The live-action, semi-musical movie ALADDIN was a lot of fun, with some songs that fell flat. However, much spectacle filled with beautiful costumes, settings, and visual effects was effectively delivered. Will Smith made a cute, entertaining Genie. Given that “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” is my favorite fairy tale and I’ve always really dug genies/djinns, I had to see this film. It resembles very little of the original story from 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. Still, I’m one to enjoy a big cinematic, colorful show and that’s what this Disney production was. Its overall look often harkened back to fantastical Hollywood movies from the 1920s through the 1940s– well, that and some Bollywood influence in the big dance numbers. Generally, this was an example of great visual cinema with the script writing being predictable and comforting, unsophisticated. I was glad to see the requisite empowerment of the princess, even though there are plenty of feminist scholars/learned folks out there who I imagine would readily deconstruct such a presentation as lacking/still wanting. And they would be right, though I appreciate any signs of progress wherever I see them nonetheless.
I did enjoy the cross dressing gender play that Will Smith’s character briefly did in a particularly theatrical, festive scene. Male to female crossdressing is an element of ancient theater in Britain and Japan (to name just a few countries/cultures), so it was nice to see a nod to this in a Disney film. Also, a bit of genderqueer being visible– however brief– in such a big mainstream production points to a societal acknowledgement of the realness and validity of the non-binary, even though the ethos of the movie is otherwise heterosexual and gender binary. Genies, being otherworldly beings that they are, can leave such boundaries of convention while the human social order is left predictably “intact.” Will Smith’s Genie seemed sexually “fluid” at first, pleasantly ambiguous for his initial few scenes during some flirtatious moments with Aladdin, but then the writers (and probably the actor) played it safe by reeling him back in, soon providing him with a female love interest. Hmm, a powerful genie/djinn with a love interest? News to me. Heterosexuality as the ultimately correct way to be in the world is affirmed yet again. Ah, well. Yawn. Please pass the popcorn.
I saw possibilities where even more stretches of the imagination could occur, but Disney always plays it safe, incorporating more diversity and options (though still limited), finally, only after enough on-the-ground people in the general culture have pushed the envelope further for a good while. For me, that company’s productions are like springboards or doorways toward or into more exquisiteness that my own and other viewers’ minds can then envision. And that’s okay. So, ALADDIN, with all its color, sparkle, and pizazz stayed within the confines of a conventional, pleasant, family film, without stretching forth into being a more expansive in vision, truly great film.