The 1992 Disney animated version of Aladdin was a fan-favorite for millions of kids who grew up to fit your typical understanding of "millennials." This same generation is all about LGBTQ+ and women empowerment, ecological footprint reduction, and animal rights. They're also interested in social media and healthy food, but that's something else.
When the news of a live-action remake dropped, many clutched their skeptical hearts, doubting Guy Ritchie could capture the essence and magic of Disney's classic film.
But, with the promise of a woke and empowering take on the movie - starting with the non-white casting process to Jasmine's headstrong character - fans decided to give it a chance.
There's no denying Ritchie went to great lengths not to disparage the culture he's trying to depict, but he still failed to hit the right notes in all aspects.
Unlike the original movie - in which the voiceovers were mainly of white actors - the cast in the remake displayed more diversity. Aladdin is performed by Canadian-Egyptian Mena Massoud, Princess Jasmine by British-Indian Naomi Scott, Genie by African-American Will Smith, Jafar by Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Dalia by Iranian-American Nasim Pedrad.
With that, one would think the remake would succeed in distinguishing between Arab and Indian culture, instead of treating them as one cluster of brown society. However, expectations failed to be met. It was disappointing to see blurred lines between Arab and Indian culture so visible. Visible to a point an average viewer wouldn't be able to differentiate between them.
Let's talk facts for a second.
A little research shows that the origin of the story of Aladdin is vague, but most sources lead to one: A Syrian Christian man named Hanna Diyab. The latter relayed Aladdin to a French scholar and diplomat named Antoine Galland in 1709. Fast forward some details, Aladdin was originally from China. Some scholars believe the character of Aladdin is based on Diyab's adventures between Aleppo and Paris, which explains the overall Islamic and Middle Eastern feel of the story. But no mention of India was there (nor the West.)
Many people have interpreted Aladdin in plays and movies, but when Disney released their work in 1992, they disregarded the original location and went with Baghdad, Iraq. But with the Gulf War taking place in 1990-1991, they created Agrabah and had it look and feel like Baghdad. But then, Indian culture took over with no warning.
The misinterpreted and cringe-worthy aspects of Arab culture that were present in the 1992 film were absent from the live-action remake (thankfully). The controversial lyrics of Arabian Nights and the merchant threatening to cut off Princess Jasmine's hand for stealing were not missed, not a bit.
Yet, the remake failed to include traits of Arab culture - maybe except for the pronunciation of "Hakim" and a few wardrobe choices ... OH! They do say Habibi in a song and throw a few Yalla here and there. It seemed as though Disney intentionally fused Indian and Arab characteristics so it would easily cash big from a broader audience. Princess Jasmine's tiger pet is called Raja ... Raja. That is an Indian name by default.
The last scene of the movie, as another example, is a beautiful upbeat one. The whole cast is dancing to "A Friend Like Me" - featuring DJ Khaled (??) - in complete Bollywood style. From outfits to dance moves to makeup and headpieces, the scene could be easily placed in any Bollywood movie.
"It very much reflects a mixing or association of different cultures in a broad region that you can consider the Middle East-slash-South Asia, and even to China actually by extension, so really the Silk Road," said Julie Ann Crommett, Disney's Vice President of Multicultural Engagement, according to Esquire Middle East.
The only redeeming part about the movie was the feminist makeover Princess Jasmine - and ultimately, all young girls in their seats - got.
She's not exactly opposed to getting married, as she seems smiling and tolerant in the face of potential grooms. Her dream, the only one she's adamant on achieving, though, is to become Agrabah's ruler to relieve her father from his duties as Sultan. But the latter believes a man would be more suitable for the position - with an all loving and supportive character, mind you.
Spoiler alert, she does become Sultan and rules Agrabah. She even has her own new song (that's been playing endlessly on radios, with such a Western tune to it, far away from the music genre in the movie) about women empowerment and how "she won't go speechless."
The audience may sound like they ask for too much all the time. But really, think about it, why did Disney go through all this trouble to find the "right" cast with Arab origins if the plot line itself didn't serve to embrace the characters' Arab roots and Agrabah?
Regardless, they presented the public a one-dimensional portrayal of an entire culture boiled down to stereotypes at the end.
Sarah Trad and Reem Almowafak contributed to this post.