ALADDIN and Watching Disney

I made you look like a prince on the outside, but I didn’t change anything on the inside. Prince Ali got you to the door, but Aladdin has to open it.

I find it harder and harder to form an opinion about Disney movies. 

Personally, engaging in (amateur) film criticism means to go beyond my own emotional reactions to a movie, and instead ask three questions:

  1. “Did I enjoy this movie?” 
  2. “What did this movie want to say?” 
  3. “Did it say it well?” 

With recent Disney releases, and Aladdin (2019) in particular, I don’t think they are genuinely trying to say anything. They are vague platitudes of universal human values or platitudes of specifically American values. However, vague platitudes are not the reason these films get made. They are not projects created to “say something.”

They are created to make money. 

When I watched Aladdin (2019), conflicting thoughts ran through my head as the movie checked all of its plot boxes. I evaluated it on whether I liked it (I didn’t), then I thought: “What is this movie trying to say?” And I got stuck. Don’t get me wrong, the core theme from the original Aladdin “be yourself” is still there and it still resonates. Mostly. It’s harder to accept a movie telling you “it’s what on the inside that counts” when it itself has no soul at all.

Jasmine’s whole story arc is a ‘Girl Boss’ motivation shoehorned into the original. I got the distinct feeling that a corporate board room attempted to ‘fix’ a passive and quiet Princess from the original film. Except that problem doesn’t exist in the original; she was outspoken the whole movie. In the original, she objects when the three men of the film are bargaining over her, she stands up to Jafar consistently, and doesn’t take Aladdin’s shit just in general. In most Disney Princess movies, the sidelined princess trope needs fixing. This clock, however, wasn’t broken to begin with.

Which led me to think ‘well, why? Why are they fixing this?’ And before too long I was distracted by a parrot turning into a huge fucking eagle and chasing a magic carpet through a city. I can’t believe I typed that sentence and I didn’t get excited about it. It was boring as hell.

That was when I realized that this movie is meant to print money. Which is not a novel realization, in fact it came insanely late in the film for me. Though Aladdin (2019) is the best case study for this case.

Aladdin (2019) made over $1 Billion worldwide in box office gross sales, hardly a failure. I understand why it made that much money: Will Smith is a big draw and he was pretty good, Disney cast an ethnically representative cast for the story to appeal to a younger generation that is less white than any generation before it. They added some pep to the songs where they were a little slow. There are some diamonds in the rough (sorry), and so it made a billion dollars. 

Which makes it difficult for me to engage with Aladdin (2019) as a film because the film’s interest in the audience members ends when they buy the ticket or they stream it on Disney+. It needs to succeed just enough for your opinion to bring someone into the theater, or at very least not stop them from going in. Once you’re in there, Disney doesn’t really care what I think about the movie. The film will further succeed once a family leaves the theater with kids begging to buy Aladdin merchandise or see Princess Jasmine at Disney WorldLand. 

I will resist the urge to ramble on in an attempt to defend my numerous frustrations with the film. Not only because Lindsay Ellis says it better. Because adding my voice to the masses yelling about the flaws in Jasmine’s arc doesn’t contribute to the discussion. Nor does a few hundred words regarding Will Smith’s genie really change any minds.

Disney has won this round, again. They’ve announced a sequel movie. They have a $750 doll set for purchase alongside numerous $20 T-Shirts with vague, empowering slogans on them. And they have some guy in DC writing nearly 700 words about their movie. 

All hail Disney.

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