Just little over a week ago Disney’s latest live action remake, Aladdin, made its way to the big screen. In my estimation Disney’s many live action movies have been a mixed bag with some (Cinderella and Jungle Book) being quite strong by providing a new take on the original story, others (Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo) lacking any compelling new take to justify their existence, and others (Malificent and Alice in Wonderland) being just outright strange. So it was with some trepidation I went to go watch Disney’s live action remake of one of my favorite 2 Disney animated films; The Lion King being my other favorite (This summer is a real test for me).
The new remake mostly follows the original movie, however, I found myself actually enjoying the film on its own terms. When I did not compare it to the original film, I found it to be a solid movie. It is by no means a homerun, but it still makes for enjoyable family fare. They music is still great. Will Smith is the highlight of the film. Smith had large shoes to fill, replacing the late Robin Williams as the Genie. Smith does an excellent job of making this version of the Genie his own, while playing subtle homage to the original performance of Robin Williams. I think Williams would have approved of Will Smith’s take on the character. Naomi Scott, as Princess Jasmine, was another standout to me. This girl is a star on the rise, and she is a strong singer.
Not every aspect of the film worked equally well for me. I found this version of Jafar to be less than compelling or intimidating. Jasmine’s new song, which is an attempt to bolster her as a stronger feminine character, fell flat and deflated much of the momentum at the end of the film. I have seen even strong feminist claim the song felt to on the nose. These problems aside, there are some other fantastic set pieces. “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” and “A Whole New World” being standouts. I would recommend this as an enjoyable summer family movie.
I considered not writing a review of Aladdin since the story is largely similar to the original animated film, but it has over performed at the Box Office, taking the number 1 spot last weekend. Therefore, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on the story of Aladdin. In preparing to write this review, I have been reflecting on one primary question, “What makes Aladdin a hero?” The movie provides us with a ready answer: Aladdin is a diamond in the rough. But what exactly is it about Aladdin that makes him worthy of entering the Cave of Wonders? What does it mean to be a diamond in the rough?
One interesting feature of the new film, is that they try to establish Aladdin and Jafar as similar characters. Jafar is in some ways a mirror image of Aladdin. I wish the film had explored this idea at greater length. It is suggested that Jafar was also was a street rat. However, Jafar was not content with his station in life, so he craved power so that he could be above all others. Aladdin also is not satisfied as a street-urchin. He knows his life can be more than this. The inner thought life of Aladdin is revealed in the song “One Jump Ahead (Reprise)” which goes as follows:
“Riffraff,” “Street rat”
I don’ buy that
If only they’d look closer
Would they see a poor boy?
They’d find out
There’s so much more to me…
In this refrain Aladdin realizes his value and worth is not found in fame, fortune, or power. Aladdin comes from a poor upbringing and yes he is a thief, but he has a kind and caring heart. He is a true friend. The story of Aladdin reveals an important truth of Christian belief. What makes a man or woman good is not their external trappings, but their inner character. Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount counter-culturally taught that “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The Gospel story teaches that power, riches, and status cannot save a man’s soul. They cannot satisfy the deepest longest of one’s heart.
In the film the temptation of Aladdin is to believe that the clothes really do make the man. With the trappings of a prince, Aladdin begins to believe that his worth, his specialness is in the clothes, the riches, and the power. This why Aladdin does not want to tell Jasmine the truth. He is afraid that it really is the case that riches, power, and status give a person worth. If he admits he is a street rat, he is admitting he does not have worth. This is a temptation we all face. Every culture, every generation struggles with putting their trust and hope in earthly power, wealth, and status. We often believe the lie that our worth is found in these earthly treasures.
However, by the end of the film Aladdin learns that what is important is not fame, fortune, or power, but in being a virtuous person. This is powerfully demonstrated in Aladdin choosing to free the Genie with his third wish instead of wishing to be made a prince again. He realizes it is better to be a faithful and honest friend rather than rich or powerful. He is willing further to give up on his own chance at happiness, rather than to become a bad friend. Aladdin teaches us power, wealth, and status do not give us worth. Aladdin is a diamond in the rough because his surroundings do not dictate is worth or character. Even though by the world’s standards Aladdin is worth nothing, he is a diamond because he is virtuous.
The Bible teaches that humans have worth because they are made in the image of God. Furthermore, we learn that God loves us not because of fame, fortune, or power, but out of his own graciousness towards us. Humanity’s worth is fully demonstrated in Jesus willingness to die on the cross. He valued people so much that he was willing to endure the suffering of the cross so that many might become adopted sons and daughters of God. In the Gospel our hope is found in the person and work of Christ. Will we follow the lessons of Aladdin and reject the lies of the world that our worth is found in stuff, power, fame, or fortune? Will we believe the Gospel story that our worth is found in Jesus Christ?