My Reservations with Aladdin Before Seeing It
Yes it may be stupid to jump the gun a bit when it comes to the latest Disney live action adaptation. Who doesn't like the original animated Aladdin from Disney? It jump started the famous-voice cameo through Robin Williams' unhinged performance, whose nonsequiters turned Aladdin into, perhaps, an exaggerated tale from a modern merchant. How else could a genie from back then understand modern pop culture, unless the genie could transcend time and space? Either way, something bonkers happened, and Williams being untamed made it happen.
Aside from that, Aladdin was a part of the Disney renaissance: a new era where Disney returned to a better quality of storytelling. This was started by The Little Mermaid, and encouraged by Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin (the former being the first animated film in history to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards).
Toss in another celebrity voice (Gilbert Gottfried as parrot Iago) and some glorious animation (particularly the scenes involving the cave of wonders) and you have an animated hit.
So, what's with the headline? Why am I not excited for this live action take? Well, remember the whole "Disney renaissance" thing? These live action films are kind of doing the opposite approach. Most of the live action films have regressed rather than progressed. Beauty and the Beast felt not like a splash of wonder and romance, but a high profile rendition of a take that clearly had more life in it (despite being hand drawn). Maleficent put more stock in its production and lead role (Angelina Jolie) than the actual tale being told. The only adaptation I have seen work in any progressive way so far, is Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book: the special effects are tremendous, but the story actually has priority in this version. This is why The Lion King (being directed by Favreau) excites me. This is a team that worked.
Guy Ritchie does not excite me.
Sorry for the contrarian take, but this truly is an opinion and not meant to shoo anyone away.
I don't get Guy Ritchie. The bulk of his work is pseudo philosophical in a way that makes sense to people who text during their movie watching, but maybe not to those that pay absolute close attention. Revolver was a favourite film of mine as a late teenager. I remember using one of the many chess analogies for a grade 12 PowerPoint assignment. I studied film in my undergrad, and I could never view that film the same way again. What was meant to be deep was shallow. So much focus was put on psychological circling that never really went anywhere; this was placed on top of action that felt redundant, since none of the plot actually got secured.
Apply this to so many of his films. Sherlock Holmes (one of his better films; still decent at best) is now an ass kicking sleuth rather than the detective who occasionally ran into trouble like this. A Game of Shadows worked even less, because the priority went into the action sequences. There still hasn't been the third film to close things up, despite this film being promised.
Now, put this man behind Aladdin. This version of Aladdin, where a prince suitor (Anders) wanting Jasmine's hand in marriage is now here (he was clearly not in the original animated adaptation). This version of Aladdin where the genie takes on both a spiritual and a human form. These don't seem that drastic, to be honest. Just knowing what I have seen from Ritchie before, though, these decisions could easily lead to some forms of convolution.Complicated but not fleshed out story underneath many instances of Aladdin running through the supermarkets way more than he needs to. I can just see it now.
On top of all this, Aladdin hasn't received nearly as much promotional care than The Lion King has. I mean, it's Disney, so Aladdin has been promoted everywhere. However, it isn't the amount but the quality. The Lion King has been mysteriously promoted. Trailers identical to the original animated film's trailers have been made. We don't learn much outside of what little teasers we see. Aladdin? The trailers seem slapped together. You get a bit of song closure (“A Whole New World”), and some spluttering of action sequences and character shots. It's almost as if the people in charge of the trailer creation didn't quite know what to do with what was handed to them.
So, let me end off with a bit of history. Disney had zero faith in the original Lion King. Their B team worked on it, while their best masters worked on their next hit Pocahontas. Clearly, that seems a bit weird now, when you compare both legacies. Ironically, it's almost as if fates have changed. More work has been put into The Lion King to protect its mystique, and guarantee it the top summer box office slot. Aladdin has been treated almost like a lead up to The Lion King. It's being promoted kind of hastily, during a Disney live action lull (Dumbo really wasn't that good), and the guy behind the Swept Away remake is directing it. The confusing genie almost is the least of my worries.
Nonetheless, I will go into the film objectively and deliver a non biased review. It's never too late for a filmmaker to deliver something good. If I had three wishes for Aladdin before I see it within the next few days, they would be:
1) to have the story be the first priority
2) to try and not mimic the original Disney film, thus making a hollow carbon copy
3) to not have so many corny jokes, please.
Stay tuned for our Aladdin review, coming soon.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.