Reviewer: Dale Anninos-Carter
Director: Guy Ritchie
Producers: Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich
Disney has done it again and revived yet another 90’s animated classic, taking viewers across the globe on a visual adventure to a whole new world within the new fandango Aladdin (2019) film.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie’s basic plot line, a super brief summary consists of; a poor thief by the name of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls in love with the seemingly unattainable Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) of Agrabah, a fantasy Middle Eastern/Central Asian country. Aladdin finds himself in some trouble and strife, of course, and seeks the aid of a Genie (Will Smith) to grant his every wish…and somehow ends up in some more trouble and strife thanks to antagonist, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), all while singing and dancing their way through life (yes, it’s a musical).
The plot line remains roughly 95 percent the same as the 1992 film, and with the addition of a few new tunes here and there, the history books are (again) rewritten through the lens of Western imperialism – rendering the Middle East/Central Asia as a sombre, subordinate region.
Although Disney has changed certain aspects of the new film, they cannot seem to breakout of the Orientalist stereotypes which were present in the 1992 film. Early postcolonial theorist, Edward Said, conceptualised Orientalism as the ‘western’ (US and European) culture industry that portray Asia and the Middle East as exotic, regressive, strange and somewhat mythical. In other words, the story of Aladdin has been created by people with a colonial view of ‘The East’ which, of course, is inevitably an inauthentic depiction, a.k.a., sexualised, oppressed women and largely, cruel men. Not to mention the jumble of different cultural characteristics used throughout the film, basically generalising a vast region all into one. From a Bollywood dancing scene, the use of Ottoman turbans, to Moroccan lanterns – encompassing the notion that ‘all ‘easterners’ are the same’, a result of Orientalism.
Victimised Princess Jasmine has been granted the power by Disney to speak out, expressing her opinions and dismay for the world to hear, and ultimately achieves her goals, which are wholly dictated by the men in her life, a.k.a., all the men in the movie. This is a double-edged sword for the 2019 film. On a positive note, hopefully young girls and women everywhere will be inspired to voice and eliminate their injustices. On the other hand, the misogynistic tale of Aladdin inescapably portrays the apparent, as told by Disney, cultural inferiority of the Orient to that of the west. And alas, Americanised Jasmine is married off to Americanised Aladdin to live an ‘ideal’ lifestyle.ß
The media is a powerhouse in which we are consumers, and people who aren’t or haven’t been to the parts of the world depicted in the movie, that being the Middle East and Central Asia, unknowingly and blindly consume the cultural perceptions which are in this case, shaped by Disney. By this, Disney took the opportunity to control political circumstances by tweaking Jafar’s antagonistic character to the maximum, by not only wanting to rule Agrabah, but stating that his motives are to overthrow and destroy entire cities and kingdoms. A familiar and current media representation of people from the ‘east’, no? It’s no mistake that villainous Jafar is one of the only main characters that Disney has cast with a Middle Eastern accent and beard, accentuatinga stereotypical Islamaphobic vision of a modern-day criminal. Opposed to the clean-cut, ‘admirable’ heroes, Aladdin and Jasmine, rocking American accents.
On a purely visual level, the definition of the 2019 graphics compared to the 1992 animation is incomparable. The superb quality of the computer-generated imagery makes you feel like you’ve been teleported to the sweltering marketplace of make-believe Agrabah, and that the Cave of Wonders’ sparkling treasures are only an arm’s reach away. Not to mention, I’m almost convinced genies are real after the transformation of Will Smith into a big blue magical ball of twinkling dust swirling all over the place.
Speaking of Will Smith – after chatting to numerous 1992 Aladdin fans, all were skeptical about the casting of Will Smith as Genie, replacing the late Robin Williams who voiced the original 1992 Genie. However, after attending a screening, one skeptical spectator claimed that the casting was in fact “perfect”. The target audience also became obvious after Genie dropped a few meme culture terms including “kween” and “thirsty”. Gen(ie) Z, where you at, ‘fam’? This is all well and good, until you consider the role of Genie played as African-American, Will Smith – an enslaved character bound by shackles whose purpose is purely to serve. Thankfully Genie sees a happy ending, however this casting could prove potentially problematic for audiences given the history of marginalised African/African-Americans, by essentially glamourising slave trade.
If you do decide to watch this movie, make yourself aware of its Orientalist perspective and see if you can reflect on how some groups of people could be offended by this film. Oh, and don’t forget about the use of real animals in film and sub-average autotune.