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Disney‘s Aladdin character came out in 1992, and some of the inspirations behind the animated features speak to the early ’90s. But the tale of Aladdin dates back way longer than that, and he might have even been a real person.

But what iconic rapper was reportedly the basis for part of the ’92 Aladdin’s look? And what famous actor provided a facial blueprint for the animators to use in drawing the Disney version? Plus, why do some scholars now believe Aladdin might have been an 18th-century storyteller from Syria?

Aladdin the Disney character, shown portrayed by Michael K. Lee in "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" in 2002, is rumored to be inspired partly by an iconic rapper
Michael K. Lee as Aladdin | Geraldine Wilkins/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ used MC Hammer videos to capture the motion of the character’s parachute pants

According to Disney Aladdin character animator Glen Keane, inspiration came from a few different sources when he drew Aladdin. “I originally was thinking of him like a Michael J. Fox character, short in stature but with a big ego and lots of dreams,” Keane told the Los Angeles Times.

But after watching Tom Cruise in Top Gun, he decided to use his look. “In all [Cruise’s] poses, I noticed there was a confidence, a look in the eyebrows, that gives him intensity and at the same time a smile that has kind of an impish look, like he’s got something up his sleeve,” Keane explained.

However, Aladdin’s clothes were very dissimilar to what Cruise wore in Top Gun. So, animators reportedly turned to “U Can’t Touch This” rapper MC Hammer‘s music videos as a reference. That’s how they captured the movement of Aladdin’s parachute pants (per BuzzFeed).

Some scholars think a real person inspired the Disney character of Aladdin


Which Stars Voiced the Characters in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’?

The story of Aladdin seemingly originated with a Syrian storyteller who spoke to Antoine Galland. Galland notably translated One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights, centuries ago. He wrote about his experience with the traveler in his diary (per TIME).

Some experts believe that Galland’s storyteller, Hanna Diyab from Aleppo, told his true story as Aladdin. He would have described to Galland the marvels of the Palace of Versailles in France at the time.

Author Paulo Lemos Horta explained to TIME, “Diyab was ideally placed to embody the overlapping world of East and West, blending the storytelling traditions of his homeland with his youthful observations of the wonder of 18th-century France.”

Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ animator and co-director knew Robin Williams would voice the character of the genie

As reported by Variety, Aladdin animator Ron Clements co-directed the film and revealed one thing was always certain. Filmmakers created the part of the genie for Robin Williams‘ talents.

“[Co-writer and co-director] John Musker and I wrote the original script with the specific idea that Robin would voice the genie and that he would be a visual as well as vocal shape-shifter. Robin would be encouraged to improvise to his heart’s content,” Clements explained.

Williams nailed the part, recording a wealth of material during multiple four-hour sessions. After each, he was “dripping with sweat, completely drained,” Clements said. He added, “To this day, it’s one of the most incredible vocal sessions I’ve ever witnessed.”