The 1992 Disney movie "Aladdin" is the animated re-imagining of the classic tale of Aladdin and his lamp, first introduced in "The Book of One Thousand and One Nights." It so successfully married the manic comic talent of Robin Williams with the unlimited canvas of animation that it started the trend of known actors portraying animated characters. Its vivid setting is of the Middle East, although Ala-ed-Din from the original text was actually Chinese.
"The Book of One Thousand and One Nights" is a collection of fables gathered over centuries from such Middle Eastern countries as Syria, Persia, Yemen and Iraq. It was gathered somewhere in the ninth century, and introduced such characters as Ali Babba, Sinbad and, of course, Aladdin. Originally Aladdin was a "scatter-brained scapegrace" from China, but Western interpretation of the story made the hero Middle Eastern. This is where Disney would take its inspiration for the movie.
According to the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, the color setting of the movie was inspired by Persian miniatures and paintings of the Middle East dating back to the Victorian era. Iranian native Rasoul Azadani was layout supervisor for the movie and traveled to his hometown of Ispahan to take hundreds of photos so that he could get a "feel" for how the film was intended to look. The filmmakers created "Aladdin's" fictional kingdom of Agrabah around this concept and included such details as having the Sultan refer to "Allah" in Islamic tradition.
East, but West
The movie opens to an arid, vibrantly colored desert terrain and a turban-wearing street merchant straddling a camel as he sings the opening number, "Arabian Nights." This walks the audience through the streets of Agrabah under the shadow of the Sultan's castle, where the merchant sets up shop to tell the tale of ne'er do well Aladdin. Oddly enough, despite this more traditional setting, lead characters of Aladdin and Jasmine were fashioned after decidedly non-Arab actors Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly.
Critics of the film believe it to be racist. The "Arabian Nights" lyric that originally stated, "Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam/Where they cut of your ear, If they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home," was changed after Arab Americans protested the offensive, negative stereotype. It was changed to, 'Where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense," instead, although you can still hear the vocal change in the movie's soundtrack.
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