Aladdin: I may have gotten older — but it’s still a whole new world

It was 1992, and I was at the brink of adolescent rage – the neighborhood cutie must have thought me as a freak; I have just begun freshman year at an all-girls high school filled with nuns and kids with trapper-keepers and Benetton shirts; and yet, my only cause of worry was saving enough money so I could buy this:

aladdin soundtrack

The soundtrack of Aladdin the animated film, released November 1992 (CTTO)

For a kid subsisting on a 20 peso lunch money – saving up for a 120-tape is a real-life problem. In the case of the prepubescent me, I was convinced that I had to get it. After all, having just seen Aladdin — I was convinced that it was “my Disney movie” and “A Whole New World” is my life’s jam. Plus, Lea Salonga, the theater wunderkind from the Philippines was the singing voice for Princess Jasmine — so by that alone, the album has quickly become a “must-buy.”

I remember being 12–barely 13–sitting on the hood of my neighbor’s dented car, listening to the strains of “One Jump Ahead,” “Arabian Nights,” “A Whole New World,” “Friend in Me” as the tape (finally acquired after a lot of wheeling and dealing) got it nth replay and rewind on the trusty old radio. I remember teenage-hood and being convinced, that for a cartoon, Aladdin is definitely the cutest guy I’ve laid my eyes on.

I remember the blur of high school and slum books and listing “Aladdin” as a favorite movie, of watching constant reruns on the old, wonky television.  I remember trying (and failing) to draw the characters from scratch; on a mission to perfect Princess Jasmine’s almost eyes and humungous golden earrings.

I remember childhood and the beginnings of teenage angst when I think about Aladdin. Or maybe many years after, right in the midst of my 20s, trying not to shed tears as the first strains of “A Whole New World” played in time for the fireworks show of Disneyland Hong Kong. (TRUE STORY: Crying during the Disney fireworks show is me and my sister’s thing, especially if it’s playing “A Whole New World”)

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That’s why I was so excited when I heard last year that Disney was working on a live-action version of the movie 27 years after the original animated movie came out. I wanted to see how it would look like — with actors inhabiting the role of Aladdin and Jasmine; of the Genie and Jafar. The limitations of technology were too pronounced more than three decades ago, yet the colors and animation — the look of the clouds swirling like ice cream or a carpet weaving to and fro in the sky — it was still magical.

So, when people started complaining about the casting and started bashing the movie due to the liberties done to the original story – I was pissed. One, because I can’t imagine my movie sucking or being ruined by bad writing, bad acting or badly miscast actors; and second, because the early whiners made me more anxious about the movie which ruins the experience for me.

Thank God I didn’t listen.

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I am not a movie critic, but I do know a good movie when I see one.

Here’s what I love: Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and Will Smith as the Genie. They are perfect for the role and they made it their own. Will Smith’s Genie did not — in any way — competed with the iconic take of the late Robin Williams. Instead, he made it distinctly his own while giving subtle nods to the original.

Brad Kane and Lea Salonga (the singing voices of the 1992 animated version) was my childhood’s Aladdin and Jasmine – the same way that the kids of today will always think of Aladdin and Jasmine as Massoud and Scott. And Will Smith as their Genie.

I loved how the story unfolded – yes, even the additional elements of the story where Jasmine was given more depth; more reason for being. The fact that she now has her own song “Speechless,” is one of the best parts of the remake.

However, I think the live-action Jafar is less evil than the cartoon one; this one is less menacing and not as scary as the cartoon version of the vizier to the Sultan. While giving Jafar as back story as to why he was so drunk on the notion of power, I still think that the new iteration has less the bite, less the venom.

The bottom line — and speaking as a life-long fan of the animated Aladdin — the 2019 retelling is something that’s still magical, regardless of the years that passed. And while I have indeed grown up and grown old, and became cynical; for one enchanted night, I was able to see the world again as it should be: Shining, Shimmering, Splendid. 

 

 

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