ARTS AND CULTURE

FILM REVIEW: ALADDIN USHERS IN A NEW ERA OF PRINCESS POWER, MINUS THE 1990s MAGIC

Photo: IMDB

By: Shannon Schaefer

I will start this review by admitting that I am by no means a fully authentic “90s kid,” at least not from the early 90s. You will not find photos of me as a teenager featuring bangle bracelets, low riding jeans and shiny lip gloss but you will find baby photos of me wearing T-shirts decorated with fan favourite characters like Simba and Bambi.

Being raised in the early 2000s gave me access to both 90s and 2000s classics. I was raised on a mixture of Disney cult classics such as The Lion King (’94) and Toy Story (’95) while also getting first view of classics such as The Incredibles (’04) and Finding Nemo (’03).

The 90s’ era of Disney films, known as the Disney Renaissance, may not have completely defined my childhood, but there is a nostalgic component to these movies.

The original 1992 version of Aladdin, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, featured the voices of Scott Weinger as Aladdin, Linda Larkin as Jasmine and, of course, the unforgettable Robin Williams as Genie. 

Aladdin became an instant classic, earning the title of highest-grossing film of 1992 with a worldwide box office revenue of over $500 million.

As I sat down to view the 2019 live action remake, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Toronto-raised and Ryerson University theatre graduate Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and Will Smith as Genie, I was not sure what to expect.

In my nostalgic heart, I knew no actor or actress, no matter how seasoned of a performer, could spark the same happiness in me as the scene in the original Aladdin where Williams screams “I’M FREE, I’M FREE AT LAST” followed by Williams’ iconic boisterous laugh. 

The original Aladdin, simply put, is a classic. My expectations were high, but I also went into the film accepting that there are elements of animated films that cannot be brought to life in live action remakes. In my opinion, though CGI is highly developed, it will never be able to present scenes of fantasy and magic as smoothly as animation.

I accepted and expected that some elements of magic would be stripped away. But what I did not expect was a complete lackluster – to me, the remake forgot to sprinkle in the magic that is so essential to Disney movies.

At a whopping 2 hours and 10 minutes, compared to the original’s 1 hour and 30 minute runtime, I quickly lost interest in this adaption and there were no features in the film that managed to truly seize my attention.

Aladdin is a film that exists in a magical universe, with cartoon-like characters such as the Genie. When produced into live action, the trade off is transforming from a magic-infused animation to a more realistic visual. The problem is that genies do not exist and I know that as a viewer, so to see an attempt to make Genie feel “real” is, well, awkward.

It all feels a bit robotic. Beyond this, while the cast may be able to act and have the credentials to say so, most of the cast cannot say the same for singing. Once again, these are some of Disney’s classic songs being sung by trained actors. I would say Scott offers the highest peak of performance in terms of singing, with Smith offering an awkward mix of talk-singing.

However, I do not want to say all is bad about the live action remake. What I can highly appreciate is the 2019 remake’s plot changes to present a better and healthier representation of women. Without presenting spoilers, I will say that changes were made to give Jasmine a fuller plot that no longer fully relies on a man, and she now exists as a character with much more autonomy. As a feminist and, in general, just as a human who believes in equality, I highly appreciated the changes that were made to reflect a new era’s values.

From Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship and Jasmine’s first-ever solo song to the wonderful addition of a new female character and a new ending, these plot changes work to present a much healthier view of women that can be highly appreciated.

Blame it on nostalgia but if I am to view Aladdin again, I will pick up the original animated version. That is not to say the 2019 remake is to be forgotten, its changes are necessary and present a new perspective to those who may be discovering Aladdin for the first time.

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