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Disney’s upcoming line-up resembles quite a few titles that stood on my childhood shelf of movies and didn’t collect dust for long, namely 1992’s Aladdin. Between the catchy songs, Robin Williams’ iconic performance and the fun, animated, magical world, I know I’m not the only one who couldn’t stop watching the Disney classic over the years and even noticed a few scratches in the magic lamp upon repeated viewings.
Enter the new live-action Aladdin remake coming in May. Yes, I’ve already been burned before by the uninspired 2016 Beauty and the Beast release but here I am getting excited about what’s to come from the House of Mouse’s new take on the beloved animated film. While Will Smith’s Blue Genie scared me for a minute there with his first CGI reveal, the most recent full trailer sold me on just being a kid for a couple hours and giving it a good shot. But, there are some glaring issues from the original that the upcoming musical has a chance to fix. Let’s talk them through:
What Culture Is Aladdin Depicting?
So we know Aladdin lives in Agrabah, the “city of mystery” and it has some Middle Eastern flavor to it, but that’s about it. Since it’s a fairytale complete with magic carpet rides and a monkey who turns into a cute elephant who wears a vest and little hat, does it really matter where Aladdin takes place? You bet it does! Even if the movie runs with maintaining Agrabah as a completely fictional hodgepodge of Arabic and Indian cultures, as the original did, it needs to set this up in some way if it wants to dodge coming off as culturally insensitive.
Think about how Black Panther’s Wakanda worked: it’s a completely fictional depiction of a country in Africa, but it’s been celebrated especially for how it empowered African cultures and uniquely represented them. The live-action version of this fun Disney musical would be a great opportunity to do this for Middle Eastern cultures, which are also significantly underrepresented in Hollywood.
Aladdin derives a lot of themes from the 18th century Middle Eastern famed book of folk tales, The Arabian Nights. Paying a bit of homage and putting a bit more effort into portraying the culture the story is based on would be a great step forward for the next iteration of the movie and add some more depth to the story Disney started. The studio has vastly improved its portrayal of a variety of cultures, even from the ‘90s to today, and I hope they show this off a bit in addition to being as accessible to audiences as the animated movie was.
The Blue Genie Is The Whole Show
Let’s face it, without Robin Williams’ incredibly energetic and lovable performance as the Blue Genie in Aladdin, it just wouldn’t be as highly regarded by audiences as it still is today. The Genie is an absolute scene stealer who is the heart, comedic relief and sidekick of the movie all at once. Williams absolutely carried that movie, and even improved many of his scenes by improvising comedic bits for the character. Don’t get me wrong, in the context of the animated classic this certainly worked in favor of Disney and is where the movie’s most memorable strengths lie (besides a few outdated references).
With Robin Williams out of the picture, though, how does the Disney story hold up? I have some concerns about the couple we’re rooting for (which I’ll get to in a moment) and Jafar is quite the typical power hungry villain. The Genie show and flashy musical numbers are a really effective way for the movie to cover up some of the weaknesses of Disney’s take on Aladdin. I hope the remake will opt for striking a balance between giving the Genie the floor and showing that the movie's other characters have more to give.
For instance, what about Aladdin’s backstory? I’m sure he does a little more than steal bread and lie to his crushes. And, there’s got to be a lot more to Princess Jasmine than meets the eye. What would happen if The Little Mermaid was all about Sebastian because Ariel wasn’t interesting enough to the writers or Olaf became the heart of Frozen because the writers didn’t know how to depict an interesting sister relationship? Here’s hoping the new Aladdin filmmakers saw this potential problem and didn’t give Will Smith all of the load.
Aladdin and Jasmine’s Relationship Is Problematic
Okay, so Disney doesn’t have a great track record of creating believable romances...they are fairytales, after all! But, their love stories, which we once idealized, can look more ridiculous the older we get. So, isn’t part of the point of a remake (besides the loads of cash these movie attract) for Disney to attempt to work on this a bit? The studio has done this with their recent animated movies, so I wouldn’t expect anything less from live action.
I thought the live-action Cinderella did a wonderful job of this, as it focused more on Prince Charming’s story and the pair seemed to form a genuine bond aside from the wonder of the ball. On the other hand, the live-action Beauty and the Beast didn’t do much else not to convince me that Belle has a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. Unless Disney decides to take a hard look at the romance created in Aladdin and change around a few things, the movie isn’t going to land with audiences.
In the animated movie, the romance doubles as a message about being true to yourself instead of pretending to be someone else in a relationship, and that’s a great topic for the movie to touch on! However, when Jasmine finds out he’s the “street rat” she loved already, the movie just glosses over it. Not to mention that Aladdin’s about to sign up to marry her and rule all of Agrabah after not even feeling comfortable in his own skin a few minutes ago. Wait… what? Disney has a wonderful opportunity to make the intended message of Aladdin (cue Genie saying “beeee yourself” as a bee) stronger by giving actual Aladdin and Jasmine character arcs instead of everything wrapping up with a pretty bow after they get rid of Jafar.
I say all of this out of love for the original Aladdin because it still is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. Since I’m going to go see it again in live-action form, I’m sure I speak for a lot of fans when I say I’d love to see Disney elevate the movie higher than the animated classic was by not sweeping these few flaws under the rug. Do you think the live-action Aladdin will address these issues? Sing your song in the comments below.