work with both the dialogue and songs. "Robin went off in a multitude of directions," Clements recalls. "He worked harder than anyone we've ever been associated with." But unlike some of the other actors who provide voices, Williams gets no formal billing in the finished film. "That was our agreement with Robin from the very beginning," says studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. "In fact, it's true of every one of the major movie stars who have done these movies in the last few years. Robin wanted it that way and we wanted it that way. These are not Robin Williams or Bette Midler pictures. They are Walt Disney pictures." And the extent of that collaboration is enormous beginning with the 600 animators, artists and technicians who spent three years on the project, creating more than a million individual drawings to meet the standards of full classic animation. ff Aladdin was first proposed by lyricist Howard Ashman in 1988 when he and his writing partner, composer Alan Menken, were putting the finishing touches on the songs for The Little Mermaid and about to begin work on Beauty and the Beast. The idea got the green light from Disney, Ashman wrote an initial treatment for Aladdin and collaborated on six songs with Menken. Ashman died last year, and by this time, the shape of the story had changed substantially. Nevertheless, his lyrics remain in three of the five songs used in the film. The two others feature lyrics by award-winning British writer, Tim Rice, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's former collaborator. Aladdin is a rags-to-riches adventure about a resourceful street youth who dreams of becoming a prince and marrying the Sultan's beautiful daughter. In the process, he not only wins the princess and defeats the evil Jafar with the aid of the wise-cracking Genie, he also learns something about real human values. Veteran animator Glen Keane, who supervised the creation of Aladdin for this film, says this is a different kind of animated hero. "In the old days of animation, the heroes were very definitely the bland characters. Nobody wanted to work on them. It was the villains and the comic creations who were considered the fun characters." But with Aladdin it's different. "The hero is more believable. He's got weaknesses. People call him a street rat, and that hurts him because he knows that's what he is and he wants to change." Keane cites a character like Cinderella. "She changes from scullery maid to princess, but she doesn't really change from inside out. With Aladdin, there's a real change. In the end he learns integrity and accomplishes things he wouldn't have deemed possible." V ' A - t j f . d ., '" ' Technical wizardry threatens storyline Review Aladdin ' Rideau, Gloucester, Britannia By Noel Taylor Citizen movies writer Better make it clear right away, before I start equivocating in the face of the shrill chorus around me. Aladdin ain't another Beauty and the Beast. Which isn't to say you won't enjoy it. You won't be blown away, that's all. But you will be knocked out by the sheer technical wizardry of an Aladdin, which is as close to a computer ized fairy tale as Disney is ever likely to get. As the young voice in my ear announced after about one minute. "This is fun!" The pleasure from this six-year-old sitting behind me was palpable, literally. A nudge now and then, a series of thuds on the back of my seat over the next 90 minutes, and then the final verdict. "That was really fun." As a critic, the six-year-old's vocabulary was limited. But she captured the enthusiasm of her age group for a film that shows off like mad all the technological advances in animation. And, as if that weren't enough, the makers of this movie toss in Robin Williams as the voice of the Genie. The only regret is that Williams is the only part of the movie that the adults in the audience will remember. As the Genie who's freed from his lamp, Williams stretches and announces typically: "A thousand years give you such a crick in the neck!" From then on, he takes over, doing a routine that includes his familiar repertoire of impersonations, wisecracks and one-liners. Disney didn't miscalculate. Williams' Genie is a hit, but not like the Beast. Genie is not a character to get involved with, though he hasn't much competition, certainly not from a bland-looking Aladdin, or his sloe-eyed princess. Their boy-girl affair just doesn't have the grandeur of Disney's last film, and one watches it with a sense of creeping deja-vu, while waiting for them to burst into song. Talking of songs, Aladdin doesn't have the kind that win Oscars, or make children hum as they leave the cinema. There are five songs woven inconspicuously into the story, but none are the show-stoppers one expects from Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, or lyricist Howard Ashman, who died before the film could be completed, leaving Tim Rice to finish the words. What Aladdin does for animation is open up the possibilities into a world of fantasy that only a Genie out of a lamp can conjure up. It goes beyond the animated inanimates the knife, the spoon and the teapot of Beauty and the Beast (though it has a lot of fun with a magic carpet that has a whole range of human emotion) and enters another dimension. Aladdin uses computer-assisted animation, which goes beyond a fluidity of movement that is almost human and into some amazing tricks with perspective. The storyline may suffer, but the telling of it is enhanced. There's a point where technique takes over, and in Aladdin, Disney comes perilously close to it. Still, the studio hasn't forgotten its staple diet, like the garrulous parrot on the shoulder of the evil Visier, whose line of patter sounds as though it could have been written by Williams himself. Or Aladdin's companion, the under-sized monkey. The characters sound like people, and react like them, without ever convincing us they are anything more than precocious pets. And they never interfere with the momentum of the story. Aladdin, as one might expect, is full of such business. There's so much going on that there's an illusion of speed that doesn't give children much time for the bathroom. In its eagerness to show what animation can do, Aladdin does for the Arabian Nights what Hook did for Peter Pan. It overdoes it But don't tell that to the six year-old voice in my right ear the other evening. ft ff 1 fj Q m it?'" ,. NOEL TAYLOR TALKING PICTURES Karl Francis is a one-man seminar on the state of the film industry, whether it's in Wales where he's from, or England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Europe, or even Hollywood, where he's been only once "and that was enough." Francis has been in the business long enough, about 20 years, to have strong opinions about the way films are made, how they're marketed, and how much they cost. Too much, usually. His don't cost a lot, partly because much of the time he prefers hand-picked, non-actors to ." . dramatize specific situations. He looks around the Citizen cafeteria where we're sitting. "In this room I could find three or four people I could turn into material for good dramas," he says. "Give me a camera, 10,000 feet of film and I t could make a film in this cafeteria in a week." And on his record, one doesn't doubt him. Francis peppers his conversation with references to how many films he has made, and how many more are on the way, one from El Salvador and one about the rise of neo-Fascism in Europe. Now 50, Francis is at the peak of a career that ' has focussed on politically aware drama and controversial documentaries. One of his latest, Rebecca's Daughters, is so out of character that Francis seems amused to include it in his list of pictures. Rebecca's Daughters is a period romp with echoes of Tom Jones, about an incident in Welsh history. It opened the European Festival Thursday night at the Museum of Civilization Theatre and Francis was in town to talk about it. On its release in Britain earlier this year, Rebecca's Daughters didn't do too well. Generally, critics liked it but "the media was in the middle of an anti-Welsh campaign and the film takes the piss out of the English," Francis says. "One critic wondered why the British film industry ought to be making that kind of film right now when they should be making significant contemporary films." Media thundercloud In the context of Francis's career, the irony of that one is glaring. He has just emerged from the media thundercloud that broke over his most talked-about project yet, a six-part TV se- ' ries called Civvies. It is the British equivalent of The Valour and the Horror multiplied a hundredfold. Civvies is about a group of ex-paratroopers turned hardened criminals. "It caused havoc," Francis recalls. The regiment went to war over their image in Civvies, the Daily Telegraph wrote editorials about it, and 10 million people watched it. Peter O'Toole, who auditioned on Francis's answering machine for the part of a gangster and got it, didn't charge for it. "But he made up for it in Rebecca's Daughters." Like most movies in Britain these days, Fran-cis's films are aimed at television. It's where the audience is. (The feature-film industry in , Britain is down to an annual output of between 12 and 20 movies). Francis says he doesn't mind interrupting his busy career to make a Welsh film in Welsh, even though they don't sell well because they need subtitles and they're so politically radical. And there are few big Welsh stars. Except, of course, Anthony Hopkins. Francis doubts he could afford him, but given the right script he might be able to lure him home. The Irish cinema, on the other hand, is going through an international awakening (.The Commitments, Hear My Song), and has always had a strong American connection. And Ireland has Daniel Day Lewis. Francis is open in his admi- , ration for My Left Foot, to which he adds, "I made a much better film about a mongoloid child. But it didn't have Daniel Day Lewis." As for Hollywood, it beckoned to Francis once, but not for long. The invitation came from Mel Brooks, who sent his producer, Jonathan Sanger, to woo Francis. "I tried several times to see him in London," . ' Francis says. "Then he rang when I was down in Cardiff. I asked him if he knew where Padding- -ton station was. He said Yes. I told him if he got on a train there he could be in Cardiff in a couple of hours. That's the last I heard of him." When he gets back home this month, Francis is due to start on a four-part drama about a man . who builds a church on the poorest housing estate in Britain, which is in Wales. Again, he's using non-actors. f - Karl Francis Known for dramas and documentaries

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