Why the Aladdin Remake Is Frustrating

I was coerced into seeing the 2019 Aladdin remake by a group of friends who promised it was good. Even though I tend to be against remakes on principle, I tried to keep an open mind and allow the experience to shape me in whatever way it chose.

To be fair, Will Smith did a phenomenal job. He achieved what no one thought he could and was a powerful successor to Robin William’s Genie. Rather than attempting to replicate Genie’s character from the original, he provided his own entertaining interpretation that wowed me.

The musical numbers were all visually captivating and well choreographed, enhanced by the Middle Eastern aesthetic. I loved watching the bollywood-style dancing and listening to the gorgeous music.

This was a very attractive film….

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But it wasn’t good.

Why?

Because it exemplified all the things that make reboots and remakes so frustrating.

Reboots are notoriously guilty of scrapping plot-points that are perfectly fine and keeping ones that are arbitrary. Or, as in some cases, they will change things for the better, but won’t alter the story to accommodate the alterations they made.

The most obvious example of this in the Aladdin remake is Jasmine.

Jasmine’s character went through a major make-over with this movie. Gone was the idealistic and naive teenager, replaced by a much more worldly and tenacious young woman determined to succeed her father as sultan.

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Personally, I didn’t dislike this change. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Jasmine’s original character, but the alteration wasn’t unwelcome.

The issue was they did not adjust the story to suit this new personality makeover.

Because they made her into someone far less naive than her older counterpart, pivotal scenes no longer make sense.

In both versions of Aladdin and Jasmine’s first meeting, Jasmine steals an apple to give to a group of starving children she sees in the marketplace only to be apprehended by the proprietor. The cartoon Jasmine is so sheltered it doesn’t occur to her people have to pay for food, making her actions believable. The live-action Jasmine is way too smart to do something so mentally bankrupt and we never see her do anything this absent-mindedly dumb ever again.

Then, they change the scene where Jasmine thinks Aladdin is dead and replace it with Jasmine getting shot down by Jafar, prompting her to sing her live-action film original song Speechless. 

No joke, they spend so long on this scene.

I get that they are trying to make Jasmine her own person and everything to placate the modern feminists, but guys, the movie is called Aladdin.

It’s supposed to be about Aladdin.

No one cares about this stupid country.

The irony is they could have developed Jasmine and kept the central focus on the titular character at the same time. Speechless would have been much more emotionally impactful if they had kept the scene where Jafar lies to her about Aladdin’s demise. Because she stayed “speechless” an innocent and wonderful dude was murdered. Isn’t that way more emotionally investing than hearing about some random country we literally never see or learn anything about?

To make matters worse, Jasmine and Aladdin have zero chemistry in the remake and it’s  obvious why.

In the 1992 animated film, we could see why Jasmine would fall for Aladdin. He was a smexy street-wise guy with a heart of gold that filled her dull, pampered life with action and adventure.

Now that she’s a m-fing woman that actually wants the throne (unlike in the original where she outright states she has no interest in being royalty) and is perfectly capable of navigating the streets of Agrabah all on her own, why does she need Aladdin?

What does he contribute to this relationship?

That isn’t to say Jasmine is the only issue, however.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the live-action Jafar was less intimidating than Yzma after she’d been turned into a cat.

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Yes, Jafar was a one-note villain in the original, but he was a fun one-note villain. Jonathon Freeman obviously had a blast in this role, going from underhanded and cunning to full-blown bombastic evil mastermind.

But this guy?

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I don’t know what his other credentials were but he just looked bored the whole time. His line delivery was more underwhelming than a prepubescent boy at a school play.

It’s frustrating that at one point they actually tried to make him more interesting by revealing he used to be a thief like Aladdin. If nursed enough, this could have made up for his lack of intimidation and made him a memorable villain. Instead, it’s unceremoniously dropped and we never learn anything else about his past again.

What a wasted opportunity.

Oh, remember that awesome scene where Aladdin fights Jafar as a cobra?

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Well, in this movie Aladdin and Jasmine fly away from Iago as Jafar morphs him into a large…parrot.

Yeah, instead of a giant cobra, it’s a parrot that chases them around CGI Agrabah.

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Isn’t….isn’t that so much better?

Aren’t you  impressed?!?

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I could go on in further depth if I wanted to.

I could talk about how the guy they cast as Aladdin is only a passable singer and actor.

I could talk about how unnecessary Jasmine’s handmaiden was, or why it makes no sense that Jasmine is apparently the sultan now even though her father is still alive.

But those things aren’t what bothers me most of all.

What vexes me so much about this movie is the same thing I find so offensive about every other remake:

It doesn’t need to exist. 

Tell me, apart from making money, what was ever the point of re-making Aladdin? It’s one of the most beloved animated films of all time, receiving critical and box-office success and is forever slated as one of the best films ever made.

There’s this bs comment floating around that “kids these days” don’t want to watch “old cartoons” and we have to preserve these stories for the next generation.

So…..you are telling me kids will watch cartoons that look like this-

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And this-

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And this-

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But they won’t watch something that looks like this-

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Or this-

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Or this?

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Well, let me tell you-

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There is a reason films like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and all the rest are considered classics.

People still watch them. 

I didn’t view most of these films when they first came out because I was either too little to comprehend the plot, or I wasn’t born yet.

My childhood favorite, Snow White, was made a whopping 49 years before I was born. I didn’t care that it was old. I liked it because I thought it was good.

It doesn’t matter that kids have iPads, or that streaming exists, or that Twitter and Instagram are a staple of modern society. These stories are strong enough to withstand the test of time.

That is what made them good in the first place.

I will no longer endorse the “fixing” of things that aren’t broken.

There are so many other stories out there that deserve funding, why should continue paying people to make crappy Xerox copies of films that have already been made and made better?

You’re welcome to keep shelling out your hard-earned dollars for stuff like this, but I prefer to sit them out from now on.

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No, Your Story Isn’t Original and That’s Okay: A Brief Essay on Originality

I think it’s safe to say this generation of movie-goers and readers are more analytical about their media consumption than ever before. You needn’t go far to find blogs, vlogs, reviewing sites and more for detailed critiques of just about any form of story-telling you care to think of.

On the one hand, I think this is a good thing. People should demand well-constructive narratives and ideas that challenge them in all forms of media whether they be comics, movies, or books.

Nevertheless, I’m also noticing a trend that has budded as a response to this movement and it’s a bit…annoying.

It’s the perpetuation of an ideology that maintains if anything is even vaguely similar to something else, it’s a knock-off.

The problems with this line of thinking are twofold.

For one, it stunts the growth of future writers because it forces them to live in a constant state of paranoia that their story is a copy of something else.

When Hunger Games was at the pinnacle of its popularity, many people decried it as a knock-off of another novel-turned-movie titled Battle Royal, a story revolving around Japanese students being dropped off on an island by the government and ordered to kill each other.

Now on a superficial level, Hunger Games does sound like its premise was lifted from Battle Royale. However, if you chose to look further and actually read the two books you’ll realize they have basically nothing in common.

(For those of you interested in an explanation of how they differ, I will leave a link here.)

For another, if you think about it, just about every story is a “copy” of another.

Example: Harry Potter is a knock-off of Star Wars.

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No, really.

Think about it.

Both feature orphaned boys raised by their uncle and aunt to believe that they are perfectly normal only for an old family friend to come into their lives and reveal the truth about their lineage.  It then becomes clear they must defeat a great evil, who is much closer to their own identities than they had previously thought, by using the arcane arts.

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Their mentors die which forces them to continue alone, armed only with the wisdom they obtained from their teachings and the love and support of their friends. Both characters must also control their darkness, which threatens to overtake them and makes them more like their arch nemesis than they previously thought.

Oh, and they both refuse to kill the enemy, but the antagonist dies in the end regardless.

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While it’s fun to laugh at how similar these stories seem on the surface, the reason we find it humorous in the first place is because they are vastly different in every other respect.

One is science fiction with fantastical elements sprinkled in, one is fantasy. One takes place in a boarding school in Europe during the 90s, another long ago in a galaxy far, far away. One is about a child, while the other is about a boy in his late teens or early twenties.

The differences go on, but I’ve made my point.

The reason stories fail is not because they are similar to another story. The issue arises when it adds nothing new to the themes that it is trying to present, or it follows the exact same path that its alleged predecessor tread.

The concept of an orphan boy destined for greatness isn’t an idea invented by J.K. Rowling. In fact it’s used so often it borders on cliché. However, the way Rowling implements it is unique because their absence is not used merely as a vehicle to allow Harry to have adventures without parental intervention, or to make him a more sympathetic figure. Harry has no loving family of his own and so his friends become like family to him and the stakes are higher whenever their lives are in peril. He leans more heavily on them than the typical person might, even at that age when friendships are essential to personal and social growth. This forces us, the audience, to become more emotionally engaged in the characters’ fate because without them he has nothing.

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So instead of worrying about how similar your plot or themes are to other works, focus on how you can play with the audience’s expectations and make the story yours. 

Perhaps a subplot in your novel is about a character who wants to avenge a fallen family figure. Typically, at the end, the character decides not to go along with it because murdering that person would make them “just like” that character. However, maybe your character does go along with their plan and is happy with their decision, up until the point where they realize it has changed them for the worst. Your character has then lost a part of themselves they can never get back.

Maybe they aren’t even aware they have been changed by the experience until a trusted friend or family member points it out to them. This creates conflict and makes your character more three-dimensional.

This is only one example. There are tons of different things you can do to make yours story stand apart from other similar works.

Above all else, make sure to put a bit of your soul into everything your write. I know it sounds corny, but there is only one and your thoughts and opinions are your own.

Explore your identity.

Ask yourself why you believe what you believe. Dig deeper into ideas that might confuse you, or frustrate you about other works of fiction.

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And remember, in spite of what Cinema Sins may tell you–

*grabs megaphone*

Tropes are not clichés!

Thanks for reading!

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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Opinion: Comedies Are Terrible Now

A friend of mine recently introduced me to British comedy, Black Books, which stars Irish comedian Dylan Moran. It’s a show about a combative and anti-social bookstore owner in England and the strange adventures he gets into with his posse of misfits.

As a fan of English comedy, I fell head over heels in love with Black Books. How could I not? After all, it had the key ingredient that makes every comedy worthwhile: ridiculousness.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Travel Writer,” Bernard discovers his landlord has died and bequeathed her ownership of the building to her cat (Mr. Benson). Bernard then hires an exterminator to turn hitman so he can put an end to the kitty’s rein of tyranny.

I wish more comedies could be like this. Don’t get me wrong, comedy is stupid nowadays, but it’s not that special kind of stupid.

I miss the shows like Monty Python and Seinfeld. They embraced absurdity in their great hairy arms and didn’t give a crap what the critics thought.

Now it seems like comedy resides in one of three camps:

In one camp, you have the Dude-Bro-Comedy wherein the only jokes that are told apply to the lowest common denominator. These comedies include jokes about boobs, sex, weed or other drugs, and gratuitous amounts of body humor.

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A.KA. every Seth Rogen film ever

In another camp, you have the Safe-Comedy wherein you simply tell jokes and plots that have been done so many times before it’s like trying to wear a pair of 30 year-old underpants and pass them off as new.

Finally, you have Societal-Outrage-Comedy, where every joke you tell has to be a way to stick it to The Man (a.k.a old, white, conservative men) or some other sort of issue that people believe needs addressing. The problem with these sorts of comedies is the shelf-life on them is awful. In a mere three years, most of them will be become dated and forgotten.

What happened to comedy for comedy’s sake?

You know, you can be funny without being wildly offensive or resorting to 5th grade humor. It is possible. We have the technology.

You can laugh at something that has nothing to do with politics or the current state of society. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be relatable. It could be wildly ridiculous like a man paying to have an argument with someone:

While many of the jokes used in these shows and movies are ridiculous, they’re also extremely clever in their own right. Unlike some comedies which think their audience is largely comprised of lobotomized baby seals.

Am I an outlier here? Am I the only one that thinks the viewing public deserves something better? Should I just shut up and drink my diet soda?

All I can say is if Netflix removes this British gem, I may  lose my mind. Dammit, Netflix, You can take Airplane! by don’t you dare touch my Black Books.

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The Author Knows Best: Book-to-Movie Adaptations

I’m not a purist like some readers when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. I believe it’s okay to change certain elements, or cut out scenes if the time constraints don’t allow for them.

However, Hollywood has a bad habit of fixing things that aren’t broken.

They make badass characters completely pointless (Annabeth in the Percy Jackson films), they remove all humor from a story that is supposed to be a comedy ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie), or they just straight up give the story an icepick lobotomy (Cat in the Hat).

The main reasons movies like these fail is because those behind the movie don’t care about what made the original source material great in the first place. They just want to cash in on the book’s success.

As a result, a lot of these movies make a bit of money, then vanish into the ether, never to be watched or spoken of again.

The best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen are usually the ones where the author has had at least some influence on the production.

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Without J.K. Rowling’s input as a consultant, Alan Rickman wouldn’t have known how to approach the character of Professor Snape and the twist that Lily was actually the love of his life would have come completely out of left-field.

Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl and, as a result, it was able to successfully juggle the action, intrigue, and social commentary of the book. If this had been written by someone other than the writer, this would have likely been a train-wreck, or a dime-a-dozen thriller rather than a brilliant commentary about the media and modern relationships.

Especially since Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to write social commentary anymore.

The Fault in Our Stars was also a brilliant adaptation that captured the humor and heartbreak of the book. John Green was a strongly involved in the making of the movie and, of course, it became a big hit unlike many  YA novels that are made into film (excluding Hunger Games and Harry Potter, obviously). I believe this mostly had to do with the cast and crew’s willingness to listen to Green’s input instead of interjecting an unnecessary love triangle or “hip lingo.”

If the filmmakers haven’t bothered to read the book they should, at the very least, have an understanding of why these stories resonate so strongly with readers, and respect authors as fellow artists rather than brushing them off.

Authors may not be able to write a screenplay of their work, but they do understand the material. They spent months, maybe even years, with these characters and settings.

They’ve had to kill their darlings before so they understand that some things have to be changed for a visual medium. However, their input could prevent something important from being chucked in the bin.

Some writers may not be well acquainted with the world of cinema, but that doesn’t mean their views should be discounted. After all, they were able to make thousands, or even millions, of dollars without A-list actors, exotic sets, or fancy cinematography.

Think about that for a second.

Also, stop making movies about nonfiction self-help books.

Just…..stop.