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Restoring faith in adaptations pt1: Aladdin Cannoli Send a noteboard - 07/06/2019 01:42:15 AM

I've seen three of the live-actionized Disney cartoons before this, and unfortunately, "Aladdin" had the most in common with the worst of them, "Beauty and the Beast." Unlike "Maleficent," it didn't bring a new spin to the story and unlike "The Jungle Book," it isn't a chance to improve on a flawed original. Like B&tB, it was a commercially & narratively successful hit, one of the best from that boom in the early 90s. But it's really not bad at all. Flawed, but it makes up for its flaws with its strengths.

First of all, let's get one thing straight. Robin Williams made that movie, and he's irreplaceable.

But Will Smith isn't half bad as the Genie. They didn't try to make the movie rest on his comedy, and he turns in a more humanizing performance, despite the silly visuals of his blue genie look.

The actor who plays Aladdin, unfortunately, ISN'T that good. He's stiff and awkward, and it seems like they try to lean into that by drawing out the scenes where Aladdin is being awkward and out of place. The introductory song, "One Jump", like much of B&tB, is a bit flat, and lacks the energy and exuberance of the original performance. The actor isn't as good at parkour as the script wants him to be, or the director isn't as good at shooting action, but the stunts feel kind of disjointed and fake, and the actor's attempt to capture those missing qualities feels more like mugging than feeling big emotions.

The genie's song, "Friend Like Me" is better done, if still not up to par, and part of that, I think, is how Smith plays Genie. Rather than the wild and crazy element of chaos Williams played, Smith's take is a guy who's seen it all and done it all, but has not become cynical or jaded. Rather, the Genie carries himself like the guy who's in control of every situation. I haven't seen "Hitch" but from what I recall of the trailers, that might be the most similar performance of Smith's. And that coolness means the song is toned down, but it fits. Later, they improve on the "Prince Ali" song, where the entry parade seems much more impressive in the live streets of Agrabah than the cartoon. That's one of the places, along with the formal presentation of 'Prince Ali' to the Sultan and Jasmine, that seems to really be playing to the Aladdin actor's limitations.

Jasmine is very good, and the Sultan is 'that guy' who plays the wise old Middle Easterner who sounds like he has cotton in his mouth. The actress who plays Jasmine was in the recent Power Rangers remake and she can sing. Her voice overpowers Aladdin's in "A Whole New World" which is, for my money, a pretty good recreation of the original film version, but Aladdin's isn't bad either. Unfortunately, this movie is made in the present day, so we have to shoehorn in politics. Sometimes that's not bad, as Jafar's political ambitions are more clear-cut and not just "evil and existing", and even in the case of Jasmine, they give her something more to do than petulantly reject suitors, as she tries to convince her father that she will make an adequate heir, instead of picking one through jure uxoris. What's very interesting is that the movie is actually PRO-dynastic marriage, although they might not have realized that's what they were doing, as there is a brief bit of dialogue where Jafar's imperialistic ambitions have the Sultan treating another polity as a potential enemy, whereas Jasmine is strongly invested in peaceful relations, since it's her dead mother's homeland.

The political feminism stuff can be a tiny bit heavy at times, but on the other hand, it's not like she doesn't have a point. And she's not opposed to an arranged marriage, it's more like she's looking for one that will suit her own agenda as well as the Sultan(Jafar)'s.

The real problem with the politics of Jasmine was giving her an original song, which sounds like it's more topical than thematic, and is pure girl-power cliches. It also doesn't make much sense, as it takes place upon Jafar's ascension with the aid of the Genie, after Aladdin's been shipped off to the "ends of the Earth". What's really hilarious is that the recurring word & probable title is "Speechless" and its dramatic purpose is an aside, meaning none of the characters hear her sing it! When the song ends, she's back in the moment where she started and no one is reacting to it or her. We didn't really need a song to explain why she suddenly starts trying to persuade people that Jafar shouldn't be king just because there's a genie hovering next to him. About all you can say in its support is that the actress has a set of pipes and it would probably have been a shame to limit them to half a duet.

Other things the movie does well:
-- The magic carpet has more personality and expression than half the household objects in B&tB.
-- The character arcs are more fleshed out. Jafar has a personality and motivation and even a hint of backstory which he uses convincingly to persuade Aladdin to help him in the Cave of Wonders. As mentioned above, they give Jasmine motivations and build the romance between her and Aladdin on stuff beyond "that cute person I met once". Jasmine also has a maid, which gives her someone to talk to other than characters with more important plotlines, which helps with that character building, and even humanizes the Genie some more.
-- There are some conversations that they kind of fix up. One of my things in movies or TV shows, is that I get impatient with flimsy or clumsy alibis and cover stories and always try to think up better ones. Like when in the original, Jasmine tricks 'Ali' into admitting he's Aladdin by referencing Abu. I have always maintained he could easily have dodged that one by pointing out (truthfully) that Abu is the name of his elephant. They do stuff like that better in this one. They also play a lot better with the whole "diamond in the rough" theme that they made a big deal about in the cartoon but dropped after the Cave of Wonders.

Other stuff:
-- Alan Tudyk is apparently the voice of Iago, but he's no K2-SO. Just a parrot.
-- When three main male characters' common thread is about the danger and futility of avarice and seeking power, it really creates dissonance when you are trying to make the female lead's arc about empowerment and argue that she is justified in seeking power.
-- The once hottest Disney princess ever is damn near buried in enough cloth to provide tents for all the homeless of Agrabah. Major adaptation fail. What's next, the Little Mermaid in a diving suit?

It's not the original cartoon, but that was a kind of lightning in a bottle thing. Judged on its own merits, this one is not bad at all. It doesn't entirely dodge the shortcomings of a live-action format, but makes good use of the strengths of the same. Take the kids.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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Restoring faith in adaptations pt1: Aladdin - 07/06/2019 01:42:15 AM 266 Views
Re: Restoring faith in adaptations pt1: Aladdin - 12/06/2019 02:59:29 PM 111 Views
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