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
You can put me firmly in the group of people who once called themselves Star Wars fans. (You noticed the qualifier in that sentence, right? Once.) Like so many, my childhood was filled with lightsaber battles, and imaginary playtime with Wookies and Ewoks. Even into my teens I watched the films with a warm, everything-is-right-in-the-world feeling. My friends and I quoted Yoda. We were damn proud Star Wars nerds.
When George Lucas decided to release a new trilogy, Episode I through III, we counted down the days, and consumed any news and merchandise we could. There was a fever pitch with all Star Wars fans at that time. You had to be excited. It was like someone had shown up with a time machine and told you they were about to take you back to one of the happiest, most carefree, and innocent times of your life. All you had to do was stand in line at the movie theatre and let it all happen. So we did. We metaphorically gave Mr. Lucas our hands, and let him lead us to the Promised Land. But then he did the worst thing he could have. He turned a wonderful part of our childhood into a mockery.
I don’t have to rehash the epic disappointment of Episode I through III. The three movies remain unwatchable for an array of reasons. I’ll just say, on a personal level, George Lucas killed meesa soul. Like a Jedi being hunted by the Empire, I had to leave the Star Wars universe. They had taken an important part of my childhood, and completely bastardized it to make more money.
It made it even more tragic to me that it worked. The Star Wars franchise blew up. Over the years that followed Episode I through III you couldn’t escape the Star Wars marketing machine. A new generation of kids had been seduced with lightsabers, and pod races. Anakin Skywalker was a household name, R2-D2 became the cutest little robot in the club, and Yoda replaced Bob Marley for the next generation of stoners searching for meaning amid a clouded high. Even Boba Fett somehow managed to eke out his own little piece of land on planet I’m-Such-A-Rebel.
I was the old codger complaining that back in my day you had to be a real fan to even know who Boba Fett was. Oh God… I had become one of those sad people complaining that their favorite band had gone mainstream. It was time for me to leave the party.
So, when Disney bought the franchise and announced the coming of Episode VII… I sadly didn’t give a crap. My little Star Wars soul was dead. Yet, in the coming months, things began to change. It was a slow change, met with resistance, but it was a change.
I heard they were bringing back the old characters for the new movie. (Hmm, that’s somewhat interesting). There seems to be a rumble that the producers understand what was so wrong about Episode I through III, and promise not to repeat past mistakes. (Okay, admitting you have a problem is the first step). They are promising less goofy CGI characters, a much better cast with fewer established stars, and a promise to stay true to the original movies. (Well, I’ll see what the reviews say). The reviews are… good. (Maybe I’ll check it out when it comes to Netflix).
Then a good friend of mine, someone whose opinion matters greatly to me in this particular matter, posted on facebook that the movie redeems the failure of Episode I through III. (No… Is it possible? I suppose… I’ll have to go see it).
And then… The movie exceeded any expectation I had for it. It was amazing.
No more horrible actors, the new cast was quality, and had chemistry.
No terrible CGI goofiness, the effects were apt and not overdone.
The comedy was subtle and actually funny, not the corny and forced slapstick of the “Jar Jar” disaster.
And then, the thing I just never would have expected. The story was absolutely great. It was heartfelt and deep. The action was suspenseful, and riveting. I found myself caring for the characters, new and old. There was mystery that kept you intrigued. There were moments that brought actual sadness. This movie had me; it awakened something in me.
And before I knew what had happened. I was back. Like Han Solo returning in A New Hope to help Luke defeat the Death Star, I was back. I walked out of the theatre, and for the first time in fifteen years, the force was with me. If Episode VIII had been in the theatre next door, I would have immediately walked in to watch it. Knowing I have to wait over a year for it is killing me, and that’s probably the best review I can give.
Without giving anything away, the final scene of the movie is the most perfect metaphor for the “old guard” of Star Wars fans there could possibly be. If you never thought you could return, you were wrong, the force is strong with you, and it is there waiting for your return. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.