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The Houston Chronicle - August 16, 1996

Robin spins 'Aladdin'

Bruce Westbrook

DURING the creation of "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," new on video this week, the phrase "back to the drawing board" took a positive spin, not to mention a literal one.

Disney had begun animating the film, with Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer on "The Simpsons," giving voice to the genie, as he did in 1994's "The Return of Jafar."

But it was Robin Williams who played the genie in 1992's original "Aladdin," which made \$ 500 million in theaters worldwide and has sold 20 million copies on video.

So when Williams belatedly agreed to return, the first "Thieves" footage was scrapped to accommodate his talents.

"We had to throw it all out," said Tad Stones, the film's producer-director. "But instead of being dismayed, we were excited.

"Robin coming back created a whole new energy and was an excuse to redevelop and raise the quality. The studio put up more money, and the animators were given more time."

First, the genie's scenes were rewritten to fit Williams' comic style. Then he made his own input via improvisations.

For instance, when the genie stages a "code red" alert, "We were gonna just lip-synch with Robin at first," Stones said.

(Normally, the animation follows the voice recordings.)

"But then he went, 'We are at Def Com 4!' and gave us all these sound effects, and we went, 'Well, there goes that sequence.'"

Stones said Williams' imagination "turned this into a whole other thing. We rethought the film, with the entire climax becoming bigger."

The result is a film far better than "Jafar," which didn't do badly, selling almost 11 million copies and generating \$ 150 million at retail.

"Jafar was more of a normal TV-stuff quality," Stones said. "If it had sold only 1 million units, I don't think we'd have been surprised.

"But this time, we're making a statement about direct-to-video: This is a movie, and it's very viable."

"Thieves" has a suggested price of \$ 24.99 but should cost less than $ 20 in many stores.

Going straight to tape makes economic sense. Theaters can show only so many major movies per year, and video is a \$ 16 billion business - three times the box-office take.

Disney also plans a "Lion King" sequel for release straight to video. Video sequels also are planned for "Toy Story" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

"We'll also be doing originals - nonsequels," Stones said.

He believes direct-to-video "is a whole new entertainment medium, and we've just scratched the surface."

"We're trying to erase any difference between feature films and direct-to-video. We're still at a transitional point, but this ("King of Thieves") is an important part of a whole new business, more so than "Jafar."

Of course, Disney isn't the only studio pushing direct-to-video releases.

MCA/Universal's second "Darkman" sequel is set to arrive in stores next week, and its third "Land Before Time" sequel is being prepared to hit the video marketplace Dec. 10, with another installment in the series to follow next year.

The studio also is making a sequel to "An American Tale" to go straight to tape.

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