If there's one thing Disney is confident of right now, it's that a live-action remake of an animated classic is sure to be a success! The House of Mouse's latest announcement is that an Aladdin film is in the works. Hot on the heels of box office hits such as Maleficent and The Jungle Book, this news has got fans seriously excited. Today, I want to look at the rich history of Aladdin — how Disney's handled the legend in the past, and how this could well become one very powerful franchise...
The Origin of the Story of Aladdin
A Middle Eastern folk tale, the story of Aladdin is contained in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (better known in the West as The Arabian Nights, after the first English language edition published in 1706). Ironically, Aladdin — along with the story of Sinbad the Sailor — was actually added to the collection of short stories by the French orientalist Antoine Galland.
The story has never been traced back further than Galland, who wrote in his diary that he heard it from the Maronite scholar Youhenna Diab (referred to by Galland as "Hanna". The opening sentences set the story in China, but over time it's commonly become associated with Persia.
Bringing Aladdin to Film
The legend of Aladdin has always been a favorite for Western audiences; the first animated film inspired by the story was made as early as 1926, and there have also been numerous live-action films. But it was in 1992 that the story really became a cultural classic.
1992 saw Disney release their classic Aladdin. The film takes real liberties with the plot of the original short story, with countless characters either merged or renamed. Perhaps the most startling example is the villain of the piece, Jafar; Disney actually merged two characters, a Sorcerer and a Sultan, in order to create him! It actually paid real homages to previous versions of the story, lifting some elements from a 1940 live-action film The Thief of Bagdad.
The animated movie was an undeniable hit, particularly for Robin Williams's iconic portrayal of Genie. Even Chuck Jones, director of Disney's rival Warner Bros., called Aladdin "the funniest feature ever made". Composer Alan Menken and songwriters Howard Ashman and Tim Rice created an incredible and award-winning soundtrack, and to this day Aladdin is viewed as one of Disney's best-ever animated films.
Aladdin wasn't without its controversies, though. The lyrics of the opening song originally included the line, "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face"; Disney swiftly changed this to, "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense"! There were also strong criticisms that the two heroes — Aladdin and Jasmine — are deliberately Anglicized in a very different way to other characters in the film.
Can Aladdin Become a Franchise?
The beauty of Disney's Aladdin was that it built a world; one that the studio could continue to explore. It's no surprise that Disney produced two direct-to-video sequels and an award-winning animated series! The House of Mouse realized it was on to a winner, and franchized it for as long as possible. I strongly suspect that Disney is hoping to be able to turn Aladdin into a franchise once again, making this just our first taste of a live-action world.
The Persian setting — which can easily be shifted to China, as this is more accurate to the original tale — means that this franchise has real power. The legend of Aladdin clearly resonates with Western audiences, but smart casting could well make this an incredibly popular film in the Chinese market as well. It's no coincidence that Aladdin has been announced so soon after we got news of Mulan; both films have a similar potential to flourish on the international market.
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As you can see, the story of Aladdin is a powerful one, and has a rich history in theatre and film. Once before, Disney used Aladdin to launch a successful franchise; this time round, if the House of Mouse can pull it off, they could be in for success on a scale undreamed of!
Are you excited to see a live-action remake of Aladdin?
All images: Disney