DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie
WRITER: John August & Guy Ritchie
MAIN CAST: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Merwan Kenzari
RUNNING TIME: 2hr 8min
So as far as I’m concerned, if Guy Ritchie wants to make more Musicals then I will back that situation 100%.
Aladdin follows the almost identical story-line of its 1992 cartoon original. Aladdin, a poor thief on the streets of Agrabah, meets Princess Jasmine and falls in love with her. It’s not until Aladdin finds a magical Lamp and a Genie within, that he can become a Prince and be worthy of her. Of course, an evil sorcerer threatens all of these wonderful romantic plans so it is up to Aladdin, his monkey-friend Abu, a loyal magic Carpet and Aladdin’s Genie to save them all.
As for all things technical; when it comes to the way this film is shot, in all it’s bright and beautiful glory, I was wide-eyed and taken in. I have always enjoyed Ritchie’s style of camerawork and editing, and this film is different from his usual grit. It’s vivid and colourful from start to finish, mimicking the rich vibrancy of the cartoon. Compared to Live-Action, there can be a lot of unnatural manoeuvrability with camerawork and lighting in a cartoon, so Ritchie’s style is a perfect match since Disney clearly wanted a ‘live-animation’ equivalent of the Original.
The setting of the City and the Palace is almost stage-like, which is a common design for Musical Movies because they’re built for ease of dancing and movement (not only from the actors but the set and props too). It’s a layout which adds to the feel of animation because of how it moves in the background to make way for the action of the characters.
Although I can understand the stage-like layout of the film, despite the controversy attached to the place, props and detail (more on that soon), I was really disappointed in the costume designs. They were very Disneyland-esque and I won’t be surprised if they are on mass production for the staff in theme parks, or when identical outfits are flying out of Disney stores the world over.
From late last year, I heard a lot of dubious comments and opinions from people when it was announced that there would be a Live-Action Aladdin, and of course there were going to be; an unknown fact about Disney’s original Aladdin cartoon, was that it had a bit of bad press back in the day when it sparked racial controversy. It may have claimed more than a whopping $500 million at the Box Office, but between racist lyrics in the songs to the prejudice depiction of the antagonist characters, it really hit a nerve with Middle Eastern and North African audiences, and rightly so.
A real problem with blockbuster movies and the size of the audience they command (especially in a young audience, like Aladdin), is that prejudice representations of any creed or cultures leave a real-world impression ( to be fair, any negative stereotypes perpetuate adverse impressions on races, sexes, sexual orientations, religions… the list goes on). In some ways I see it as borderline irresponsible of film-makers, when its possible their audience could be naive enough to take these depictions seriously.
Characters and Lyrics aside (because Ritchie has changed them somewhat), Orientalism is the main perpetrator casting a shadow over both Aladdin movies.
“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.
Orientalism is something which has grown into a monster in terms of how the western world seem to imagine the Eastern world. It has been growing since the late 1800’s in things like art and stories which have almost always come from an outsiders perspective opposed to someone with knowledge and experience of actual communities and their cultures, traditions or beliefs.
Aladdin is a film that cemented Orientalism into the western perception far before Ritchie got his hands onto it. Despite how well I think Guy Ritchie has done creating a film with colour, more in-depth character development (compared to the cartoon) and humour (personally, I don’t think Will Smith had some bad lines); I think he still managed to ignore most of the free lessons critics and advocacy groups have expressed about the problems in the original.
Although there’s a lot of improvement in the characters (thankfully the Sultan isn’t a babbling man-baby and the Genie, for all his power, wants to go on a date), the costumes make the actors look like life-sized dolls and the whole city design from the Palace to the River to the Market is make-belief of all the pretty things from Asia and North Africa. There is no real depth, and for all the talk about ‘the people’ by Princess Jasmine, the film has almost nothing to do with them.
This film could be set anywhere, and its that transparency that acts as an affront to Middle Eastern and African culture insulted by the original cartoon. Or, perhaps the point was since Aladdin comes from a mishmash of cultures it is set in a place-less place; I aren’t sure that is good enough, maybe it should have been set in the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, Washington DC or on Route 66 if that was the case, and Disney should not make a culturally contraversial film if they aren’t going to do their utmost to respect and teach about the culture they’re portraying.
As it stands, on the surface, Ritchie simply made the 1992 Aladdin into a Live-Action Movie and not a lot more.
That’s not to say I didn’t like it though.