By the nature of their popularity, Disney's adaptations often become the de-facto interpretation of famous fairy tales. If you ask the average person on the street to explain the general story of Beauty and the Beast, they'll inevitably touch upon the horny French candleabra who has designs on a sexy feather duster. The same goes for Aladdin; most Westerners were probably not familiar with the story before they saw the movie, so Disney essentially defined it for them.
For instance, when you think of the word "genie," the image in your head is probably at least partially inspired by Robin Williams' classic character. Now imagine how much that image would change if Disney had gone with one of their original genie sketches...
Yikes. These range from bizarre to downright creepy. Where the hell did these weirdos come from? Well, it's tough to say for sure when in the process these concepts came along, but they may have come from a lost treatment of the movie dating back to 1988. Back then, there were two genies, just like in the original 18th century story. There was a Genie of the Lamp, as you might have guessed, but there was also the less-powerful Genie of the Ring. Whether one of these was going to be the hideous/bordering-on-racist ghouls you see above is unclear.
Bear in mind, a lot of things differ between the cartoon and the old adventure added into The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Though it's still technically a Middle Eastern folk tale, the Aladdin of yore was actually a young Chinese man. The setting itself is a little more unclear, however. No matter the true intentions of Aladdin's first storyteller, Disney figured it was better off tossing everything into one fictional Arabian city and calling it good. Seems like they had a little trouble settling on a version of Aladdin himself, though.
Notice something about these Aladdin concepts? They all sorta look like guys who came from another country outside the US, as opposed to a handsome teen surfer with a cosplay hobby. Judging by these sketches, it looks as though Disney scanned their options and said: "But what if the Middle-Eastern guy was... whiter?"
It's not just me remarking on this, either. Roger Ebert thought the same thing when the movie released, back in November 1992:
One distraction during the film was its odd use of ethnic stereotypes. Most of the Arab characters have exaggerated facial characteristics - hooked noses, glowering brows, thick lips - but Aladdin and the princess look like white American teenagers. Wouldn't it be reasonable that if all the char acters in this movie come from the same genetic stock, they should resemble one another?
He's got a point. Aladdin and Jasmine do stand out next to Jafar, the Sultan, the guards, etc. Heck, you'd think that Aladdin would share some of the same features as his mom.
Oh, right. In earlier drafts of the script, Aladdin had a mom.
Unlike the "two genies" conceit, Aladdin's mom stuck around well into the production. In many ways she was the heart of the film; in this version, Al's main goal was to make her mother proud. There's even a whole deleted song on this premise, fittingly called "Proud of Your Boy." That's the whole reason the story kicks off in the first place, because a son wants to do right by his mom.
In the storyboards, we see that Aladdin's unnamed mother pleaded with him to sell her engagement ring. Though he initially complies with her request, in "Proud of Her Boy" we see him tuck her in and return the ring to her finger, determined to get his shit together and support his family.
It's an entirely unique scene that lends an entirely different dimension to the movie; instead of wanting to rise above the likes of a lowly street rat purely for himself, the early Aladdin has someone that's depending on him, someone he doesn't want to let down.
Aladdin's mother played such a big part in this iteration that she was even around when he welched on his deal to free the genie.
Putting aside deleted characters for a moment -- what Aladdin is asking for is kind of fucked up. It was already weird that Genie whipped up a bunch of fake (?) people for Prince Ali to parade into Agrabah. But Aladdin is asking to have an entire kingdom full of subservient people created out of nothing. The implications are staggering, and frankly pretty dark.
We can let diehards argue whether Prince Ali's subjects are holograms or slaves or hologram slaves. But they should really be more interested in a fan theory that was confirmed in a deleted scene. It all revolves around the merchant who opens the movie. Remember this guy?
He's the one who tries to sell the "viewer" the dusty old lamp to begin with. He doesn't show up again in the final film, so for years it's been up to audiences to speculate about his true motives. Was he telling the truth about Aladdin and his magic lamp? Or was he making up some bullshit to offload old merchandise? Well, according to a popular fan theory, that merchant is none other than Genie himself. It makes way, way too much sense, especially considering that Robin Williams voices both characters, along with the fact that Genie and the merchant are the only characters in the movie that sport four fingers instead of five.
You might have read that co-director Ron Clements endorsed the idea as canon. He wasn't just humoring fans, either -- a piece of an old workprint made it online, showing us what the reveal might have looked like.
As Aladdin and Jasmine fly off on their magic carpet, the merchant blows our minds by changing into his natural form: the big blue genie. Unlike some of the other deleted scenes we've shown, this one boasts what sounds like voicework from Robin Williams. It's kind of baffling that they ditched this for the nonsensical official ending. We'll have to give Disney the benefit of the doubt that we were better off with, uh... Genie turning into the moon and laughing at us? This movie was way weirder than I remember.
Tristan Cooper constantly disappoints his mother on Twitter.