Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Despite The Dated Elements, Aladdin Still Entertains!

The Good: Strong female protagonist, Some impressive animation, Decent moral, Good voicework
The Bad: Some simplistic elements, Overwhelmed with sidekicks, Incongruent Genie schtick
The Basics: Aladdin is fun, but much of what makes it fun makes the film an erratically-executed story.

I have an interesting history with the film Aladdin. Back when I was in high school, I went on an almost surreal date one night. The local movie theater near me played double features and it was playing Aladdin and What's Love Got To Do With It? (the Tina Turner biopic). The surreal element came from how memorable the incongruent pairing of the films actually was. Until today, I had not seen Aladdin again. My wife, however, is a huge fan of Disney films and Aladdin in specific, and she has been waiting for so many years for the film to be released to own it for our personal library. We're on our second viewing again already and as she sings excitedly next to me, I find myself considering the film.

Aladdin is good, but the more I've learned about the film, the more it seems like its potential exceeded its execution. Perhaps made so popular by Robin Williams's voicing the Genie, Aladdin is shockingly dated - the half-life of an Arsenio Hall reference is remarkably short, it turns out! The mix of simplistic story for children and the volume of adult references (how many children will recognize a Jack Nickolson impression?!) seemed more disconcerting than smooth. Robin Williams might steal the show when he appears as the Genie, but he does so as a non-sequitor; the movie takes an abrupt turn for his schtick and has some trouble re-establishing itself when the title character is focused on again.

Starting with a peddler on the streets of Agrabah, telling the story that follows, Aladdin quickly flashes back to the story of Jafar the wicked adviser to the Sultan. He hires Gazeem to enter the Cave Of Wonders to recover a magic lamp, but the Cave Of Wonders rejects the servant. On the streets of Agrabah, the young Aladdin steals a loaf of bread to survive and, with his monkey companion, Abu, he manages to stay one step ahead of the lawmen pursuing him. Aladdin steps in when a Prince coming to woo the Princess acts abusively toward other children living on the streets. Inside the Palace, Princess Jasmine is feeling confined and loathes the idea of being forced to marry a Prince she neither knows, nor loves. As the Sultan laments his daughter's actions, Jafar bewitches the leader to try to find the identity of the person he might use to enter the Cave Of Wonders.

Sneaking out of the palace, Princess Jasmine gets into trouble trying to give an apple from a merchant's cart to a child. She is rescued by Aladdin, who takes her back to his hole in the wall, where they share a real conversation before the constables catch up with Aladdin. Aladdin is incarcerated by Jafar and Jasmine is told that Aladdin was put to death. Aladdin is used by Jafar to enter the Cave Of Wonders and recover a magical lamp. There, Abu discovers a magic carpet and when they become trapped int he Cave, Aladdin inspects the lamp and frees a Genie from it. The powerful Genie helps Aladdin by granting him wishes, with Aladdin promising Genie freedom as his last wish. But when Aladdin wishes to become a Prince, he draws the attention of Jafar, who steals the lamp to take over Agrabah and become all-powerful.

Aladdin has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is a Princess who might be second only to Mulan (reviewed here!) on the strong and independent scale. Jasmine is likable, smart and independent. While she does not challenge having to marry someone, she challenges the Sultans law that she must marry a Prince, as opposed to someone she actually loves. Despite a climactic battle moment where Jafar entraps her, Jasmine is hardly a damsel in distress. Because Jasmine is characterized as both smart and independent, one of the most interesting aspects of her character becomes that she has a forgiving nature.

Aladdin, on the other hand, is characterized mostly as a liar, though he has a core of kindness. Aladdin is how he comes to learn the value of telling the truth.

Some of the moralization is prioritized over making sense for the story and for the characters. If the big moral of Aladdin is that there is value in honesty, the power of the wishes is oddly incongruent. Aladdin wishes to be made a prince in order to be able to woo Jasmine. Once the wish is granted, outside his name, he is not actually lying to Jasmine about who he is. If Aladdin wished to be, for example, a natural blonde and his hair turned blonde and he was then asked "are you a natural blonde?" reality would have been altered such that the answer would be, of course, "Yes." Aladdin is never asked "were you always a Prince?" But, either way, once the wish is granted, he is a Prince and it's not lying when he claims that he is. The defeat of Jafar is similarly a troublingly poor execution on the writing front. "All-powerful" is trumped, apparently, by the fundamental definition of what a Genie is. I was so shocked that the writers included the words "all-powerful" in Jafar's line because it just begs the contradiction.

Aladdin is filled with sidekicks, which is something I never noticed before. The three main characters - Aladdin, Jasmine, and Jafar - each have animal familiars and how they treat them is used as a form of characterization. That's pretty cool, but Iago is pretty obnoxious and the addition of the Carpet as a second sidekick for Aladdin seems more like a plot conceit or merchandising point than a genuine character.

The voice acting and the music in Aladdin are excellent. Despite the way that Robin Williams ad libs his way into making the Genie into a watchable, entertaining character who steals scenes, all of the voice performers do an excellent job at emoting. And the songs are fun and memorable.

Ultimately, Aladdin is fun and has some wonderful moments, but it is somewhat unsurprising that Aladdin is overshadowed by the Genie, Jasmine and even Jafar. Between their characters or their voice acting, they make Aladdin seem more mediocre than a character worthy of a princess.

For other works with Gilbert Gottfried, please check out my reviews of:
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Farce Of The Penguins
Clerks: The Animated Series


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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