“I can show you the world.”
No, I really can’t, but how else are you going to start a review on Aladdin? Except maybe":
I recently had the chance to go see the new live action adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin. As an artist I’ve always found some very interesting things to think about when going to see an adaptation. Disney’s recently determination to turn all their movies into live action (if we can call a movie with as much CGI as many of these movies have “live action) has particularly gotten me thinking. About how stories are constrained or helped by their medium. About the role that nostalgia and memories play in our enjoyment of a story. About how the same story can speak to various age groups, and highlight different themes with very tiny changes. About how a story that depends on twists and surprises (Marvel, I’m looking at you) can lose out to a story that chooses to emphasis an experience and artistic expression.
I could address any of these things, and probably be typing for the next three years. Instead, I will focus on what I came here to talk about.
Did I like the movie?
Well. I think this movie would rate above most of the recent Disney adaptations for me. I did really enjoy Beauty and the Beast in a lot of ways. And Jungle Book was one of my favorites for purely subjective reasons.
That being said, it was similar to a lot of the Disney franchises lately. Like Star Wars, Marvel, and every other live-action adaptation. I enjoy them in the theaters, but they are not movies that I feel hold up over the long term.
Still, I feel like this one is sticking in my head a little longer. Probably because of the thoughts I list above. I think there is something else that is making this movie a bit of a “diamond in the rough” for me.
It’s not the music, or the actors, or Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie, or the CGI. What this movie did well was theme.
Guys, we know how I am about themes and characters, right? If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you will know that I’m pretty forgiving if these two things are gotten right.
While Aladdin did repeat the theme of “a diamond in the rough” and the concept that true value lies beneath, the story itself failed to uphold the theme in all of it’s different facets. The main character of Aladdin, in particular, made a few choices that contradict both his role as the “diamond in the rough” and the theme of the story over all.
That being said, there are many moments that actually pumped up the emotion and themes from the original. Some of my favorite changes include Will Smith’s Genie.
While Robin Williams will always be the TRUE genie, Will Smith’s iteration was probably the high point of the film. Particularly his interaction with this films version of Aladdin.
When Genie first meets Aladdin, he is dismissive and almost demeaning. But through the film we begin to see that Aladdin’s tendency to treat everyone with dignity and humanity (from his monkey and a flying carpet to the sheltered princess) breaks through Genie’s barriers. Eventually we start to see that Genie cares more about Aladdin than his own safety and happiness.
While a typical “master” would bully and demand, treating Genie as a slave, Aladdin humbly reaches out to him in a relationship that hangs between friend and student. Aladdin builds family wherever he can find it, and has quickly placed Genie in the place of a male role-model without question.
Because of that when Aladdin begins to fall to the lure of power and wealth and refuses to free Genie with his third wish, Genie is more concerned about Aladdin’s well being than the fact that his chance at freedom is being taken.
This relationship makes the moment when Aladdin chooses to free Genie that much more powerful.
I only wish they had given more time to that relationship, as well as some others.
I have an author friend who makes sure that preserving the themes and message of a book are addressed in a special round of editing. As a result, while her books do have multiple little questions that come up through the text, the entire work supports a single premise. I feel like this movie could have used her expertise.
If the creators were a little more adventurous with their story, and more willing to deviate from the cartoon version, this movie could have been truly incredible. Thankfully, I think it fell a bit more on the “good” side for me than not.
What about you? Have you seen the new, live action Aladdin? Are you mostly disappointed or did the good stuff win out?