[rubs lamp] I wish I
had a movie review.
That’s right, Disney’s stroll down memory lane continues
with another remake/sequel/reimagining.
This time, director Guy Ritchie joins actors Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott
and Will Smith for another take on its 1992 animated film Aladdin.
The story of “Aladdin; or The Wonderful Lamp” is a tale
generally accepted to be part of the One
Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian
Nights). However, its origins can be
a little fuzzy. The story doesn’t appear
in the collection until the 19th Century in a translation by Antoine
Galland. For a while, many scholars
believed that Galland invented the story himself and added it into the
collection. However, current information
suggests that Galland first heard the tale from a Syrian storyteller named
Youhenna Diyab when Diyab was visiting France.
The story follows the same basic plot as the 1992
movie. A street urchin falls in love
with a feisty princess. He gets made to
enter a magic treasure cave and retrieve a magic lamp by a crooked court
official named Jafar. The combination of
magic and Aladdin’s low self-esteem cause him to lie to the princess. Jafar gets hold of the lamp, everything goes
to pot and Aladdin is forced to both tell the truth and save the day.
There are a few changes.
Jasmine, who gets a new song
as well, is more interested in ruling the
country of Agrabah than simply evading an arranged marriage.
Jafar is still an ambitious
snake-in-the-grass, but now his ambition isn’t just to rule Agrabah but to
conquer the surrounding countries and create his own empire.
It’s also established that Jafar was once a
street thief himself, making him something of a dark mirror to Aladdin.
The movie itself is entertaining. Adapting the animated Aladdin to live action
was always going to be a tricky task. Largely
because one of the intents of the 1992 movie, at least that I read, was to
adapt an aesthetic and style that were like more broadly comedic cartoons like
the Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry.
That’s why they opted to stunt cast two famous comedians in the roles of
Genie and Iago. It kind of makes sense
in retrospect, doesn’t it? So, they had
the unenviable task of adapting to live action one of Disney’s cartooniest
cartoons. They do about as well as they
can. Certain things are toned down while
others remain as broad as ever. Jafar’s
parrot sidekick, for example, is significantly toned down from Gilbert
Gottfried’s constant kvetching and insults to basically Alan Tudyk trying to
just sound like an unusually intelligent parrot. However, the Genie is still as out-there as
ever. I had kind of hoped that without
Robin Williams in the role, maybe Genie wouldn’t dominate every scene he was
in. I underestimated how much of a ham
Will Smith could be. Mena Massoud turns
in a good acting performance, though I’m not sure his singing was quite up to
snuff. Massoud has good comedic
chemistry with Smith. He also has good
chemistry with Naomi Scott as Jasmine. Of
all the characters, Jasmine is probably the one who stands out most, seeing as
Scott is the best singer of all of them and because the story seems most
interested in expanding her conflict beyond what it was in her original
animated incarnation. As I said before,
Jasmine now not only wants to choose her own husband, she also wants to succeed
her father as Sultan (Wait. Wouldn’t she
actually be a Sultana? Oh, well). One performance I liked that I think others
may be split on is Marwan Kenzari as Jafar.
The thing about Jafar in the 1992 film, is that he’s just such a
cartoony villain. He’s foppish and
cackling and theatrical. He feels like a
cartoon villain in a similar mold as Skeletor and Cobra Commander. However, Kenzari tries his level best to turn
a cackling cartoon into a believable live action villain. Jafar’s ambition seems believable if not
justifiable. Adding the new wrinkle that
he was a lowly thief who climbed to the level of grand vizier but whose
ambition has never quite sated is a nice touch.
They could have almost played on that more, seeing as one of the things
they touched on with Aladdin and Genie is Aladdin getting too comfortable in
his role as fake prince and Genie warning that wealth and power gained from
wishes will never satisfy someone.
There’s one thing that disappointed me but will pretty much
only disappoint someone like me. One of
my favorite things to do with these movies is to see the places where they went
back to the text for more material. And
Aladdin just doesn’t. Granted, it might
have been hard to fit Aladdin’s mother back into the story and it might have
been a bit silly to have Jafar walking around in disguise offering “new lamps
for old”, but I still wish there was something.
The closest thing might be the way the story starts off being told by
Will Smith as a mariner and an action sequence in which Iago is expanded to the
size of a roc, but that’s only due to Aladdin’s nature as a “kitchen sink”
movie. I should probably explain. A “kitchen sink” movie is one of those Disney
movies where it seemed like they thought they wouldn’t be revisiting that
material again, so they tried to include everything including the kitchen
sink. Hercules, Alice in Wonderland,
The Black Cauldron and Return to Oz are all kitchen sink films
to some degree. I suppose the Mary Poppins films are as well. But, Aladdin
is one in regards to the Arabian Nights. For example, there is no magic carpet in the
story of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”.
The magic carpet is from the story of “Prince Ahmad and the Fairy
Peri-Banu”. At least the first part of
it. I’ve only reread the first part
(hey, I’ve been busy!). In Disney’s
Aladdin, the carpet is basically slotted into the place the Djinni of the Ring
is in the original tale. So, including a
maritime scene and transforming Iago into a giant monster bird could be seen as
a nod to the story of “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad” (Note: the roc is a giant
bird that Sinbad encounters on his voyages).
Though, it would still be a stretch.
To tell you the truth, the 2019 Aladdin is probably the one Disney remake that I can most call a
pure remake. Cinderella, The Jungle Book and
even Beauty and the Beast can all be
considered re-adaptations as well as remakes because they went back and got
more material from the source story.
Yes, even Beauty and the Beast. The fact that it added back one of the most
iconic parts of the fairy tale gets it a pass.
Pete’s Dragon, Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo changed so much that they could be
called re-imaginings. And then Maleficent, Christopher Robin and Mary
Poppins Returns are all different things entirely. However, Aladdin
is almost completely intent on telling the story from the 1992 animated feature
again. It changes things, but not enough
to make all that much of a difference.
So, that’s about it.
It’s a fun movie. Some of the
actors have good chemistry. It’s a fun
time if you want to take your kids to it (or you could go see it with your aunt
like I did). But don’t expect it to
tickle your folklore bone all that much.