Aladdin (2019) (2019)
May 25, 2019 3:37 PM - Subscribe

A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true. (IMDB)
posted by Countess Elena (20 comments total)
I guess I'm posting this for those of us who have kids to entertain or who, like me, will chase a musical cartoon nostalgia bug even when Rotten Tomatoes tells us not to.

What's funny is that you can't call this movie bad when it is absolutely gorgeous, with a thoroughly realized city, rich detail, stylized dance numbers and a fresh Middle Eastern-influenced instrumental soundtrack. It's just that that soundtrack and that realistic detail run smack up against the old Ashman/Rice numbers that belonged to a cartoon setting, and it does not always work. A couple of the songs have been adjusted to fit well, such as "Arabian Nights." I remember when that song went "where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face," and now they've changed it to celebrate the multicultural character of the city of Agrabah, which is lovely.

Will Smith is very good when he is Will Smith-ing and not Robin Williams-ing, but the movie doesn't let him avoid that completely. The guy that Twitter was calling "Hot Jafar," Marwan Kenzari, doesn't actually bring any heat; he's cold. A Disney villain needs to chew the scenery, slither, leer, and so forth, in my opinion, and Kenzari is very serious instead. Still, he's certain to scare the kids, which is the important thing. The children I saw were having fun.

Actually, so was I, most of the time. The leads were great in their roles, particularly Naomi Scott. There was just this jarring collision of styles and tones that made the whole thing too strange and colorful to be forgettable.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:52 PM on May 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ok so Will Smith does Bollywood. I liked it but definitely agree with Countess Elena’s conclusion.

I was also surprised to discover that Will Smith did not have the greatest voice for a big musical number. He did fine! But I remember being astonished that Robin Williams could SING and am similarly astonished - because I own some of his albums - that Will Smith did not bring similar range.

My kids loved it. I walked out of the theater quite happy with it.
posted by annathea at 5:24 PM on May 25, 2019

I was in a hotel room with cable last night so my wife had on the new version of Beauty and the Beast which was just abysmal. The cartoons have a certain charm which all the CGI just completely washes out. Or perhaps I've just become old man shaking cane at clouds.

Anyway, the live action version of Aladdin you never knew you wanted is actually Starkid's Twisted, which is well written, hilarious, and a perfect sendup of Disney sensibilities. I can only hope that this new version of Aladdin helps more people become aware of Twisted.
posted by rikschell at 6:16 PM on May 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh wow, I'll check that out!
posted by Countess Elena at 6:51 PM on May 25, 2019

So I asked coworker J. why the need for a live-action Aladdin movie, and he said: "To extend Disney's ownership of the intellectual property."

But, I said, Aladdin is an old story. Disney can't own it. They can do what they like with it, but so can anybody else. It's public domain. (It may not have been in the original 1001 Nights, but it's been considered part of that collection since the 18th century.)

"Not this story," he insisted. "This is theirs, they can own it now for 90 more years."

How can this be possible? I know there are Aladdin pantomime shows in England, and Disney isn't suing them, is it? Who's right?
posted by zadcat at 8:04 AM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I went to see it for someone else, and was not expecting to enjoy it, but I did. (It's 20 minutes too long, though.) The additions are well done, the nods to the old and the changes -- they changed a bordello into a schoolroom in One Jump Ahead, they changed the lyrics from "he's got slaves, he's got servants and flunkies" to something else in Prince Ali, they gave Jasmine a personality and Jafar a backstory that worked -- are fun. I don't think it's going to be memorable, but it was a perfectly nice two hours.

When I saw it the only child in the theatre was the one I went with.
posted by jeather at 9:24 AM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Zadcat, what’s important is that when people think of Aladdin, they think of Disney’s version of it and nobody else’s. It doesn’t matter if something is in the public domain if one particular incarnation of it gets all the marketing. Anyone is free to make their own version of any of these stories, but ask a kid and they’ll see the Disney version as the “real” one.

It’s not about literally owning the IP (although Disney does own the images of their particular versions of these characters, which they make bank on). It’s about being, for lack of a better analogy, the Apple, Inc. of storytelling.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:38 AM on May 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

(Derailly Disney Rant)

I do keep repeating this, but it keeps being relevant: Disney's primary purpose is literally cultural appropriation. They go around the world looking for interesting items which they buy up (or just take if no copyright is involved). Everything else - the money, the cultural domination - stems from that ownership, and each successful property serves to shore up the empire, and refers its own cultural power back to the centre. Whether it's deliberate or not, one effect of the wider Disney is to suggest that non-US cultures be interpreted through the filter of the United States (whether that's Aladdin, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh or Black Panther), and the reach the company has ensures that that interpretation is global - soft power on an imperial scale.

In the case of Aladdin, of course, we know of the tale because of previous waves of cultural expropriation in France and Great Britain during their imperial phases, though my impression of the "original" Galland and Burton versions are that they value the exoticism of the setting highly enough that they don't do what Disney do with their versions of... everything... which is to suggest that every other culture is at its kernel "actually" American. I suppose it's getting carried away to suggest that this was conscious and deliberate and planned - more an informal, demotic storytelling form that works as a way of making sure they can maximise the home audience - but that's been its effect.

Especially given their buying spree over the last decade or so, Disney at this point is pure capitalism, the most capitalist project that isn't actually a bank. Intermittently very entertaining capitalism, but nonetheless capitalism. Given that it's what we're swimming in, we might as well take a sip every so often. But don't try and breathe it.

On the upside, I expect their pulling all their glittering toys back behind the paywall will result in a rejuvenation of BitTorrent.

/Disney Rant
posted by Grangousier at 2:16 AM on May 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Who's right?

Neither! And both! (But you're more right, I think.)

You're right that elements of Aladdin which were in the old stories are in the public domain. However, any elements introduced by Disney in either the 1992 or 2019 movies are Disney's intellectual property. Your friend is right inasmuch as anything which is introduced in the 1992 or 2019 movies is Disney's IP, but not only do they not confer any IP in the original story, the 2019 movie doesn't even extend the IP from the 1992 movie.

An analogy: L. Frank Baum's Oz books are in the public domain. MGM's classic 1939 movie is still under copyright. So people can make their own versions of The Wizard of Oz, or derivative works (say, a best-selling 1995 book which got turned into a hit musical in 2003) without MGM's permission. However, the Ruby Slippers were introduced in the movie (to better show off the Technicolor); the books had Silver Shoes instead. So Wicked et al. do not use Ruby Slippers; they either return to Silver Shoes or don't mention them at all.

See also: Mowgli, a 2018 non-Disney (Warner Bros.) adaptation of some of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:26 AM on May 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

How did Disney--who are usually so shrewd when it comes to hiring the right talent--decide that the ideal director for their family musical loaded with dance sequences was the guy behind Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels when the Indian film industry exists?

There are often weekends with multiple fantastic film dance sequences playing in American multiplexes... They're the Hindi and Tamil films your Desi neighbors are enjoying while you're seeing whatever you're seeing. For real, you don't even have to leave the AMC.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I just saw Aladdin this afternoon, and there was a lot about the storytelling that I really enjoyed.

For one, the movie really plays up how Jafar is Aladdin's shadow self. They want the same things and have the same fears, but Jafar is more embittered and more ambitious, and he's become ruthless. He's what Aladdin could have become without love and luck? I thought the high point of their mirroring was when Jafar was marrying Jasmine. That scene was so chilling, even more so than in the cartoon, because they played it relatively realistically.

I also thought it was interesting how Jafar and Jasmine mirrored each other. They both had the dilemma of being told/made to "stay in their place" and "stay silent." Honestly, I thought the script didn't resolve that very well. Jasmine eventually speaks up but in a really underwhelming way. And while it's made clear that Jafar shouldn't have power because he misuses it, and Jasmine "should" because she would use it well, Jafar's anger and fear over being told to stay in his place still seemed valid regardless. He also seemed to feel a lot more anger and fear over that, compared with Jasmine, which kind of undermined Jasmine's story.

Another thing that I thought was interesting was how insecure Aladdin was, in all senses of the word. He was insecure about himself, and not only wanted to present a facade but wanted to become the facade (which in itself is interesting!), but his life was also precarious because he didn't have enough money to buy safety/security/respect. I think that's a pretty unusual place for a kids' movie to go, and I really liked it.

In general, I liked that the story was all about power and the feeling of being powerless. And it seemed pretty sophisticated considering that it's a children's movie.

Altogether, this live action version really made me appreciate the cartoon even more, though! And I loved the cartoon to pieces when I was a kid, I was kind of obsessed with it. Also, there are also some really awesome songs, which I remember loving back in the day but didn't realize are just so flat out catchy and good.

I thought the directing was OK, although it could have been a little more stylish and interesting. The shots were often taken literally from the cartoon version, though, so I don't know if how static, cluttered, and lacking in "atmosphere" a lot of the shots were was really Guy Richie's fault, or if some things just didn't translate as well to live action. Like, I was really looking forward to the Cave of Wonders, and they did replicate the cartoon almost shot for shot, but somehow it was really underwhelming in the live action. I feel like Pirates of the Caribbean did better with similar "cave of wonders" kinds of settings. Maybe it was the lighting. In the cartoon version, the cave seemed to glow with treasure, but in this version, eh.

My only real issue, though, was that I thought Will Smith was kind of terrible. He just seemed so cold and distant and there was no chemistry between him and Aladdin. That was disappointing. I didn't need (or even want) a carbon copy of Robin Williams's performance or anything. But the lack of chemistry between Genie and Aladdin tripped up the movie in a lot of places, because so much of the plot depends on their friendship feeling real.

Well, I also thought that Jasmine's storyline really needed to be punched up. They tried, and even gave her a couple terrible songs, but it just really didn't come to anything. I mean, she apparently just needed her dad to give her a ring and she was good to go as sultan? If that was the case, the movie needed to build up their relationship more or something, because the conflict was apparently between the two of them. Well, anyhow!
posted by rue72 at 2:42 PM on May 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen the movie, only the trailers. I have seen the animated version. Can anyone tell me if there is a good reason for the bollywood dance sequence in a film set in the middle east? This is the one thing that caught my attention while watching the trailers.
posted by alchemist at 4:32 AM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Twisted is really wonderful. Thanks for the link.
posted by amtho at 10:53 AM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

can anyone tell me if there is a good reason for the bollywood dance sequence in a film set in the middle east?

The reason is that when you ask "Oh wow, is there some theoretical universe in which a director can create an interesting, crowd-pleasing family-friebdly dance sequence in 2019??!?!?!?" it is useful to acknowledge that "Millions of people watch that kind of thing every weekend in India."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:43 PM on May 28, 2019

The reason is that when you ask "Oh wow, is there some theoretical universe in which a director can create an interesting, crowd-pleasing family-friebdly dance sequence in 2019??!?!?!?" it is useful to acknowledge that "Millions of people watch that kind of thing every weekend in India."

no, it's not that... so what else could it be? like an in-universe type of answer.
posted by alchemist at 1:59 AM on May 29, 2019

The dance sequence happens at a party after Prince Ali arrives. I know that it has as much to do with Bollywood as McDonald's has with hamburgers, but I enjoyed it.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:35 AM on May 29, 2019

We took our kids, and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

And maybe it's my hazy memory at fault, but I thought the current Jasmine had more charisma and plot involvement and agency than the cartoon version. Either that was an improvement, or the previous version was far more progressive than I remember.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:06 PM on June 2, 2019

Jasmine got most of her agency in the tv cartoon series that came after the movie, none of which made its way into this film.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:20 PM on June 5, 2019

I’ve seen lots of criticisms of Will Smith’s performance but I can’t think of literally any other actor who’d do it justice.

Also, the design of Agrabah was extraordinary- the references to Cordoba’s mosque/cathedral, Iran’s Isfahan and Bam, Delhi’s red fort...

The supposed Bollywoodness of it is a bit overstated- some of Aladdin’s dance moves are clearly Dervish-inspired, and the rest of the dance scenes are just anachronisms. The original movie was full of that kind of thing, too.

I saw the original a thousand times as a kid, and I was grinning ear-to-ear through the entire remake. It wasn’t perfect, but it was everything I wished it would be!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:40 AM on June 15, 2019

I spent the whole movie waiting for Jafar too turn into a giant snake. I wanted to see giant snake Jafar! I felt robbed.

However! The parade number was fantastic. I would watch that on repeat for a few hours. So colorful, so fanciful. It was so electric!
posted by meese at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2020

« Older RuPaul's Drag Race: Reunited...   |  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Fear a... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments