starring Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari
screenplay by John August and Guy Ritchie
directed by Guy Ritchie
by Walter Chaw The elephant in the room vis-à-vis Guy Ritchie's new, live-ish action Aladdin is the recasting of the all-powerful Genie with Will Smith after the untimely death of role-originator Robin Williams. Whatever their relative comedic talents, the figure of the Genie is one of essential servility: an almighty being nonetheless bound to the whims of whoever possesses his lamp. Street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) acquires said magical lamp and promises the Genie he'll use one of his three wishes to set the genie free from eternal servitude--a promise Aladdin almost reneges on once he spends some time enjoying the pleasures of omnipotence and the attentions of comely Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The elephant in the room is that Will Smith is black--and casting a black man as a slave, in a Disney movie, no less, is fraught, almost impossibly so. I mean, The Toy-fraught. The tangle of implications this casting raises drowns out nearly every other consideration. Lest there be any nuance to the situation, in their very first interaction Genie tells Aladdin that Aladdin is his "master." The rest of the film is essentially Genie helping Aladdin, Hitch-style, woo a pretty girl while hoping that once that's over and done with, the Genie himself will be enslaved no more. When Genie's eventually freed, his shackles fall off his arms, he shrinks, he loses his blue pigment in favour of Smith's natural complexion, and he puts the moves on handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), who's been wanting to bang Genie for the entirety of her existence in the movie. It has an unbelievable amount of emotional weight--more than anything the film itself has earned through its narrative.