If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.
Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.
I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.
The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.
Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.
Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.
My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.
I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:
Overall Grade 5 out of 10
If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:
I will be seeing Big Hero 6 in the next 3 hours! Oh boy!
I was talking with a friend about Robin Hood and told her despite its problems it is one of the most rewatchable Disney’s. What I mean by that is some movies are masterpieces but more weighty than the kind of thing I want to watch over and over again .
So what are those movies that I don’t mind repeat and frequent rewatching? What’s the one that if I’m feeling like a movie that will entertain but not challenge me what do I pick? I will add that I seem to have a unique high tolerance for repetition. Other people tire of music, movies, food, books and I just don’t. If it is something I like than I like it forever and repeatedly.
That said, some films like The Lion King I love but the intensity makes it tough to rewatch again and again.
I will also say that all of the Pixar movies with the exception of Brave (yes even Cars 2) are very rewatchable. That’s why I’ve struggled to write up reviews of Pixar ,movies . How many ways can I say masterpiece?
Here goes in no particular order:
1. Tangled- romantic comedies are probably my favorite genre to rewatch. Tangled is funny, light, joyous, beautiful and a terrific villain.
2. Robin Hood- Maybe not the most ambitious Disney film but the humor makes it very rewatchable. I love the voice performances and while it is a bit too long it is so much fun I enjoy rewatching it.
3. Jungle Book- I hate the ending but other than that it is charming, funny, and the music is the true star. It clips along so well with moments of real heart. It is certainly up there in the movies I’ve seen the most.
4. Emperor’s New Groove- Again not the most ambitious but so full of laughs that it is great to rewatch. Comedies are often the best for rewatching as we don’t always feel up to an intense emotional experience.
5. Aladdin- Another comedy makes the list but Aladdin is so much fun with the manic energy of Robin Williams. Every time I see it I spot a new impression or moment I had missed before. It will entertain both boys and girls equally and it is just one I wouldn’t mind watching on most any day.
6. Frozen- I can see many of you roll your eyes because you are sick of this movie. I repeat I don’t get sick of movies. If I like them I like them and I like Frozen. I could listen to the music all day and the humor is great, pacing a lot of fun and I just enjoy watching it most any day.
7. Lady and the Tramp- sweet, simple, romantic and with some tension and laughs. Just something so pleasant I can’t think of a time when I would not enjoy watching it. As the poster says the ‘happiest motion picture’ from early Disney.
8. 101 Dalmatians- A lot of of humor with Cruella, fun lively story, lots of great characters. Dry with with Horace and Jasper. Always at the top of my rewatch list.
9. Lilo and Stitch- Probably my most emotional film on this list but it is so lovingly told and Lilo is such a real kid I am drawn to the picture despite my dislike for Stitch. Maybe part of it is I find the Hawaiian local and music so relaxing it’s an easy rewatch for me.. It brings back many happy memories.
10. Mulan- Another movie with a lot of humor, romance, heart, and excitement. Just thoroughly entertaining and not too deep or morose like other less rewatchable films.
Honorable Mentions- Beauty and the Beast although it feels a little long for a frequent rewatch, Little Mermaid because of my nostalgia for it, and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which is probably the most rewatchable for little one’s.
I already did Best Villains so in honor of Halloween it seemed appropriate to talk about some villain music. Particularly my favorite villain songs. Actually there aren’t as many as you’d think. Classic villains like Lady Tremaine and Maleficent don’t have a villain songs.
Special Notice- Hellfire- I could not put this on my list but I know everyone will ask about it. I just can’t support a song that is openly supporting the rape and murder of a woman. I’ve talked about it so much on the blog. It crosses a line I am not comfortable with. That said, it is very well sung and the animation is haunting, so for that reason I am honoring it as separate from my list.
So that said- my list.
10. Trust in Me- One of the first villain songs in any Disney film and it is close to an Adam and Eve type villain as Disney gives us. Like the serpent in the Biblical story, Kaaa oils and slithers his way around the jungle, hypnotizing his victims with his beguiling song. It is made all the more creepy by the fact it is Sterling Holloway, the voice of Winnie the Pooh claiming to be Mowgli’s best of friends.
9. Gaston- Perhaps the funniest villain song. It’s a big pep talk for our town hero. The fact that we know he wants to make our heroine unhappy at whatever cost gives it an eery undertone.
8. Heffalumps and Woozles- One of the spookiest moments of Disney. We’ve got a true nightmare with all the minor chords and inflections of a haunted house song. There is also always something creepy about toys like jack in the boxes. Plus, they want to steal Pooh’s honey! This song is especially effective when you think it is aimed at toddlers. It’s in every shape and size, size, SIZE!
7. Prince Ali Reprise- While a reprise and not a complete song it is very effective. A joyous number from earlier in the film is now used to control and manipulate. At this point in the story Jafar has total control of the Genie and everything else. It all looks very bad for our heroes.
6. Mob Song- An extremely chilling song because it’s an entire town taking on our heroes that are basically household items. How is this going to work? As the music escalates the tension gets tighter and stronger until we feel real panic, like a mob would feel. The animation is striking and captures the darkness and increasing madness of Gaston and the crowd.
5. Savages- Perhaps the most thoughtful Disney villain song and it is the redemption of Pocahontas which made my bottom 10 Disney movies. It is a cliche ridden historical travesty but in this song they reach some emotional truth. Some criticize it for the way it stereotypes people but that’s the whole point of the song. Both sides have rationalized why the other is the villain and needs to be done away with. It’s very profound and beautifully drawn and sung.
4. World’s Greatest Criminal Mind- Brought in a series of villain songs in movies that would go nearly uninterrupted for the next decade of Disney movies. Ratigan is a hilarious villain with Vincent Price as one of the best voices ever. The fact he kills a mouse for calling him a rat when his name is Ratigan is so funny. Kind of like Gaston it is a funny villain song but very effective. Ratigan is the closest Disney has ever gotten to an over-the-top Bond villain and I love it!
3. Mother Knows Best- As far as straight singing this is probably my favorite Disney villain song and one of my favorite songs. Donna Murphey is amazing as Mother Gothel. It is Sondheim level quality. It takes the nurturing of motherhood and uses it to control and manipulate a child. Is there anything colder than that? It’s so effective. I just love it!
2. Poor Unfortunate Souls- One of the most brilliant voice casting in Disney history. Pat Carroll gives Ursula a mix of a truck driver and a drag queen. She is on full saleswoman mode and uses every sweet and conniving method she can muster to tempt Ariel into her web. She would have said she’d cured cancer if it would have gotten her the ending she wants. That’s my kind of villain. The animation is brilliant and funny and I love that ursula is the only octopus we see aside from a brief glimpse of one in Under the Sea. There is nobody who looks like her. She is blackness, overweight, with red lipstick. Got to like that!
1. Be Prepared- In a movie where almost nobody did their own singing (even Broadway star Matthew Broderick didn’t), it is especially compelling Jeremy Irons sang Be Prepared. It is as close as Disney gets to a Hitler villain. He even has Nazi hyenas. He oils and defines his plan dripping with disdain for everyone including his brother. He is a sociopath who has no guilt throughout the movie for any of his choices. All he cares about is himself to the detriment of the entire kingdom.
So I recently finished reviewing the Disney Renaissance and I know how everyone loves lists, so I will do my best at ranking these films (and I will try to not have everything be Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid.
Silver- Beauty and the Beast
Bronze- Hunchback of Notre Dame
Favorite Lead Character/Hero-
Favorite Side Character-
Even More Minor Characters-
Gold- Wilbur, Rescuers Down Under
Best Vocal Performance-
Gold- Robin Williams, Aladdin
Silver- Samuel Wright, Little Mermaid
Bronze- Pat Carroll, Little Mermaid
Honorable Mention- John Candy, Rescuers Down Under
Best Original Score-
Gold- Lion King, Hans Zimmer
Silver- Rescuers Down Under, Bruce Broughton
Bronze- Little Mermaid, Alan Menken
Best Song- (this is tough)
Gold-Part of Your World- Menken and Ashman
Silver- Be Our Guest- Menken and Ashman
Bronze-Friend Like Me- Menken and Ashman
Honorable Mentions- Out There (Menken and Schwartz), Under the Sea (Menken and Ashman), A Star is Born (Menken and Zippel), You’ll Be in My Heart (Phil Collins), Reflection (Wilder and Zippel)
Best Villain Song-
Gold- Poor Unfortunate Souls, Menken and Ashman
Silver- Be Prepared, Elton John and Tim Rice
Bronze- Savages, Menken and Schwartz
Honorable Mentions- Gaston (Menken and Ashman),
Gold- Mufasa’s death
Silver- Quasimodo getting mocked and tied up by gypsies
Bronze- Beast dies
Bronze- Rescuers Down Under (not a comedy but the funny moments were so funny)
Gold- Mcleach and the knife throwing, Rescuers Down Under
Silver- Mob Song, Beauty and the Beast
Couldn’t think of anything else scary in Renaissance. That’s strange.
Gold- Burning down house with family in it, Hunchback
Silver- Hellfire, rape and murder song, Hunchback
Bronze- Pocahontas teaching John Smith about how gold is stupid, Pocahontas
Honorable Mention- Basically all of Pocahontas except Savages number
Gold- Rescuers Down Under
Most Romantic Moment-
Gold- Belle and Beast dancing
Silver- Kiss the Girl
Bronze- Jasmine and Aladdin kiss
Best- Beauty and the Beast
Co-Best- Little Mermaid (I love both so much!)
I just finished reviewing Dinosaur (oh my…) and here’s how we currently stand rating-wise
A+ we have 6
B+ we have 4
C+ we have 2
D we have 3
A we have 9
B we have 1
C we have 3
D- we have 3
A- we have 2
B- we have 1
C- we have 3
F we have 1
What are your favorites from the Renaissance? Please share.
Thank you to everyone for your comments. We might not always agree but I enjoying conversing with all of you!
Next up we have one of the most popular Disney animated films ever made- their 31st film, Aladdin. While it is not as artistically special or as epic as the movies it is sandwiched between (Beauty and the Beast and Lion King), it is one of Disney’s best comedies and I think that is why it is remembered so fondly. We all love what makes us laugh!
I have now watched Aladdin 4 times in recent weeks. When Robin Williams died I felt so sad so I hunted down Aladdin and watched it. I kind of forgot about it and even said in my Disney Tag video I thought it was a little overrated. I don’t know if it was just the passing,but I left that viewing completely charmed. Now I watched it again and then with 2 commentaries and am still charmed.
Do I like all the choices they made? No, but I think it is a ton of fun.
Aladdin was released on Thanksgiving in 1992 (I remember going to see it as our Thanksgiving movie!). It was suggested as a concept by Howard Ashman in 1988 when the ‘Gong Show’ had occurred and ideas like Oliver and Company and the Little Mermaid had been approved.
It was a return to the Disney tradition of making movies for boys but it starred a grown man (or teen) which had never been done before. Every other male figure had either been an eccentric, a bore or a little child. I had heard on a number of audio commentaries that male adults were harder to draw and I finally heard an explanation on the director’s commentary with Ron Clements and John Musker. One of them said:
“Male leading men are harder to do in animation than the women because you can slightly caricature the female figure and look and a slight exaggeration makes it more appealing but when you do that with the male figure that slight exaggeration is a little off-putting”
So there you have it! Originally Michael J. Fox was used to create Aladdin but then when they decided to make the character older they went with Tom Cruise as their inspiration!
I wonder if the exaggerated style needed for a man, made them go with the even more exaggerated inspiration of Al Hirschfeld drawings from the New Yorker? His comics had ‘swooping lines and elongated faces.
It is also interesting that Disney made no attempt to tie the movie back to its original source material or the Arabic culture. It kind of makes me laugh that people were offended by a line by the peddler/narrator ,’where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face’ when a million other things are done that directly fly in the face of Arabic customs and culture.
How about the fact that none of the characters actually look Arabic? I would think that is more potentially bothersome than a funny line in a song. Seriously it’s the most white Arabs ever put on-screen.
As much as I like the film I kind of wish they had been a little braver with their skin colorings and not only been tan on Jafar’s face (but oddly enough never his neck?). It is such a cliché to have the people of darker complexion be the bad guy. Sigh…
But Aladdin is not the movie for such discussion. It is a comedy!!! It has one job and that is to make you laugh and it does that job very well. And pretty much all the laughs come from one man- Robin Williams. He owns this movie. There was talk after it was released that he should be the first person to be nominated for best supporting actor for an animated movie and I agree. (I really wish they would have an award for voice work because it is such an art).
Clements and Musker said they wrote the part of the Genie for Robin Williams and it was quite the labor of love for him to participate at all. At the time he was filming Toys and Hook and would spend hours on set for those films and then come at night to record for Aladdin.
At one point in the commentary Clements says ‘people often ask me how much of the material was ad-libbed vs scripted? And I say none of it. It was all written’. This caught me off guard but then Musker says ‘he’s lying!’.
Evidently they would give Robin Williams boxes of props, costumes and concepts and he would go from there. For one of the songs he came up with 59 different characters! Just the one’s included in the film are amazing. with everything from Ed Sullivan to John Wayne to Ethel Merman- all people most kids don’t know but they didn’t need to. We knew it was a funny voice, which made us laugh. The adults, for instance, could laugh at the Groucho Marx imitation, while kids thought it was a silly looking character.
They also said on the commentary Williams was nervous about his singing, which I guess he had never done before, and considering he does 2 of the 4 songs he’s great!
There was some ugliness between Disney and Williams because he had taken the SAG minimum to be in Aladdin on the agreement they would not use his likeness or make the genie more than 20% of the marketing in respect for Toys which opened the same month. Disney did not live up to their side of this bargain (on one hand can you blame them but still a deal is a deal) and it angered Williams, which is why he is not in the 2nd Aladdin film but things were made up for the 3rd.
Unlike Beauty and the Beast or Little Mermaid there are only 6 songs in Aladdin, 2 of which are reprises. 3 of the songs are written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and a Whole New World is by Tim Rice and Menken. I wonder if this song scarcity was partly to appease boys who would be less interested typically in musical numbers? However, the songs we get are well written and once again very funny. There is not a villain song except for the Prince Ali reprise by Jafar but this works very well so no issue from me.
Artistically it is simple with mostly color blocking as backgrounds. Evidently blue is used to convey good in the film and red evil. In fact, in the final scenes everything is red even the characters and their clothing.
Some of the CGI in the film does not hold up very well. Things like the cave of wonders looks pretty corny to a modern audience but the film is so over-the-top I don’t really care.
Let’s actually talk about the story-
We start out with our narrator setting the tone with the song ‘Arabian Nights’. It is a very effective number. Robin Williams does not sing this song but he does do the other voice work for the narrator:
It does a very good job setting mood and tone. We get the gravitas of the music with the silliness of the peddler selling us tupperware (Evidently they brought a box of junk for Robin Williams from the $1 store and he ad-libbed all of it).
The narrator was actually supposed to be revealed to be the Genie at the end but it had to be cut because the ending with Genie leaving felt complete.
After the narrator we see Jafar and a thief. They have found the cave of wonders but it takes a ‘diamond in the rough’ to enter.
Next we meet Aladdin. What a great way to be introduced to a character. We know from the beginning he is special, “our diamond in the rough”.
How rough is he? Well, he is a thief and the next song shows us that. It is one of the most ‘Broadway’ Disney songs, so of course I love it.
So, 2 out of 4 songs done in the first few minutes. Again, that feels very ‘please the boys’ to me but I’m ok with it. It does take too long to get to the Genie (almost 40 minutes!) but it’s not terrible.
A lot of the scenes in Aladdin feel like a good sitcom. Think of a show like The Office. There would be a tender hearteded scene with Michael Scott immediately followed by ‘that’s what she said’ or other silly punchline. It’ never gets too sentimental but it also doesn’t leave the viewers cold.
These tender moments start early in Aladdin with a Prince riding into the castle repulsed by Aladdin. He says he is a ‘street rat’ and nobody will remember him.
Then we meet Jasmine . She is portrayed as a modern woman who wants to get out of the castle and live for herself. Much to her father’s chagrin she rejects suitor after suitor (including the Prince who insulted Aladdin). A lot of the time she is shown holding a bird symbolizing feeling caged in and lonely. Jasmine is a little bland but I liked her. Again, it does not matter that she is completely implausible for an Arabic woman (even today in some cultures) because they’ve already established the movie is its own enchanted world, with its own rules and customs.
Jasmine decides to run away and Aladdin saves her from getting her hand chopped off by a merchant. They have some nice moments together and there is genuine chemistry. (Like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast the couple in Aladdin have significant screen time together and form a realistic bond).
Our next scene is with Jafar and his hilarious pet parrot Iago voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. Some find him shrill and annoying but he was funny to me (but I love Fran Drescher so I guess I don’t mind shrill). I don’t think he is in the movie too much. Just enough to provide some good comic relief especially when the Genie is nowhere to be found.
If parents have issues with words like ‘shut up’ or ‘moron’ they probably will not care for Iago as he uses them a lot.
Eventually Aladdin is captured and Jasmine is returned to the castle. To her dismay, Jafar tells her Aladdin has been beheaded for hurting the Princess. In truth, he has actually been taken to the dungeon and tricked into entering the Cave of Wonders with his monkey Abu (who is super cute).
In the cave they find the lamp but Abu triggers the alarm and the cave starts turning into lava and they have to use a magic carpet (which has tons of personality for a rectangle) to get out of the cave.
Jafar thinking he has the lamp leaves Aladdin and Abu inside the cave but Abu steals the lamp. That’s when we finally get our Genie!!! I can’t imagine anyone not liking the Genie or Friend Like Me. It’s perfect. Evidently it was the first number they animated so certain features are different (longer ears, Aladdin looks younger) but none of that matters. It is so funny. You forget most of the time it is just the Genie with blue background. It’s so manic that’s all we need.
Eventually Aladdin wishes to be made a prince so he can woo Jasmine and we get the next musical number, Prince Ali. Robin Williams is hilarious as if he is commenting on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
In a surprise to Aladdin, Jasmine is not impressed with Prince Ali (neither is Jafar of course!). She won’t even meet with him, but he convinces her to try a magic carpet ride. I know A Whole New World won the Oscar for best song but I think it is just okay but the animation is lovely and it provides one of the movies only softer extended moments.
After the ride Jasmine is smitten with Aladdin and has basically figured out he is the street rat from earlier despite him continuing to lie about it. He tells her he dresses as a commoner for fun, but I don’t think she really believes him.
She is smitten enough to get one of the best Disney kisses ever!
After the date Jafar traps Aladdin and tries to drown him in the ocean. The Genie is unleashed and uses one of Aladdin’s 3 wishes to save him.. This is a pretty intense moment for a Disney lead and probably the closest any actually come to dying.
Aladdin comes back to the palace and exposes Jafar as the crook he is but he is unwilling to come clean to Jasmine about who he is. He also tells Genie he can’t give him his freedom because they want him to be Sultan and he needs to remain a Prince with his wishes.
Just then Iago steals Aladdin’s lamp and brings it to Jafar who makes himself Sultan on high. The red coloring on these scenes is great at establishing mood (and contrast from the all blue of Aladdin’s scenes when he is master of the lamp). We also get the reprise of Prince Ali which is Jafar’s villain song.
Aladdin get’s sent to the ‘ends of the earth’ and we know it is somewhere with snow. Again the CGI in some of these scenes doesn’t age particularly well but it is a nice emotional segment for Aladdin who feels terrible about Abu and The Carpet.
Getting free we get to Jafar imprisoning Jasmine and her father. Her outfit is very slinky in these scenes which may be a problem for some Christian viewers.
Aladdin returns and he and Jafar have a wonderfully executed final battle that feels like Aladdin may have met his match. The Genie is also helpless because Jafar is his master.
For the finale we get one of the best moments of friendship in all of Disney and a great message about being yourself and loving others more than self. Especially with Robin Williams passing it is a very tender scene.
My thoughts on Aladdin are very simple. What I look for in a comedy is ‘did it make me laugh?’ and this did. It did as a child and it did now. The schtick by Robin Williams still holds up and is full of energy and happiness, which is hard to resist. The genie is one of the best Disney characters ever and it is one of the best examples of a side character stealing the show in a movie- live action or animated.
It also has some nice action segments that will entertain boys and girls.
I think the villain is fine but not one of Disney’s best (although it is nice to have a male villain for once). I like Iago and think he is used just enough to not be wearing.
Jasmine is a little bland but charming. The music is a lot of fun if sparingly used. The artistry is fine, does the job it needs to do.
I wish we got to the Genie sooner and the Whole New World sequence is a little forgettable, but not bad.
Like all the great Disney there is genuine heart mixed in with the humor and some nice messages about friendship and honesty.
So all in all, I really enjoy Aladdin. Is it in my top 10? I don’t think so but it is probably my favorite Disney comedy, so maybe…not sure . Ask me in a couple years when Robin Williams passing isn’t so fresh.
For now I give it an
Overall Grade- A-
I made donation to St Jude in Robin William’s memory after his passing (I just felt like doing something, not simply talking) and I’d like to make another contribution. $1 for every view this post gets up to $150. I feel very sad at his loss.