Aladdin

Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Guys, we need to talk about Genie.

From a story-telling perspective, Genie is kind of a curse for the Aladdin franchise, a problem that has to be perpetually written around.

He is what Phoenix was to the X-Men, or Sentry was to the Avengers, a character so ridiculously over-powered that the writers have to bend over backwards to justify why he doesn’t just solve everything with a snap of his fingers and leave the rest of the cast standing there looking like a bunch of putzes.

And that’s just from a story-telling perspective. Of any character from the original film, the one who least needs a continuation to their story is Genie. I mean, fine, you could argue that none of the main cast were really crying out for a new chapter but at least with Aladdin, Jasmine and even Iago there places to go. Genie? Genie’s done. He wanted to be free. He’s free. Can he learn? Can he grow? No.

He already knows who Rodney Dangerfield is. There is nothing more for him to learn.

Which creates a problem. From a strict story-telling perspective, once you’re past the first movie, Genie really should have been quietly shown the door. Maybe have him pop in to say “hi” every now and then and make some pop culture references but having him remain as a main cast member just creates two mountains of work for the writers: the first as to how involve him in the plot and the second as to how to stop him just ending the plot in five seconds.

But…they can’t. Because he’s the Genie. Probably the most popular character in the franchise (heck, one of the most popular Disney characters period) and you can’t have Aladdin without him.

I bring this up because King of Thieves (an otherwise quite fine movie and a worthy finale to a decent TV show) is where this problem is probably at its most blatant. Return of Jafar had very little for Genie to do, but sidelined him for long stretches of its run time, but King of Thieves has even less for Genie to do and perversely, gives him far more screentime.

And the reason for that, of course, is ROBIN’S BACK BABY!

Yeah. After a campaign of grovelling and mea-culpas and a gift of a fruckin $1 Million Picasso, Robin Williams and Disney had finally patched up their differences for the kids and their associated revenue. Poor Dan Castellenata, who by this time had clocked in over forty hours of screentime as the Genie and had even recorded his dialogue for this movie was unceremoniously given the boot and Williams was brought in to re-record everything.

Adding insult to injury, Disney apologised to Castellenata with a frickin’ Renoir.

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar

“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.

Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.

A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?

Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:

Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar.  That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…

“How VERY dare you…”

Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.

And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?

Well yes, but only when I’ve been dosed with fear toxin by the Scarecrow.

Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.

But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…

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Alright, alright, jeez…

Firstly, a big howdy-doody to new patron Brooks Chupp, legendary silent movie film star and rumoured paramour of First Lady Grace Coollidge.

Now you may have heard that the Frozen 2 and Aladdin trailers have dropped so let’s see if we can guess the plot and save ourselves the price of a pair of cinema tickets.

  • Okay, Elsa has gone mad with power and declared war on the ocean King Cnut style.
  • Meanwhile Anna discovers that the ocean’s allies, the nefarious blue diamonds, have launched a sneak attack on the castle in Elsa’s absence.
  • But all is not lost, Christof, who, despite his love for Anna has married the queen of the reindeer to cement a dynastic alliance, rides with the reindeer army to liberate Arrendale from the icy pointy clutches of the blue diamonds and send them back to Homeworld. But at what cost?
  • Lots of leaves. Loooots of leaves. I think Disney are betting that leaves are the new snow. Getting a very autumnal vibe from this. Or as you Americans call it, “fallish”.
  • Anna just straight up cutting a bitch.

Okay, I mostly dig this. I was afraid that this was following in the footsteps of Frozen Fever and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and this definitely seems to have more somber, high stakes tone. Love the colour pallette too, and hearing Idina Menzel (I think?) try her hand at the Sami chanting from the first movie was a real kick. So, yeah, cautiously optimistic.

Let’s see how quickly we can kill that.

Oh boy. So can we first get this out of the way: They have “Arabian Nights” playing in the background, Jafar and Aladdin standing in front of the Cave of Wonders and then Jafar dropping the name “Aladdin” like it’s supposed to be a massive reveal. Like, who the hell else is it going to be? Ariel?

As to what happens in the plot, my guess is: THE EXACT SAME THING THAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST ALADDIN ONLY WITH A FEW EXTRANEOUS SUB PLOTS AND MAYBE RAJAH WILL BE GAY NOW #DIVERSITY.

Look Disney, if you’re going to KEEP FUCKING DOING THIS at least remake the ones that would actually benefit from a remake. Atlantis. Black Cauldron. Treasure Planet. You know, the ones that had good concepts that just needed better execution.

Also:

Image result for will smith genie

I dreamed this thing many years ago when stricken by a terrible fever and now it’s real and out in the world and I think this is the the end for all of us. I think we are doomed. Good bye.

 

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #31: Aladdin

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

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In her video on the rivalry between Dreamworks and Disney, the Nostalgia Chick called Aladdin “The first Dreamworks movie” and I think that’s pretty much spot on. Of all the movies of the Disney renaissance this is the one that most strongly bears the stamp of one Jeffrey Katzenberg. Celebrity voices? We got celebrity voices. Broad comedy for the kids with slightly more adult humour for the grown ups? Come in, my friend. Trendy pop culture references and catchphrases that seem refreshingly modern at the time of release but as the years go by seem more and more…um…
NOT!

NOT!

Yeah. This movie was really where that whole Dreamworks style was born. And that’s actually not a diss. I knock Dreamworks a lot on this blog (as is my God-given right as  a Disney fan), but I’ll be the first to admit that when their formula works it works damn well. One of the reasons I think Aladdin is so good is because it combines the best of both Disney and what would later become Dreamworks. It’s funny and snarky but it’s got also got a heart as big as all outdoors. And yes, it’s by far the most glitzy and “Hollywood” of the Renaissance Movies. That’s Katzenberg’s influence as well. When directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker showed Katzenberg the original test reel he hated it so much that he told them to start again from scratch. Now, you’ll remember, the exact same thing happened to Beauty and the Beast as well but this was different. With Beauty and the Beast, the original concept was reworked into an Ashman/Menken musical. Aladdin was ALREADY an Ashman/Menken musical. The new creative imprint that reshaped the movie after the disaster of the showreel screening (“Black Friday” as it was called) was Katzenberg and new script writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Even Katzenberg’s choices of phrasing were pure Hollywood; when telling the animators that Aladdin needed to be more heroic and someone worthy of Jasmine he said “He’s Michael J. Fox, he needs to be Tom Cruise.”
He needs to be more utterly terrifying?

He needs the grin of a mako shark and the cold dead eyes of a killer?

The fact that Aladdin is such a showy, glitzy, thrill ride I think leads some to dismiss it as the airheaded “pretty one” . “Sure” tut the snobs “It’s entertainment enough for the proles. But is it art?”
 
Balderdash!

Balderdash! 

Well, I would actually say that there’s more artistry on display here than in Beauty and the Beast. And lest you think I’m just engaging in more unwarranted BatB bashing I’ll throw my beloved Little Mermaid in and say it’s more artistically accomplished than that film too.
 
Mouse! How could you!?

Mouse! How could you!?

Let’s start with the artwork. The backgrounds in Mermaid and Beast are generic and pretty bland. Now look at Agrabah.
 Agrabah
Like the characters (with the deliberate exception of Jafar) everything about the city is curved, unique and inviting. The artists based the architecture of the city on Arabian calligraphy and it actually compliments the characters rather than simply being a static stage for them to perform. And the character animation is another giant leap. Think of how much character and emotion they manage to invest in the magic carpet, a goddamn rectangle. And that’s not even getting started on the feat of animation that is the Genie. So yeah, I don’t buy the argument that just because this movie is more fun than Beauty and the Beast it’s somehow less of an artistic achievement. If anything, the fact that it’s so entertaining while breaking serious new ground in the field of animation makes it an even better film in my eyes. Look at it this way:
Chocolate is great.
Broccoli is good for you.
But broccoli that tastes like chocolate CHANGES THE WORLD.
 
Let’s take a look at the film.