This past Memorial Day weekend I went with my wife to see Disney’s live action Aladdin. Only one day after our niece saw the same film. Let’s give a little back story before we dig in:
When Disney’s Aladdin released in 1992, my wife was seven years old. She was at the perfect age to fall completely in love with Disney films and was well on the way to her Phd in Disneyology, with a concentration on films of that era (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King). Somewhat coincidentally, our niece is now almost six years old and beginning her own career in the field. However, my niece has the advantage of attacking her course work with advice from a Disney doctor already in the family.
“Make sure you don’t skip over Aladdin,” my wife would counsel. “Don’t waste too much time on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And this fork is actually called a dinglehopper in certain circles. By the way, beware any people that emanate a green glow.”
Now with my sloppy metaphor aside, you get the picture. We’ve got multiple generations of Disneyphiles who were eagerly awaiting the release of live action Aladdin. What a wonderful situation for the giant that is Disney. A firm stranglehold on multiple generations of girls forever dreaming of musical princesses. What could go wrong?
Well I’ll tell you exactly what went wrong and it wasn’t Will Smith as the Genie. In fact, it was Jafar. He missed the mark quite terribly for both my wife (and me), as well as my niece. But for polar opposite reasons.
For myself and my wife, Jafar was toothless. A sorry excuse for a “bad guy,” and in our opinion not nearly scary or evil enough. We even felt that the cartoon version from 1992 was more creepy, menacing, and impactful than the live action version. Jafar was where the movie fell the most flat for us. Especially considering a large part of the audience already knows the outcome, a compelling Jafar could have really helped.
As a fantasy adventure writer, I have to interject another opinion here. The bad guy is the second most important part of a story. It’s not something that should ever be handled lightly or brushed aside as an afterthought. Obviously your hero is the most important thing, but what makes a hero shine is how they deal with their conflict. The bad guy is the conflict. Unfortunately, in this instance Jafar felt poorly cast, and boring.
But that’s the thirty-something perception. The five-year-old perception… well…
Jafar was absolutely terrifying. When he pushed Aladdin out the window and into the ocean my niece wanted to run for the exit, and when he turned into the most powerful genie in the world it was all over. She was running for the doors before finding out a happy ending was in the works. Jafar scared her out of the room. The cartoon version doesn’t do that to her though because it’s a cartoon. There was too much realism for her in the live action remake, and when contrasting that with my wife’s opinion something occurred to me.
Seemingly, all is not well in the Magic Kingdom.
Now, I’m sure you’ll scoff at that evaluation. Disney made more money this weekend than I even know how to imagine, and they’ll do that twenty times this year alone. Even so, I’ll stick to my premise. Disney shouldn’t sit back and think everything is fine. After all, Disney’s business is core memories, and the nostalgia that keeps people coming back to them. The only core memory made this weekend in our family was one of terror, and on the other end of the spectrum the nostalgia wanes a little more with each remake. I can see my wife a little less excited to see each new live action film, and a little more ready to expect some disappointment.
And that’s really the point. I know I’m the fool trying to shout over the category five hurricane that is the Disney money machine, but they really shouldn’t lose sight of the future. Because you can’t please everyone, and when you try… you will fail. Disney will either ruin some great cartoons for a new generation of kids, or a generation of woman will finally become exhausted with a company that leverages their childhood against their purses, and it could be both.
Disney should also remember that this coming generation of students has a generation of masters to provide them with counsel. Keep going back to the same well, over and over, and Disney might not like the wisdom these women pass down to their successors.
Thanks for reading,
Dylan Lee Peters