Robin Williams' Genie Song "Friend Like Me" From 'Aladdin' Is Worthy of Its Own Tribute
Aladdin was one of the Disney movies that was just a required part of everyone's childhood. Like The Lion King, like Sleeping Beauty, like Mulan, if you hadn't seen Aladdin then you had no childhood. Jasmines abounded every Halloween and every preteen knew the words to "A Whole New World". Robin Williams voiced the Genie in Aladdin, something that makes Williams' tragic death feel a lot like someone took a sledgehammer to my childhood and expected me to find a way to pick up the pieces again. You see, I was unusual among my classmates in that, to this day, I still don't know all the words to "A Whole New World". That wasn't the song I rewinded over and over whenever Aladdin was on. Instead, Genie's show-stopping number "Friend Like Me" was the one that captured my imagination.
In fact, growing up, I always wondered if it was the rest of the world that hadn't watched the same movie that I had. I didn't want to see Aladdin and Jasmine fly around on a magic carpet singing about love. Love was universal. The Genie was unique. For that reason, he was given an utterly unique introductory song that had more pop culture references than I could get at that age — or that I even get now — and that elevated Aladdin to a whole new level.
Before "Friend Like Me", Aladdin was your standard movie about an underdog hero with a beautiful crush who got swept up into the villain's schemes. As soon as the Genie exploded onto the scene in a two minute dance number that's impossible to forget, suddenly we were watching a film in which anything could happen thanks to the phenomenal cosmic power of the Genie. (Except killing people, making people fall in love, bringing people back from the dead, and wishing for more wishes, of course.)
Not only that, but the Genie was more than just a plot device. He was no Blue Fairy from Pinocchio or Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. He had rules. He had goals. He had dreams. He just needed someone to see that. That much is evidenced from the fact that the entire "Friend Like Me" sequence is really just an overblown commercial for 1-800-GENIE. He talks more about what he can do for Aladdin than he does about himself, making the title of the song both misleading and ironic.
And yet, Aladdin takes it at face value. To him, it's not just an offer of servitude but an offer of friendship. Aside from Abu, Aladdin has never had a friend. He's definitely never had a friend like Genie. And for someone who's used to living on the streets, stealing to survive and looking out for himself, Aladdin lets Genie into his life and into his heart very easily.
Even after Genie outright invites Aladdin to wish for whatever he wants with the lines, "Life is your restaurant and I'm your maître d’! C'mon whisper what it is you want. You ain't never had a friend like me," it's clear later on in the movie that Aladdin is the exact opposite of greedy. Not only does he have no idea what he could possibly want to wish for (to repeat: a boy who has absolutely nothing and has to steal to eat has no idea what in life he could want), but he instead asks Genie for what he'd wish for. If Aladdin has never had a friend like Genie, then Genie has never had a friend like him either.
To be perfectly honest, there is no way that any of this entire sequence would have worked nearly as well without Robin Williams in this role. Williams' comedic timing, amazing impressions, and joie de vivre add something to the music that no one else could have come close to imitating. "Friend Like Me" is a song the likes of which Williams is made for and, considering that IMDB Trivia reports that they had about 16 hours of material from Williams' ad libbing alone, it wouldn't surprise me at all that he was a big consideration in the way they chose to animate the sequence.
Listen, I'm not saying that "A Whole New World" isn't a great song. All of the songs from Aladdin are great. However, "Friend Like Me", as performed by Robin Williams for the original film, elevated the material to an entirely new level and dared the rest of the movie to follow. Thanks to Genie (and, okay, the rest of the plot of the movie), the film succeeded. Rest in peace, Robin Williams.
Check out the music number below.