Retelling old tales

The other day, I had reason to think about the way that Disney movies are retold. They are themselves retellings of sometimes much better stories, but the displayed inability to recap is just astonishing. They really have absolutely no clue what they are doing when they try to recap any given film that the company has made, produced, or stamped their name across.

The narrative reads like a stunned drunk desperately trying to remember scenes in the vaguest possible prose. There are better written chewable books.

One in particular I was faced with was Aladdin, told very oddly and anviliciously from what I think was supposed to be Jasmine’s point of view. Although she eventually proved to be an action girl, I’m speaking from a childhood spent watching all of the movies and, although it wasn’t my favourite, regularly tuning in to the series. Speaking honestly about just that first movie, she did not do much. A few shining moments of not being a completely useless damsel in distress. But nothing that would make a narrative centred on her actions very compelling.

This is because she wasn’t the hero, I don’t think it was because she was the girl. But it got me thinking anyway. I thought about the original story and the things that Disney changed (such as not pretending that China could even be discerned in that tale). Some of them made sense. The djinns were originally set-pieces and macguffins, making one distinct and a colourful character was the best option. Killing Aladdin’s mother and taking away his slacker life always seemed odd to me.

I liked that he was a reprobate that drove his father to a stressful death. He had no sympathy from me until the magician showed up and he got duped. I liked that one of the first things he did after getting the lamp was to take care of his mum. He had his character development while travelling with the magician, not after getting the lamp.

But then, all re-tellings are subject to this and any number of changes. It still made me wonder what a closer re-telling would look like.

I worked it out while doing my daily writing, to some extent. The first change I made was that the princess was the central character, not Aladdin. To my surprise, I actually managed to keep the story’s major and even minor events more or less the same up to the point that the palace was stolen away by the magician. Although, of course, much of Aladdin’s actions would not be seen in this kind of re-telling, they would still have happened and affected the story in the same way.

Sort of safe in the argument that the princess’s point of view was never made readily apparent, and nothing she did was even shown after her bath and marriage until she traded the lamp.

Of course, that last thing was where the story would have to change drastically. I had developed the princess to be strong-willed and well-educated, as well as sensible. I had even had her confide with her husband, who then confided in her about the lamp. Small change: a servant would have to trade the lamp.

But then there is the problem of what the princess did while Aladdin was being threatened by her father over her disappearance. It doesn’t help that my memory is a bit fuzzy on this point in the story, and I am not in the mood to go get my 70-year-old green book to refresh my memory.

I do remember that after the magician was killed, everyone was happy until the magician’s brother came around to try and kill Aladdin (after killing Fatima). That would also be a little difficult to figure out while still keeping the princess the main character.

In fact, as I outlined the story, it seemed most likely that she would convince Aladdin to wish the palace back, wish for two of their servants to be made to look like them, and that they would then run off together to explore the world freely.

Still, I had a lot of fun. I’d kind of like to see how I could put a gender and setting spin on the story–keeping the events almost the same, simply translating them. I wonder if it would be undetectable as a result. I’d like that kind of victory of subtlety.


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