During script and storyboard development, the writers were already considering Robin Williams for the role of the Genie but had not approached him for the project. In order to convince Williams to do the role, Eric Goldberg animated the Genie doing several minutes of Williams's stand-up routines, including parts from his album 'Reality... What A Concept', and screened it for him. Williams was so impressed that he signed almost immediately.
Robin Williams provided the voice for the Genie, at union scale rate (the lowest legal pay rate a studio can give an actor), on the provisos that his voice was not used for merchandising (i.e. toys and such), and that the Genie character not take up more than 25% of the space of a poster, ad, billboard, or trailer. When these wishes were not granted, he withdrew his support for Disney and the film. As a result, his name was not included in "The Art of Aladdin" book (it makes constant references to "the voice of the Genie"), and he was not available for the direct-to-video sequel The Return of Jafar (1994) or the Aladdin (1994) TV show (Dan Castellaneta filled in as the voice of the Genie for these productions). In an attempt to get back on good terms with Williams, Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner apologized to him with a peace offering of an original Pablo Picasso painting. Still angered and feeling betrayed by Disney, Williams would not accept the gift. It was not until Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired and replaced by Joe Roth did Williams return to Disney. Through Roth, a public apology was given. Promises were made to right wrongs, and Williams was so touched that he came back as the Genie for the second direct-to-video sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996). Disney was so thrilled that they threw out the previously completed recording sessions with Castellaneta.
While filming this movie, Robin Williams frequently received calls from Steven Spielberg who at the time was working on Schindler's List (1993). He would put him on speaker phone so he could tell jokes to the cast and crew to cheer them up. Some of the material that he used was material that he was using for this film.
Originally, the peddler who introduces the movie would be revealed to be the Genie at the end - hence the fact that Robin Williams voiced him, too. Notice the similarities in the design of the two, especially the eyebrows, the beard, and the four-fingered hands. (All the other human characters have five fingers.)
The opening scene with the street merchant was completely unscripted. Robin Williams was brought into the sound stage and was asked to stand behind a table that had several objects on it and a bed sheet covering them all. The animators asked him to lift the sheet, and without looking take an object from the table and describe it in character. Much of the material in that recording session was not appropriate for a Disney film.
Jafar at first was more hot-tempered, while Iago was a cool, haughty British type. The filmakers felt that having Jafar losing his temper too much made him less menacing, so the personalities of the two characters were switched around.
In the preview screenings for the movie, nobody applauded after the big song numbers. The animators wanted applause and so somebody stuck the Genie with an "Applause" sign at the end of "Friend Like Me". The joke worked and the sign was kept for the movie.
The Genie sings in "Friend Like Me" that "Scheherazade had her thousand tales". Scheherazade was, of course, the supposed author/teller of the stories from "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights", which "Aladdin" comes from. While there weren't really over a thousand tales, she did supposedly keep the sultan entertained for 1,001 nights. The story of Scheherazade was that there was a Sultan who was upset about his Sultana's (wife's) infidelity. After having her executed, he swore he would have a new woman every night, and have them imprisoned or executed at sunrise, unless they could keep him entertained for more than one night. The Grand Vizier's daughter Scheherazade was sent in, and began telling stories to the Sultan. Her trick was she would only tell a small portion of the story each night, leaving the Sultan to want to hear more each night. After several nights, the Sultan lifted his decree, and married Scheherazade.
When the film was first released on VHS in October 1993, it sold over 10.8 million copies in its first week and went on to sell over 25 million in total. This record stood for only two years when it was beaten by the release of The Lion King (1994).
In early visual development, Aladdin resembled Michael J. Fox. As the film developed, Jeffrey Katzenberg didn't think Aladdin had enough appeal to women, so he asked that Aladdin be beefed up a bit to resemble Tom Cruise.
This was the first major animated film which was advertised on the strength of having a major movie star providing one of its voices (Robin Williams in this case). This has since become the norm with animated features.
On what came to be known among the Aladdin animators as Black Friday, then Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg told the team to scrap virtually everything they'd been working on for months and start all over again. He also refused to move the film's release date. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements were able to completely turn around the film's new plot and screenplay in just eight days.
The idea of adapting the Aladdin story as a Disney animated musical was first proposed by Howard Ashman in 1988 at the time that he and Alan Menken were still working on The Little Mermaid (1989) and before work had begun on Beauty and the Beast (1991). Ashman wrote an initial treatment for the project and collaborated on six songs with Menken. When John Musker and Ron Clements finished directing duties on The Little Mermaid, they turned their attention to writing a first draft of this film's script, and eventually became its directors.
In the original recording for the opening song "Arabian Nights", part of the song originally went "where they cut off your ear, if they don't like your face". After the movies' release Arabic Americans took offense so the line was changed to "where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense". If you listen closely, you can hear a distinct vocal change when he sings, "it's barbaric, but hey, it's home!"
The second Disney animated feature to use fully rendered and textured 3D CGI moving backgrounds in combination with the traditionally animated character animation, a technique that was expanded upon in the Disney short Off His Rockers (1992) and previously in Beauty and the Beast (1991). This led to the creation of "Deep Canvas" a brand-new technique created by Disney 7 years later for use in Tarzan (1999), which allows 2D hand-drawn characters to exist seamlessly in a fully 3D environment.
After proving his abilities to Aladdin by getting them out of a collapsed cave, Genie calls Aladdin "Mr. Doubting Mustafa". In the classic tellings of the Aladdin story, Mustafa was the name of Aladdin's late father.
During his first song, the Genie mentions Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This is, of course, another story from the Arabian Nights, and was used as the basis for the direct-to-video sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996).
Part of the plot revolves around Jafar seeking Aladdin as he is the only one able to enter the Cave of Wonders and retrieve a valuable item inside; Aladdin finds the lamp inside and narrowly avoids dying inside the cave. This imitates the plot in an earlier Disney classic, The Rescuers (1977), in which Madame Medusa uses an unwanted orphan girl small enough to fit through the opening of a dangerous pirate's cave and retrieve the Devil's Eye diamond inside. Penny and her rescuers exit the cave with the jewel after narrowly avoiding drowning.
Eight other songs were written for the film but were later removed. Some of the original songs before the story was rewritten and half of the characters were cut: "Proud of Your Boy" (supposed to be sung by Aladdin to his mother - later removed from the story - while she was sleeping); "Call Me A Princess"; "Omar, Babkak, Aladdin, Kassim"; "Humiliate The Boy" (sung by Jafar, cut as it was considered too cruel for the film); "High Adventure"; "Count on Me" (which was something Aladdin sung to his friends and family, then it was changed to "A Whole New World").
Production designer Richard Vander Wende devised a simple color scheme for the film, inspired by its desert setting. Blue (water) stands for good, red (heat) for evil, and yellow (sand) is neutral. For example, the villainous Jafar is clad in blacks and reds, while the virtuous Jasmine wears blue. Another example is in the Cave of Wonders, where the lamp's chamber is blue, and the ruby that tempts Abu is bright red.
Though loosely based on the original short story from Arabian Nights, many plot elements are created just for the film: Jafar's desire for Jasmine, framing Aladdin for a crime and having him imprisoned, Aladdin meeting another prisoner (actually Jafar) who helps break him out of prison and tells him of a hidden treasure, Aladdin using the treasure (the lamp) to falsely portray himself as a Prince, and to take revenge on Jafar. These plot elements are all quite similar to the plot of Alexandre Dumas Pere's novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.
When Howard Ashman began work on the movie, he developed the story as a fast-paced comic adventure about a young boy trying to prove his worth to his parents. But, in 1991, Ashman died, and the story problems stalled the movie. So, the plot was reworked to be about a teenager, Aladdin, seeking self-respect instead of the approval of others.
The Islamic cultural setting of the film is directly referenced to several times throughout the film. Such examples include when The Sultan yells "Praise Allah" when he realizes that Jasmine wants to marry Prince Ali/Aladdin, when The Sultan says "Allah forbid you have any daughters!" when he is frustrated with Jasmine, and when Gazeem at the beginning says "By Allah" when he sees The Cave of Wonders.
The two men in the crowd that Aladdin pushes through are caricatures of a couple of the directors (John Musker and Ron Clements); the original plan was to use film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, but they couldn't get permission.
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken originally conceived the opening song "Arabian Nights" to be recurrent throughout the film, acting as narration. This idea was dropped when the visuals and storytelling proved strong enough in their own right.
Bill Plympton turned down a seven-figure offer to work on this film, because any ideas and concepts he developed for his other projects while under contract with Disney would become their intellectual property.
A rumor circulated in late 2001 that during Aladdin's balcony scene he says, "Take off your clothes." He is talking to Rajah at the time, and his exact words are, "Nice kitty, take off and go, go on." This has been cut in the 2004 Platinum Edition DVD.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Aladdin puts Jafar back into the lamp, the spell on the other characters is broken - the Magic Carpet gets returned to normal, and Jasmine's dress turns back from red to blue. Start watching when Jasmine's tiger cub jumps into the Sultan's arms. When the cub hits his arms and starts to grow back into a tiger, just before he becomes normal, the tiger's face appears as Mickey Mouse for one frame.
When Aladdin realizes that he might become the next sultan he worries and the Genie tries to cheer him up by saying, "Aladdin, you've just won the heart of the princess! What are you going to do next?", setting him up for the popular Disney advertising campaign line, "I'm going to Disney World!" Aladdin does not say this, but we hear the Disney theme music in the background. Similarly, when the Genie gets ready to leave at the end of the film, he is wearing a Disney souvenir Goofy hat.
Andreas Deja based Jafar on Marc Davis's design for Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty (1959). The two villains share more than just looks: both carry a staff which they use to execute evil magic; both have bird henchman (Maleficent's is a raven, Jafar's a parrot), and both turn themselves into gigantic animals in their respective films' climactic battles - Maleficent as a dragon, Jafar as a snake. UltimateDisney.com featured Maleficent and Jafar in their Top Villain Countdown at #1 and #2, respectively.