It needs to be said: the live action remakes of the classic Disney films are, for the most part, soulless and boring to watch. The only reason they’re crushing it at the box office is because of nostalgia and name recognition.
And after seeing the teaser-trailer for the Aladdin reboot, it looks like Disney’s headed in the same exact lame direction with its latest attempt at cashing in on their songs of yesteryear, which stinks for anyone who is excited about seeing the new movie.
Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m just being a grouch, or maybe I’ve got some deep-rooted hatred for Disney or am not nostalgic about the movies I grew up with as a kid. And yes, I am definitely a curmudgeon, but just hear me out and decide for yourself whether I’m wrong or not.
The newest trailer begins with the stunning image of Agrabah. Yes, the visuals are beautiful, and you can even see the palace where Jasmine and her tiger and dumpy dad live in from a distance. It’s an imagery meant to prey on your childhood love of the movie you saw as a kid.
And yes, we’ve got that scary big cat-faced cave opening its mouth, waiting to swallow up any unsuspecting adventurers who think that they’re going to get their wildest wishes and dreams granted — as long as they don’t try and steal any jewels and money.
Now full disclosure, I’m an actor. I go on auditions. And even though I’m not Arab, because my name is Mustafa, I get casting calls. Bizarrely, I got an audition for Aladdin. I’m too old and nowhere near good-looking enough to play a young hero, but people get cast for other roles off of auditions for main parts all the time, so I said let’s do it.
I sing (poorly) in an audition tape after trying my darndest to get a good take that might make the casting director remember me for a future project down the line. I send it in, again, knowing full well my crusty butt isn’t going to get cast as a charming leading man with a heart of gold. The guy who got the role, who I know is going to do a great job, is this fine young actor, Mena Massoud, pictured in this shot from the trailer below.
It’s awesome Disney cast someone who’s ethnically Arab for the role (he’s Egyptian which is North Africa, but still), and Mena’s got some great credits under his belt — you’ve got to be a good actor to get cast for high-level work, I don’t care what anybody says.
But in the beginning of Aladdin, the dude’s supposed to play a street rat. That doesn’t mean he needs to be ugly or scuzzy, but he’s got to at least appear like he’s fallen on some hard times and is living with a monkey.
He’s supposed to play a hobo who people look down on and treat like garbage, from women in brothels to local authorities, to merchants — everyone. You mean to tell me anyone is going to kick a handsome dude like that with perfectly coiffed hair and a freshly faded beard out of their house? Or deny them a piece of bread? Are you kidding me?
And as silly as that sounds, how’s he going to make his transition to Prince Ali when this dude already looks like a prince? Is anyone going to not think it’s Aladdin (especially Princess Jasmine) when they see him parading around on CGI elephants and with a blue dude behind him running the show?
And that’s one of the biggest problems with these new live-action Disney remakes: they’re so clean, perfect and polished-over that all of the soul from them is completely gone. Seriously, does anyone remember a single frame or moment in these remakes that stood out to them? Take Cinderella for instance.
It had insane box office sales of $543.5 million. That’s bananas. But it’s a totally forgettable movie. No one’s talking about it anymore. No one’s raving about it. As a parent, I see a lot of people with kids who have very strong opinions on what they want to watch again and again and again. The new Cinderella isn’t one of those films, and frankly, their parents aren’t that into it either.
Again, what the heck do I know because I’ve never directed, starred in, or produced a major Hollywood film? But there’s something eerily “dead” about the Cinderella movie and it isn’t the only live-action Disney remake that makes me feels that way. Anyone see the new Beauty and the Beast?
My wife’s a massive Emma Watson fan, and she loves the story of Belle being thrown into a dungeon by a gigantic monster who treats her like garbage but then eventually comes around and falls in love with the bookish nerd. I don’t know why, but somehow Disney made us believe that was charming as kids and I guess, it was.
But even my wife fell asleep, twice, during the live-action remake, and I can’t blame her. The entire movie feels completely devoid of life, like a really good cover song of a classic that just doesn’t live up to the original. The million-dollar sights and sounds that should have been incredible, just felt sterilized without any attempt at embodying emotion behind them.
A lot of it might have to do with the fact that the movies are overwhelmingly CGI’ed, which shouldn’t make sense because the first films were entirely animated. But I think the fact that they’re entirely animated and overly cartoon-ey is what makes them so good. We know, as the audience, that we’re in a fantasy world, we know we’re in a place that doesn’t really exist, so it’s easier to immerse ourselves in that universe.
Mentally, we’re not trying to fit it in with our current concept of what the world looks like. Anthropomorphic furniture in the original Beauty and the Beast didn’t look like furniture we’d actually see in a store, but seeing real-life versions of the them flying around and beating up angry villagers in the remake just doesn’t work, and it’s because they almost look real, but there’s something off, because it’s CGI at the end of the day. And that’s constantly taking us out of the movie, whether we realize it or not.
Look at the above photo and tell me who you’d rather get a cup of tea from or which picture evokes more of an emotional response?
When it’s full animation without the worry of making things look “realistic,” the narrative hits us harder. Compare the emotions you felt watching Moana and Coco to whatever you were feeling while watching any of the live-action Disney remakes. I bawl like a baby during those two movies, but the remakes don’t do a thing for me.
Heck, even Frozen, which is full of plot holes by the way (like why did the old guy servant wait for the girls to be older before attempting to seize power with that red-haired dude), managed to be more of a smash success than the remakes, and capture people’s minds despite the fact it only had one and a half good song(s). It’s because they went all in on the animation/fantasy and not this weird, hybrid, sort of live-action route.
Which is why the live-action Jungle Book sucked a heck of a lot less than the other live-action movies, and that’s because pretty much the entire film only has one live human actor in it. It’s almost an entirely animated adventure, which is why out of all the live-action Disney remakes, it’s the one that people liked the most.
It also doesn’t hurt that you’ve got performances from Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, and Ben Kingsley. The best part of the movie is Baloo tricking a young kid into getting honey for him, and King Louie’s horrifying song and dance. That entire sequence was absolutely wild and is the only thing that really stands out from all of the recent remakes I’ve watched.
The Jungle Book is probably the only remake that could be considered remotely decent. When’s the last time you felt the urge to fire up Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or Maleficient? How many times have you wanted to watch them?
So although the new Aladdin has a huge star in Will Smith and has history on its side, and is probably going to be a massive hit in the box office (it’s crushing on Broadway too, people love stories they’re familiar with), I have a feeling it’s going to run into the same problem that a lot of live-action Disney remakes run into: They’re boring and just don’t have the same replay value and watchability of the old ones.
Of course, this can just be hater-ism of the highest degree and I should keep a positive outlook and yadda yadda yadda, think that the movie’s going to be great. But don’t you remember playing these older movies ad nauseam? You were excited to rewatch them because every single frame of the film was a work of art. Heck, I play them for my kids and my friend’s kids and they prefer them over the newer movies too.
I don’t know many people who’ve got the remakes on repeat and I don’t blame them. Nowm could I be wrong about the new Aladdin? 100 percent. And if I am, that should make me happy, otherwise I’ll just be a loser. But I don’t like what I’ve been seeing so far and I can’t say I have high hopes it’ll be a diamond in the rough.