The underwhelming first look at Disney’s reinvention Aladdin highlights the creative problems with their current formula of live-action remakes. The first images of Guy Ritchie's Aladdin have debuted - which come shortly after the first Aladdin trailer debuted in October - and the response has been overwhelmingly negative. Aladdin remains one of Disney's most beloved films, so remaking it in live-action was always going to be controversial.
The 1992 Aladdin animated film was the highest grossing film of its year; it brought in over $500 million worldwide and ushered in the studio’s new wave of direct-to-video sequels that would become a lucrative cash cow for 20 years. Robin Williams’ tour de force performance as the Genie was lauded as one of the year’s best and it pushed the studio into a newly comedic creative direction, right as the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s was starting to take off.
Aladdin ended up winning multiple Oscars and Grammy Awards, and the recent Broadway musical adaptation is a Tony winner that’s still bringing in massive crowds today. In an age where Disney's live-action remakes have given the studio new life, it was only a matter of time before Aladdin faced the same treatment. Yet the small amount of images we have seen thus far have done nothing to stave off a wave of skepticism and bad press.
- This Page: Why Aladdin's First Look Is Bad
- Next Page: Aladdin's Nostalgia & Disney's Live-Action Remake Problem
Why Aladdin's First Look Is Bad
The cover of Entertainment Weekly reveals the central trio of the new Aladdin film in full costume: Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott (soon to be seen in the reboot of Charlie's Angels) as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the Genie. While the two leads are recognizably Aladdin and Jasmine as we remember them from the animated film, the costumes themselves are oddly cheap looking. Massoud’s version of Aladdin’s floppy hair looks off and very artificial, and Scott’s iconic Jasmine outfit seems factory made. Smith as the Genie is not blue, which wasn’t exactly a surprise, but his own costuming also lacks the expected vibrancy. It seems to be more inspired by the Broadway show than the film, but even then, it doesn’t inspire the expected awe. This extends to further images, including SNL actress Nasim Pedrad as a new character, Jasmine's handmaiden Dalia, and Marwan Kenzari as Jafar (who appears more like a supermodel than an evil sorcerer). Everything seems a tad too fake (including the uncanny valley of the CGI version of Abu the monkey), with the scale lacking in the wonder and vivacity of the cartoon.
Overall, while these are only Aladdin's first images, and even though they don’t reveal the true extent of the live-action remake, they offer little to fans and skeptics alike. Aladdin is one of Disney’s tougher sells in recent years, at least in terms of their live-action remakes. While the studio has had to contend with cynicism from critics and the limitations of their own vision, the films released since 2010’s Alice in Wonderland have managed to appeal to those nostalgic instincts in the most effective ways possible. Aladdin has a steeper hill to climb. There’s great fan love for it, but 2018 is a very different world from 1992 - and fans have much greater expectations regarding stories about non-white people and non-European cultures as told by white creators.
The 1992 film wasn’t without its controversies in that area either; certain lyrics from Aladdin's songs were changed due to protest from Middle-Eastern activists and communities. Disney has gotten somewhat better about consulting communities and experts of other cultures when portraying them – the filmmakers of Moana famously recruited experts from across the South Pacific to form an Oceanic Story Trust to consult on their story and portrayal of Polynesian culture – but it remains a major issue for one of the big Hollywood studios. The 2019 movie has already been steeped in controversy over cultural sensitivity and whitewashing when it was revealed that Aladdin had used white extras who had been given darker make-up to appear Middle-Eastern (representatives from Disney claimed this was only done “in a handful of instances”). If Disney was hoping that these first look images would allow fans to put aside those questions and issues, they were sorely mistaken. But that’s also an inimitably Disney problem regarding these live-action remakes.
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019