Matt Hackmann

MattHackmann

The thoughts and goings-on of some programmer dude.

RetroReview - Aladdin

I don't know why, but for the last several months I've had this odd hankering to watch the old 1992 Disney animated classic, Aladdin. Sometimes while driving home from work in my car I'll burst out into a song from the flick. I even braved the children's section of the library once in an attempt to snag a copy. (This is a thing I will never do again unless I am accompanied by a child; it felt awkward). So, knowing that my folks had a copy and that I'd be joining them for Easter, I put out the proposal that we watch after our ham riddled feasting. This would be my first time watching through the eyes of and adult and the first time I'd seen it in at least fifteen years.

The plot isn't really something I should have to synopsize, but I'll do so anyway. Set ten thousand years in the future in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, there is a magical lamp in which resides a genie who can grant (almost) any three wishes to the person who rubs said lamp. Antagonist Jafar is seeking it, seeking it, all his thought is bent on it for he wants to rule the world. Aladdin is a poor, thieving, and horny teenager who, as it turns out, is the only guy who can retrieve the lamp from its resting place in the Cave of Wonders. Along the way, he runs into a runaway Princess Jasmine who is also horny and tired of her life. Long story short, Aladdin gets the lamp and hijinks ensue.

Thematically, the movie seems to be about being unsatisfied with life. All of our characters yearn for something more from life but are "trapped" in their situations. Aladdin's poor and I guess doesn't want to get a job. Jasmine is sick of having her father and the law dictate her life. Similarly, Jafar is also bound by the Sultan's rule and just wants to watch the world burn. And, finally, the Genie would rather not be at the beck and call of whomever rubs his tiny dwelling.

Let the musing begin.

Making an Effort

In writing a sentence in my second synopsis paragraph, I thought of something I hadn't before. Why _is_ Aladdin a street rat? He's poor, yes, and has to resort to thievery just to survive. But we don't see him actually making an effort to improve his condition. Instead of handing out CVs to the local sugar dates or fish stalls, he just bitches and moans about how life is unfair. Fucking put some effort into it, boy. In real life, the solution isn't just handed to you as a magical lamp or a random encounter with royalty. You have to actively _do_ something to change your life. Jafar, while certainly being evil, has obviously done quite a lot of work in his quest to rule the world. Not only is he an accomplished sorcerer, but obviously also a fairly learned man if he's able to pull all the pieces together in his search for the lamp. Jasmine also makes her escape from the palace in an attempt to change things. Her process may have been ill thought out and naive, but a step is a step. The only person who actually cannot do anything about his condition is the Genie and he is, for the most part, the happiest character in the entire flick.

Conclusion: Aladdin is deadbeat scumbag.

Speed Dating

The movie also suffers from the usual Fairy Tale Relationship Syndrome in that Aladdin and Jasmine hit it off with very, very little time of actually knowing each other. A chance encounter in the marketplace and a magic carpet ride is all it takes for these two to commit to a life together. Shit like that just doesn't happen in real life and, if it does, it's exceedingly rare when it works out at all. Perhaps that's why I have a penchant for stupid romcom anime; it's slightly more real in that it takes a dozen episodes (on average covering six months to a year of story) before guy and girl get to the relationship stage. Granted, there's usually a lot of contrived shit in between, but time-wise, it's better. But, I digress.

An Excellent Judge of Character

To be honest, Aladdin and Jasmine, while technically being the main characters, are ultimately the most forgettable. They're bland and cliche and, while there is certainly nothing wrong with the acting, they just don't stand out. The real stars of the show are Jafar, Iago, and of course, the Genie. Even the carpet has more personality, though that's not surprising since it takes more thought to get a feeling across using nothing but pantomime.

Jafar/Iago

As a kid, I never would have felt anything for Jafar. Disney movies are made so that everything is black and white; Aladdin's the good guy, Jafar the bad. Done deal. And while that still holds more or less true, there were moments where I felt sorry for Jafar. He's got a job working for chubby dullard and his air head daughter. Now that I've been in the workforce for a few years, I can understand exactly how he feels. Granted, we don't ever get an insight into whether there's a reason he's evil instead of just apathetically sarcastic, but work for that kind of person long enough and one might just turn evil. Or...

It's entirely possible that Jafar isn't the evil one after all. Iago is painted to be the comic relief of their tag team duo, but he's obviously just as aware of what's going on if not more so. His sarcastic remark to Jafar's statement of Gazeem being "less than worthy" and Jafar's lack of reaction to the tone means that Iago is in a relationship of equals with Jafar (or close). It was Iago and not Jafar that came up with the plan to marry Jasmine, become the Sultan, and then off her and her father. I think the only thing keeping Iago from being a runaway evil success is that, in the end, he's just a parrot.

The Genie

There's honestly not much to say about this. Robin Williams _is_ the Genie, although he doesn't have quite as much screen time as I remember. It's also interesting to think that he's really the only A list actor in this movie and that it was a big deal at the time. The tables are exactly the opposite now; it's a big deal and almost heresy when a movie has an unknown in a leading role (Ratatouille is a good example). Getting back to the topic, the amount of pop culture references that Robin Williams' characters pulled out is infinitely more hilarious when you've lived a few more years. For the first time ever I got the burping the Tupperware reference.

The Carpet

This is less a blurb about the carpet and more about the technology used in the film. CGI was still in its infancy at this point and Aladdin was only the second animated Disney film to use rendered to film computer visuals (Beauty and the Beast being the first). It is painfully obvious, too. The Cave of Wonders is very CG looking, the lava in the lava chase is very CG looking (the recolored fractal texture just seems off). The tower rolling down the snow covered mountain at the end doesn't fare any better. And the reason why I put this under the carpet is because, while the carpet was hand drawn, the texture was applied digitally and it makes for some rather odd looking effects. One of the big things in cartoon style animation is the use of squash and stretch to make animation look more... animated. Well, this leads to some very ugly results on the carpet texture because, while when the carpet is at rest things look fine, when it is morphed into an exaggerated shape, the texture becomes exaggerated in places that it might not in real life. Somehow Disney managed to find a spot in the Uncanny Valley for an animated rug. Granted, it still looked better than it did in the Aladdin TV series (where they just hand animated it). I could never figure out why it looked so shitty as a kid, but now I know.

Ugh... Musicals

It was typical for the time, but every goddamned animated film was riddled with musical numbers. Why? I don't know, but Aladdin is no different. Everybody winds up singing about their strifes or whatever at some point. Again, I don't know why; singing will not solve most of life's problems. Most of the songs are benign, but the main one, "A Whole New World" is so. Fucking. Catchy. And I don't mean catchy in the annoying kind of why. It's a damn good song. Remember that bit above about how I sing in the car? This is usually what I break out into. There's just something about it...

I think I've said more than I need to about this film, so I'm going to wrap it here. If I do another one of these, Beauty and the Beast will probably be next as it stands with Aladdin as probably one of the most watched films of my life (as a child).