By Michael S. Goldberger
Three wishes. It sure seems like a lot. One would think you could solve all the world’s problems as well as a few of your own if a genie granted them to you. But after mulling director Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the “One Thousand and One Nights” Arabian folktale Disney first treated us to in 1992, I’m still not certain how I’d proceed. Are you sure you can’t wish for more wishes? Yeah, I know, I know. That’s the way it has to be. You see, it’s all part of a built-in lesson about hopes, aspirations and the human condition, brought to the silver screen here in fine fettle.
Rated PG and boasting a bevy of positive beliefs, with special emphasis on the leadership roles it passionately affirms are rightfully waiting for the fairer sex to assume, it’s just the sort of film I’d want to take my daughter, Erin, to when she was little. Surrounding and intertwining the ennobling messages with engaging music, several wittily conveyed performances and bedazzling art direction, it all makes for a fulfilling experience at the Bijou. Plus, for folks like me who are always looking for parodic jabs at our current powers that be, replete with a happy path to extrication from their besmirching of all that is good and decent, like the commercials for Prego proudly asserted, it’s in there, too.
Fact is, this age old tale, with roots speculated to emanate from both Chinese and Arabian cultures, brims with political science theory that, alas and alack, never grows old. In this permutation, the elderly Sultan (David Negahban) bemoans having no male heir to his throne. Thus he falls vulnerable to the evil, inveigling spell of his Grand Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who not only wants the old dude’s job, but the hand of his comely daughter, Jasmine, effectively portrayed by Naomi Scott. Making no bones about it, not just yet, except in melodic soliloquy which essentially intones ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’ Jasmine is confident she’d be a sultan extraordinaire and a godsend to the good citizens of Agrabah.
Of course this Grand Vizier doing his Rasputin/Sherriff of Nottingham riff on government overthrow just won’t do…not if Jasmine and Aladdin, a clever street urchin masquerading as a prince courtesy of one rub of the magic lamp, have anything to say about it. Though at first led to believe that the apple of his eye is but her majesty’s handmaiden, our title hero, invigoratively played by Mena Massoud, soon agrees with the princess that she isn’t just chopped liver, and that there’s no reason why the royal succession should shun her. But as the Sultan reminds, the constitution says it’s a no-no. While you have to give His Majesty credit for revering the document before then convincing him to amend the chauvinist rule for the good of his kingdom, we can’t help but reflect on how our own grand document is being marginalized.
Whereas “Aladdin” has a brilliantly astute genie to intercede and direct wishful traffic, it occurs that we in the 50 states might benefit from some wise and altruistic intervention. And truth be told, I’d be all for Will Smith, who plays the genie with scene-stealing aplomb, to step from the screen, “Purple Rose of Cairo”-style, and give us a bit of a hand out here…perhaps toss his hat in the ring, and then, at an opportune moment during the Big Debate, flourish some of his genie powers. That’d give ‘em what for.
Such is how my mind wandered as I watched “Aladdin’s” richly filled treasure chest of enlightened dreams….each scene in one way or another aimed at convincing us that hope prevails. The idea is, once people make up their minds to do the righteous thing, it’s only a matter of time before they’re on the road to realizing their profound potential.
Note that history has been perennially punctuated with fables of every stripe to remind us of our inalienable rights, just in case some narcissist comes along and tries to convince us that we exist only to adulate him. The would-be oppressor invariably promises a great future as only he and he alone can provide, right then and there quashing any thoughts of a glorious destiny courtesy of our own self-determination. It is a dark part of human nature that must be battled regularly.
Hence, a cheery, uplifting illumination like “Aladdin,” both spiritually beneficial and a reminder of our civic responsibility, should be seen at least twice a year, or every 5,000 negative thoughts…whichever comes first. A knowledgeable populace with the commonweal at heart, appearing en masse at the polls, is ostensibly as powerful as any genie’s lamp. And there, as all tyrants fear, is the rub.
“Aladdin,” rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott. Running time: 128 minutes