Aladdin

With Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake arriving in May, here’s a bit of news that ought to surprise both no one and everyone. Indie studio The Asylum, responsible for such straight-to-DVD knock-off “classics” as Transmorphers and Snakes on a Train are now working on their own Aladdin movie, and it starts shooting in Los Angeles this week.

Known initially for their “mockbusters,” or low-budget films similar enough to major releases without encroaching on them legally, The Asylum achieved more mainstream success with the intentionally-awful Sharknado series. Yeah, that Asylum. Those are the folks who, in addition to Disney’s version, are going to be tackling French translator Antoine Galland’s orientalist mish-mash entry into The Arabian Nights. Colour me intrigued, at the very least.

The cast breakdown posted to Actors Access and actually features a surprising number of spoilers.

Disney fans will notice the absence of Jafar, voiced by Jonathan Freeman in the 1992 animated film and played in this year’s version by Dutch-Tunisian hunk Marwan Kenzari. While the story exists in the public domain (originally, the Sorcerer and the Sultan’s vizier were different characters), Jafar is Disney-owned, and based on the Sorcerer-vizier amalgam Jaffar in the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad. This means the creators of Atlantic Rim and Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies can’t legally use him, though that hasn’t stopped them from creating their own version who seems to be Jafar in all but name.

Then again, given the roots of the original story set in China, in which the Sorcerer was African and created as an amalgam of Western fears of Africa, maybe ripping off Disney’s marginally less colonialist version is for the best. Though, the character was also originally from Maghreb or Northwestern Africa, so naming him Vizier Maghreb but casting open-ethnicity sort of defeats the purpose. Still, no one’s going to be judging The Asylum’s Aladdin on its cultural sensitivity (nobody including myself cares enough to do so for Disney’s “Agrabah” gibberish either) but what this thing will end up being is particularly fascinating.

The Asylum has ripped off plenty of blockbusters before. IP that’s both corporately owned (The Da Vinci Treasure and Android Cop, to coincide with The Da Vinci Code and the RoboCop remake) and public domain works like The War of the Worlds (their H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds coincided with Spielberg’s version, making it the studio’s first mockbuster), but this is the first time they’re taking on something as big as a beloved Disney property, one that happens to fall in the overlap.

Personally, I’m intrigued to see how both films will handle their respective “fantasy Middle East” settings; this is, after all, a story where if you decided to remove the 17th century orientalism, you’d have literally nothing left. The Disney version already looks like a low-budget knock-off, so maybe the creators of Independents’ Day won’t have too far to travel, and if anything, the two going head-to-head is a competition to see which one is more audaciously, stupidly racist, in a way you can’t even take seriously, in the year of our lord 2019. Hell yeah. Then again, Asylum’s The 7 Adventures of Sinbad featured machine guns, dinosaurs, and an island that’s actually a giant whale, so maybe their Aladdin will be better than the Disney version. 

The Asylum’s Aladdin doesn’t have a release date, but May 2019 is a pretty solid bet. They work fast.

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