‘Aladdin’ Repeats an Old Joke. There Is No Alchemy Here
Aladdin is directed by Guy Ritchie.
‘Aladdin’ Repeats an Old Joke. There Is No Alchemy Here.
The supreme studio called Disney is here again, with another live-action remake. This time, their willing hostage is Aladdin, the animated film that charmed many a heart in 1992.
Following the march of unceasing remakes, this too wishes to excavate the nostalgia of your childhood when you were hypnotized by the zip-zap-zoom fastidiousness of an animated fable with charming songs. And of course, who can forget Robin Williams’ swooshing syllables coming out of a shape-shifting vaudevillian genie?
Yes, the studio is after your money. But in return, you’re left with the pleasure of diminishing returns.
The film, helmed by Guy Ritchie, follows the beat of the original like a law-abiding student, with minor tweaks, and Buzzfeed-level of ornamental feminism. The original’s inventiveness is gone.
This version puts up a show of half-hearted earnestness, laden with special-effects that makes everything oh-so-gaudy.
The story as we all know, is about the street urchin who finds love in a princess, a friend in a genie, and a foe in a vizier. Mena Massoud with his bony handsomeness, pearly white teeth, and physical agility looks quite like the animated Aladdin we’ve grown up watching. But his chemistry with Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine doesn’t really take us to a whole new world, nor does Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar make us fear for the worst. Hanging somewhere in the middle of all this is Will Smith’s blue-dyed Genie who knows the impossibility of summoning the rapid fire comic genius of Robin Williams, so he settles for his trademark acerbic tone, to dole out love advice to his master turned friend, quite like the love guru he was in Hitch (2005).
The runtime is much longer than the original, with added subplots of Genie’s romantic life, and songs that could have taken some help from Bollywood. The film feels sluggish compared to the zany energy of the animated charmer, and Ritchie surprisingly stays away from his classic showy montages.
In the recent recycling attempt by Disney, say Dumbo, there was an attempt to expand on the original’s premise, and build new possibilities. Ritchie, administered by the studio masters, leaves his signature style to settle for a more generic tone. He directs the film like a mimicry of the original, showing absolute refusal to explore the promises that were in the magical kingdom of Agrabah.
The pitch on the studio’s part is clear. Your sentimental past is their currency. They want to hark back to days of yore to tell you how you must pass on the mantle of wonder to your young ones. This cash-grab strategy is clear from a corporate standpoint, juicing out every last drop of their brands. But Disney forgets that its canon is filled with stories that don’t sit well with modern sensibilities with its cultural stereotypes, racial profiling, and above all, princess in distress themes.
Aladdin tries to address the patriarchal attitudes by making the princess a careerist who sings a flaming feminist hymn. But it’s all shoe-horned, for she still needs a man to rescue her.
The writing (by John August and Ritchie himself) hasn’t learnt from past mistakes, and continues to treat Arab culture with a contemptuous lens that only Hollywood can afford.
Like most updates Disney is hellbent on doling out, Aladdin too fails to transcend the original or conjure up a universe that can stand in popular imagination. It relies on your memory of the original to offer fabricated cheers, like repeating an old joke. There is no alchemy here.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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