As Will Smith pastes himself in blue CGI body-paint, reprising a role that Robin Williams owned as a cartoon Genie, we have to stop and ask ourselves if any of this is really necessary.
The current trend in Disney studios is to take an animated cartoon masterpiece, one that remains embedded in the consciousness of the now adults who grew up loving the films and re-make them as live action movies. The same story, the same songs but instead of cartoon characters and hand drawn scenery you have actors playing the roles against a CGI background.
This is the cinematic equivalent of copying your mate’s homework from his scruffy, soon to be doctor’s handwriting, into your own finely tuned, painstakingly penned middle-manager’s scribe.
I can only guess that with the success of the Avengers franchise, the new Star Wars movies and the rare spattering’s of truly original content Disney do commission that they have fallen on hard times and quite simply need generate a fast buck to get them through their current financial crisis.
As for Will Smith, it is hard not to like the guy but surely someone as well off as he is and as sought after by Hollywood can pick and choose what roles he take on?
The truth is, from a business point of view, this is sterling work from Disney. The 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast staring Emma Watson raked in more than a billion dollars worldwide. For a film that cost just over 150 million to make that is some impressive profiteering.
Dumbo, Cinderella and the Jungle Book haven’t quite lived up to those numbers but with fans’ favourites, Aladdin and the Lion King and A List celebs like the Fresh Prince himself set to hit our screens over the next few months, surely more mega-hauls are set fill Disney’s coffers.
If you take a look at the list of films set for release by Disney over the next few years the remakes are set to dominate the landscape. Just about every animated Disney Classic you can think of is set for some live-action treatment: The Sword in the Stone, Snow White, Pinocchio, with more titles to follow.
And when all that runs out? The well of all bottomless franchises eventually leads us back to where it all began. Expect origins stories for Tinkerbell, Cruella da Vil and Prince Charming. As much as these are further examples of Disney’s brilliance for teasing out new money for old rope I have to confess that those three titles hold much more intrigue for me that the current crop of same old that we are being subjected to.
An origins movie won’t just tap into and exploit our natural impulse to gravitate towards childhood nostalgia by handing us back something we know and love in a shinier format, with shiner faces. With an origins movie the plot plays second fiddle to the character. The parameters of the writing are defined but they are not chalk rubbings. There might not be much room for the writers to stretch their pencils but often less space can force us to think more creatively, whilst no space will only lead us down a dead end.
Let’s forget the banality of rehashed story-telling, of the exploitation of wistful, rosy-eyed nostalgia and instead think about what it was that made Aladdin a classic in the first the place.
If you need somewhere to start, just take a look at it. Along with the Lion King it was one of the last of Disney’s hand-drawn animated classics. Those two films marked the end of an era in animation with Pocahontas landing the final blow for hand-drawn motion pictures just a few months before the release of Toy Story, the first fully computer animated movie. As much as we all love Woody and co, Toy Story was the death nail for what would become a dying art in Western cinema.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Aladdin, along with the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast led the re-birth of full-length Disney animations, something that all but disappeared after the release of Robin Hood in 1973. This pocket of 8 or so years, beginning with the Little Mermaid and ending with the Lion King, helped to create a clutch of cinematic memories for people of a certain age. People who will now be old enough to have their own children and will, like an aging Smiths groupie trying to bestow the virtues of wit and understated virtuosity to a disillusioned xxxtentacion fan, try to pass on their own cultural milestones to their kids.
I have no doubt that children will enjoy the time spent watching these films in the cinema, but this is not Harry Potter or Avengers territory. This is an excuse to sit in the dark and over-consume popcorn, pick and mix and slush puppies. Even for the adults who take their kids along with them to share a little bit of what made them tick when they still had dreams this will barely muster a, “Yeah, it was good.” At the same time, no one will lurch out into the light of a post-cinematic experience and throw up their molten nacho cheese like they did after the many hours spent suffering through Pearl Harbour. Why? Because whether I like it or not. Whether it’s cheap, lazy film making or not, the stories, no matter how regurgitated, are classics.
We shouldn’t forget that many of the original Disney movies were rip-offs of much older classic stories. Stories that Disney knew worked because even before Snow White made her appearance in 1937 we were retelling these stories in some shape or form. Kurt Vonnegut spoke and wrote at great length about the shape of stories and drew parallels between the projection of Cinderella’s rags to riches tale and the New Testament, both of which shaped a template comparable to Dicken’s Great Expectations, which shapes a similar template to the more modern Slumdog Millionaire.
Vonnegut’s theory, that there are only a few stories to tell was rubbished by academics at the time, with the author claiming that his thesis was turned down because “it was so simple and looked like so much fun”. Since then a more comprehensive approach has been taken with researchers from the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab taking 1737 different stories and feeding them into a computer programme that has established 6 basic narratives:
“rags to riches” (a story that follows a rise in happiness), “tragedy”, or “riches to rags” (one that follows a fall in happiness), “man in a hole” (fall–rise), “Icarus” (rise–fall), “Cinderella” (rise–fall–rise), and “Oedipus” (fall–rise–fall).”
What I’m driving at here is that I understand that new stories are hard to come by when we live in a world saturated by them. I also understand that my criticisms of the new Disney films could be levelled at the original full-length animations. But I would argue that there is a massive difference.
The original Aladdin story was added to the “One Thousand and One Nights”, or “Arabian Nights” as it is better known, collection by Antoine Galland who cites Youhenna Diab as the original author.”
In his version of the story Aladdin is again a petty criminal who was Chinese and lived in a Chinese town. However, any allusions to the China do not go beyond this initial crumb of exposition, with story’s setting remaining consistent to the Middle East at the time of publication.
Your bad guy is a sorcerer from an area of Northern Africa known as the Maghreb who disguises himself and uses his humbler alter-ego to trick Aladdin into retrieving a golden lamp from a cave that is far too perilous for the evil sorcerer to attempt himself. For someone with nothing, the chance to become more than some pesky thief proves too much and Aladdin does as the sorcerer asks.
In this version there are two genies: the one we have all heard of who lives in the lamp and one less impressive genie who lives in a ring. The ring was given to Aladdin by the sorcerer which he discovers has magical powers when he rubs his hands together. This happens when he is trapped in the cave, with the lesser genie allowing him to escape before he goes home and discovers the power that lies inside the lamp.
The story pans out much as you already know it except Aladdin uses the lesser genie to help escape the cave before he accidently discovers the more powerful one who resides within the lamp. Along with two genies there are two sorcerers, the second even more powerful than the original magical trickster, but ultimately Aladdin defeats them both before living happily ever after.
As you can see Disney stole the plot, but by leaving out one genie and one sorcerer they inevitably improved things for their audience. The plot became more streamlined and allowed for better pacing and more clearly defined characters.
They added characters, a few anthropomorphic ones for a touch of comedy and some songs that would barnacle their way onto the minds of everyone who watched it.
This wasn’t a newly defined world or characters but it was a genuine re-imagining of a classic story. An adult story made palatable for children, yet remaining entertaining enough for the adults who were forced to watch it with them.
This new “Aladdin” cannot boast that. The “writers” haven’t taken one of Vonnegut’s story arcs and built something around it. They haven’t taken a pre-existing story and refined it for a new generation. This is copy and pasting in a different font and as such can only be viewed as shameless profiteering from anyone involved. I say anyone, but perhaps those actors, camera operators, editors, etc, who genuinely did need the money can be forgiven for putting bread on the table.
Examples of this form of like for like magpie-ing exists everywhere. Take slot games. It is often possible to tell exactly what features a game will have, as long as you know who the software developers are and know the RTP, reels and paylines. I should qualify things by saying that the best developers never do this.
There are also games that fall into certain franchises that re-use the same reels and the same symbols but change one dynamic of the game so it can be re-branded as something different. I apricate that this often needs to happen in order for certain developers to make their money but will continue to call it out when I see it.
However, despite all this negativity there is no chance that the 5 games I am about to mention fall into that rare category. The Middle East, Arabian Nights and Persia are not the most common of themes used by software developers but there are enough quality games out there for us to come up with a list of 5 that we are more than happy to recommend.
Each game scored a minimum of 7 out of 10 on initial review and will be described to you in no particular order:
Thrones of Persia
This game makes it onto a best of list twice within a month. Quite simply, this game is worth playing because it has one of the lowest house edges of any game you are likely to find out there today. It might not look great or have the best features but this game is seriously good value for money.
Play the game here for free.
Genies Touch is a perfect example of Quickspin doing what they do best. The time and effort that they put into their designs is there everyone to see, with bright colourful reels filled with detailed cartoon characters set against an opulent background. Quickspin tend to keep things simple and this game is no exception. However, that does not mean they have cut any corners or that the game is boring. There are 2 big features to keep you entertained throughout.
Play the game here for free.
Golden Caravan takes you into the desert to live the life of a Bedouin Nomad. Play ‘n Go have done an amazing job bringing this game to life. The symbols are well-designed, as is the background. The theme itself is one you won’t see very often and along with the features it has to offer there is little here that will disappoint.
Play the game here for free.
Taken from the same collection of stories as Aladdin, Sinbad is arguably the second most famous character from the “Arabian Nights”. The second Quickspin game on our list and the only one to receive the full 10 out of 10, Sinbad is a stunning looking game, with plenty of features and good value for money.
Play the game here for free.
Cash Camel is brought to us by iSoftBet, a company with a growing reputation for making games that stand out from the crowd. This quirky number has everything you could ask for from a slots game, ticking just about every one of our boxes.
Play the game here for free.
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