Aladdin sets a shining example

ALADDIN, with the voices of Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin and Jonathan Freeman. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.

THERE was a time when Walt Disney animations were breathtaking exercises in technical excellence attached to stories so overly romantic they made sugar seem sour.

Obviously, Fantasia would be an exception, but the likes of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians, while appealing to the unpolished emotions of children, had the average adult reaching for the sweet-sickness bag.

This accusation could never have been levelled at the first feature of the '90s, the excellent Beauty and the Beast, whose chief villain Gaston was obviously meant to appeal to both adults and children. Disney continues to develop this trend towards catering for both groups with Aladdin.

There is no doubt any child with any sort of imagination will love Aladdin. With its bright, fabulous action sequences and madcap, slapstick humour, it will delight and fascinate. What it will also do is have mum and dad rolling in the aisles and marvelling at the stunning animation.

It would be impossible to overstate the technical achievement of this film. At no stage do the animators shy away from creating effects which will enhance the quality of the viewing experience. Faces are reflected in water, adding the undulating movement of liquid to the already detailed movement of features.

The sand in the background during moonlit sequences actually sparkles, adding all sorts of extra work to these segments.

This is really putting the satisfaction of creating a great animated feature before budget and practicality. Disney could have got away with a static sand-coloured background, but chose not to, facing the challenge of creating a truly voluptuous effect at great expense and effort.

Visually, Aladdin is a delight, a real trip, and these visuals are all but matched by the script which is witty, snappy and energetically delivered by the players, in particular Robin Williams as the Genie.

Williams' vocal performance is marvellously energetic, and married to the imagination of Disney's animators, the overall effect is hilarious. The Genie is basically an animator's dream as he can change shape at will and is therefore open to all sorts of metamorphosis.

The animators exploit this potential to the full during the song Friend Like Me.

Music (by Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Howard Ashman) plays an important part in telling the story of Aladdin. The songs contain elements of Middle Eastern music but most often take their inspiration from the '30s and '40s. The result is musical sequences reminiscent of the big production numbers knocked out by Hollywood during the Great Depression.

Aladdin is tremendous fun, a real blast, escapist entertainment at its best, and a cracking story entertainingly told. One of the best films of the year without a doubt.