by Kevin Muller
It may seem that Disney is becoming a juggernaut of the film industry by buying every single part of Hollywood, but they have always been the forerunner in family entertainment. In the 90’s, they were the King of the animation field with classics such as The Little Mermaid, Mulan, and Beauty and the Beast. The latter was the first animated film to be nominated for “Best Picture” when the nomination pool only allowed five films. There was also The Lion King, which will soon have a photo-realistic remake that will have its own review, instead of a shared one. Personally, Aladdin was always a favorite, mainly due to Robin Williams’s legendary turn as the lovable Genie. On top of that, the film also had catchy songs and overall fast and frantic attitude. Unfortunately, shortly after that film delighted audiences, the downfall of hand drawn animation was about to begin with Disney teaming up with a new company called Pixar. We all know outcome of that merger, but it was 1995’s Toy Story that changed the game forever. Now, both these 90’s properties are back to see what they can do with better technology and an even wider audience.
It has been nine years since we were last with our favorite toys. The heartbreaking finale, or we thought it was, concluded with original owner, Andy, who was about to go off to college, giving all his beloved toys away to his neighbor’s daughter Bonnie. The audience felt the knife in their hearts as he gave away Woody, his most precious toy, but it was the ending of a 15 year journey set across three movies. Now, little Bonnie is starting Kindergarten. She wants to bring her toys to school to help ease her anxiety, but her parents forbid it. Always one to help, Woody tags along to monitor her first day, only to see how lonely she is amongst the other kids. He then quickly gathers parts of trash to create Forky, a Spork with an existential crisis. While Forky wants to go back into the trash, Woody wants him to make Bonnie happy, so he will have the pride that comes with making a child smile. Bonnie and her family go on a road trip, with Forky and the gang, and this is where the real adventure begins and Woody comes face-to-face with his past and his old love interest, Bo-Peep, who now roams the world as a self-efficient toy. Of course, the dilemma of the comfortable life that Woody knows and the one he can have, with his lost love, comes into play. It is a theme that the series has played with before.
Now, Aladdin is a story that most people have knowledge of or have seen since its 1992 release. It is the story of a poor peasant boy who falls for a princess who he can’t have due to the law that she can only marry fellow loyalty. Along the way, he finds a magic lamp, containing a lovable, hilarious, and well-intentioned Genie.
Now, both films have changed the structure of what audiences have come to expect from these stories. The character of Jasmine has been greatly expanded here with mostly positive results. English born actress Naomi Scott fills the role of the princess. Scott, who is half English, half Indian, sells the aspect of the character being a strong woman, but at the same time keeps the feminine nature of the role. Her and Aladdin run into each other because she enjoys being with her people instead of being coped up in the palace. Scott makes the character as, or more, interesting than the title character. The female empowerment goes a little too far at a point with a song performed by Scott that literally spells out what they are doing with the character, even though it was effortlessly laid out. It isn’t that Scott can’t sing, her voice is beautiful, but it seems shoehorned in. The same thing can be said about the fourth Toy Story adventure. Forky is a worthy addition, but not the most interesting new toy in the story, but it feels like we are forced to like him with his awkwardly put together self and clueless nature. The character’s inner conflict makes him three dimensional, but the overly cutesy nature distracts the other themes of love, regret, and loss from fully reaching their potential this time.
The question on everyone’s mind, in regards to Aladdin, is the performance of Will Smith as Genie. Smith has poured so much praise to what Williams achieved, but promised that his version would be his own. He keeps his word while keeping the energy of Williams’s unforgettable performance. Genie seems to be a combination of his past Smith characters from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Hitch. If you don’t care for either of those characters, or Smith, this performance won’t change your mind. If you love all of it, you will be fully entertained with what he gives us. Overall, it is a blast to watch him crack jokes and inject his own comedic style into the famous story.
Some of the effects on Smith are sketchy, something that does not happen with Toy Story 4. The film shows how far the animation has come since we first met these characters 24 years ago. The environments are lush, colorful, and beautiful. Each toy has their distinct style of walk and talk that animators completely nail. As always, the voice cast, with additions Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves, bring these objects to life. All this helps the deep and sad emotions that come at you at full force. The brilliant minds at Pixar always examines the human mind through toys, bugs, monsters, fish, and the mind itself, with an impressive ease. While the characters in Aladdin are well performed, and decently expanded for the new version, they can’t hold a candle to Woody, Buzz, and the gang. The film deals with alienation, regret, loss, fear of change, and love, with such skill to their younger audience. Plus, these are their big guns, the characters that helped establish the company. They weren’t going to put out a film with a mediocre cast of characters. By the end of the adventure, you will most likely feel what is to come to all these toys
Aladdin has a cast that looks like they are having a hell of a time bringing this story to a new generation. It is that aspect that makes it work, despite the minor flaws the movie contains. It has an infectious energy like its lovable blue supporting character. Toy Story 4 may not be the best of the series, or even second, but it still is the king of story telling that all these animated films wish they could do with such ease.
I am giving ……
Aladdin a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces
Toy Story 4 a 4.5 of 5 Hairpieces