I’ve mentioned my fan-fiction days in past entries, as well as my childhood obsession with Aladdin. Well, it seems like my prayer to Disney finally arrived on sympathetic ears 20 years later, when Disney released this darker, more “adult” rendition of its Aladdin story, which releases today. My review is below.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Is this book little more than Disney’s attempt to cash in on both the current dystopia trend and the nostalgia teens and adults feel for the movies of their childhood?
But did I totally eat it up?
Yes, I did.
As an “Aladdin” enthusiast who has not received new “canon” “material” for about 20 years, this book was a welcome rainfall in a dry and deserted area of my psyche. Because the story does not diverge from the movie version until Aladdin tries to escape the Cave of Wonders, the first 1/3 of the book runs parallel to the movie. However, in many ways this was my favorite part of the whole book. Although the events that occur are the same, Braswell explores them with a greater depth than allowed by the more “child-friendly” movie and ensuing sequels/TV series. This includes how very unromantic it is to be poor in Agrabah, how Aladdin developed his personal ethics when it comes to crime and how his path has diverged from friends who hold lower moral standards. Perhaps most importantly, it was not afraid to shed light on the resentment Agrabah’s impoverished held against the royal family, particularly the Sultan who is considered ineffectual at best and totally out of touch with his kingdom as he loses himself playing with his “toys.”
Once Jafar comes to power, the story takes a decidedly dark turn, and there were moments when I wondered whether it went a little too far. Although it may not be any more depressing than the average YA dystopia, something about horrible things happening to favorite characters from childhood makes it more disturbing than if we were meeting these characters for the first time in this installment. A lot of reviewers were put off by the dark path the story took, which is reflected in many negative reviews of the ARC on Goodreads.
I think how you respond to this rendition of Aladdin’s story will depend a lot on what appealed to you about the original. If you were mostly drawn in by the “fun” aspects of Aladdin — the humor, the sidekicks, the snazzy magic, the Genie’s effluence — then this book will be a disappointment, as it manages to recreate very little of that tone. If, like me, you were more intrigued by the character arcs of the “human” characters, particularly Aladdin and Jasmine, you are more likely to “enjoy” seeing this as a deep character study of how our protagonists’ paths may have evolved differently under less family-friendly circumstances.
I spent four years of my life writing Aladdin fan-fiction that mostly ignored the “lighter” aspects of the Aladdin universe (it was not unusual for my stories to relegate the sidekicks and magical characters to a passing mention), and I could not help but think that this was exactly the sort of thing I was trying to do with my fan-fic — not create a “darker” version of Aladdin, but to examine my favorite animated characters as real, complicated human beings. Despite the “tone” of this story being drastically different from the tone of the movie — so much so that it may be hard to connect it to its original source material — I was able to “hear” most of the dialogue spoken with the voices of the various actors who portrayed them (which voice repertoire was built up over hundreds of hours watching Disney’s various Aladdin offerings), so I do feel that the author stayed true to the characters despite the very different world they inhabited. One test I kept using to gauge my reaction to the story was how I would have felt about it if it were played out as a series of episodes on the Aladdin TV series — and I felt pretty sure I would have watched the heck out of it. (I had them all recorded on VHS, so I did watch my favorite episodes again and again.) Since I was 14 by the time the TV series aired, I was ready to explore a darker side of Aladdin, and I’m gratified that Disney-Hyperion finally gave me the chance to do so 20 years later.
I am aware that I’m giving this book a slightly inflated rating — the writing is not great, at a notch or two above well-written fan-fic. The middle starts to feel a little muddled, and I think the story relied too much on newly introduced characters rather than those from canon — it seems the author was working off the movie only as her source material, because there were ample opportunities to tie in characters from the TV series rather than making up a whole host of new ones. I do think we should have seen more of the Genie, and at times the dark tone felt at odds with the remaining presence of mostly “light” characters like Abu and Rajah. Objectively speaking, this is probably a 3-star book, but I bumped it up because I am intrigued by the premise of this book series and want to see it succeed so I can read the other entries.