The New 'Aladdin' Offers A Very Uncanny Valley Experience


We have one question: Why?

When Disney launches its own streaming service in the fall, word is that it will mark the end of the "Disney Vault"—the artificial scarcity that Disney has been imposing on its films since the early days of VHS. Supposedly, all its canon animated classics (even, perhaps, the less in-demand, not-especially-classic likes of The Black Cauldron or Home on the Range) will be available to stream at any time on Disney Plus. I leave it to consumers to decide whether this is a great deal or actually just a draconian contract to rent all Disney movies in perpetuity, but Disney has found another way to monetize its back catalog, anyway: big-budget sorta-live-action remakes.

The remakes started out as something very different: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, regardless of the intense (and, frankly, irrational) anger it inspires in some corners, isn't really a remake of the 1951 Disney cartoon by the same name. It takes characters familiar from that cartoon, mixes in elements from the Lewis Carroll source material, and filters them through the sensibilities of Burton. Similarly, Maleficent (which Burton was once approached to direct) retells Sleeping Beauty through the villain's eyes. Though both of those movies were big hits, other self-remakes from Disney have been more like theme park expansion packs; the remakes Cinderella and The Jungle Book aren't as short as their predecessors and feature more characters, but they hit a lot of the same notes. The 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast is even theme-parkier and even more slavish, and this summer unveils the two remaining crown jewels from its '90s run: Guy Ritchie's Aladdin and Jon Favreau's The Lion King.

The artistic reasons, if any, for reanimating The Lion King with faux-photoreal CGI escape me. But Aladdin, well, it's somehow both an animated classic that shouldn't be touched and material that might benefit from an overhaul. First and foremost, a live-action (ish) Aladdin offers an opportunity to tell this story with a more appropriately diverse cast than the voice actors from the original, where actors literally named Scott and Linda play Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. It also paints less of a racist contrast between the appearances of those lovebirds (who, in the cartoon, pretty much just look like Caucasians with a tan) and the Arab caricatures of other characters, including the Sultan's villainous advisor, Jafar.

Mission accomplished: Marwan Kenzari, the new movie's Jafar, is a handsome fellow, and the only white person in the principal cast is Billy Magnussen playing a goofy European prince. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) are still ultra-wholesome, but their wholesomeness isn't defined by white-sounding voices... except, wait, it kinda-sorta is; Massoud (born in Egypt, raised in Canada) and Scott (British with an Indian mother) speak in flat American accents. (Massoud sounds more than a little like Dave Franco, of all people, minus the notes of gravel.) This version of the fictional Agrabah appears to be somewhat pan-cultural, with Middle Eastern and Indian touches informing the sets and costumes. There's less caricature; there's also more theme-park chintz.

That's the dominant aesthetic here, and theoretically, it's not so different from a junior version of what director Guy Ritchie does to gussy up his big-budget revivals of King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes. But Ritchie's music video cheekiness often gets subsumed by a production where almost everything looks elaborate, expensive, and weirdly fake. The lighting is especially and unpleasantly artificial—is it a green screen handicap, perhaps? The movie's version of sunlight has no warmth or character; instead, it has a white-sky sickliness that also, uncomfortably, seems to lighten up and smooth out the performers' skin.

The genie, though, remains sky blue—a better sky blue than most shots of the sky, for that matter. He insists that he's actually pale from being cooped up in the lamp, that his natural color is more of a navy blue. That wisecrack and others come courtesy of Will Smith, stepping in for Robin Williams and subject of much pre-release derision for his supposedly uncanny valley appearance. I don't know, internet; he strikes me as the most consistent delight in the movie, hamming it up while gamely taking a crack at warbling no fewer than three of the original film's classic Ashman/Menken/other guy songs (ace lyricist Howard Ashman died, far too young, during production).

It's during the songs that Ritchie's cheesy panache and show-offy showmanship come into play, particularly a garish, weird, and very entertaining run-through of the old Robin Williams showstopper, "Friend Like Me." Ritchie has never made a musical, but he has a better sense of how to assemble a musical number than Beauty and the Beast's Bill Condon—even if you feel like, given his affinity for scheming, thieving blokes and elastic camera work, that "One Jump Ahead" should be a little more kinetic, a little more eye-popping (at a few points, characters appear to be moving in Ritchie's beloved slow-motion, but still singing at normal speed? It's weird, and not good-weird like Smith attempting Broadway-style razzmatazz).

Surprisingly, Ritchie doesn't action-up the story and, apart from the musical numbers, seems more comfortable on smaller moments that give him some leeway. There are still tedious recitations from the original film's screenplay, but the filmmakers are able to forestall some of that by briefly reconfiguring the movie as more of a rom-com, adding some welcome back-and-forth to the Aladdin-Jasmine romance, with Hitch himself playing wingman and the always-welcome Nasim Pedrad playing the funny-friend wingwoman. During these passages, it almost doesn't matter that Massoud, while handsome and likable, very much comes across as, well, a bland cartoon character converted suddenly into live-action and forced to forge hasty relationships with real actors. The movie even softens this Aladdin up further with an opening scene that tacitly establishes how he only steals from other thieves, and only to purchase the barest minimum of food. These are not the revisions that Ritchie should be making to Aladdin.

Slightly surprising from such a laddish director (who also co-wrote the screenplay), it's Jasmine who receives the heaviest changes. She sings a new solo song in two parts, both shot in an unobtrusive, single traveling take, and the movie foregrounds her desire to become Sultan after her father (rather than simply her desire to not get married). It's a clear play toward progressivism, interesting in part because back in 1992, Jasmine was touted as Disney's most independent-minded, strong-willed princess yet. This isn't necessarily contradictory; Jasmine can be a progressive cartoon princess for 1992 as well as a character who could use some extra depth and spark in 2019. Taken in the context of Disney remakes, though, it feels like a process of endless revision, adding up to little; not necessarily updating characters for a new generation so much as marketing their newly pumped-up credibility. Princess Jasmine, now with 30 percent more agency!

Still, as cynical and pointless an operation as this remake cycle has often been, Aladdin is a bit livelier than the equivalent Beauty and the Beast (though not as lovely as Tim Burton's recent Dumbo). Its spectacle is intermittent, but also its biggest nostalgia kick. Not back to 1992, mind, because it's hard to compete with a genuine Disney animated classic, but back to when Will Smith was having a lot of fun making silly movies, even misbegotten ones with too much confidence in their shaky ability to crowd-please. Aladdin even sticks the genie in drag for a minute, attempting homage to a moment from the animated original but actually bringing to mind Smith's ill-advised drag act from a big summer movie just about to turn 20, for which I hold an ill-advised amount of affection that echoed as I watched this silly, sometimes awkward, thoroughly unnecessary but not boring Aladdin remake. In other words: Happy almost birthday, Wild Wild West.

Aladdin is out in theaters on May 24.

Illustration by Vivie Behrens

Liberation can come from completion, but then, we are always becoming something new

They say the full moon is about completion. About looking back at the intentions you crowned the new moon with and seeing where those intentions led you. The new moon in Gemini was the pebble that began this cycle, and the full moon in Sagittarius is her echo, the ring getting larger in the water. The new moon in Gemini asked us what we wanted to change about our habits, what we wanted to do with our hands, and our hunger for newness. The new moon in Gemini was interested in the way shifting ideas can give us the freedom to think differently and, in thinking differently, become new people. The full moon in Sagittarius reminds us that we are never not becoming new.

Both Gemini and Sagittarius are mutable signs, they exist in relation to the other and they know how to speak each other's language. But, while Gemini relishes the endless capacity of air (of thought), Sagittarius uses the energy of fire to transform thought into action. Everything Sagittarius touches can't help but change. How can this be completion? The wheel is always spinning, reader. Sagittarius marks the completion of the fire trine. Here, fire is generous and social. It means to gather and teach, to illuminate. Sagittarius lives in the sector of the zodiac chart related to education, philosophy, and the awareness of others—their beliefs and their right to freedom. Because of this, our June Sagittarius full moon is both a completion moon and a moon that reminds us that all endings create space for beginning. The more you leave behind, the more you find. There is no dead end in the universe.

If you are a seeker like me (perhaps you have lots of planets in Sagittarius in your natal chart), you have already come across Jessica Dore's Twitter account. Every day, Dore posts a tarot card and her interpretation of it. It is a gift to many of her readers. Yesterday, she shared The World with us, reminding her readers: "the moments of beauty, belonging & elation that you've experienced up to this point in your life… would still only amount to the tiniest sliver of what this world has to offer in terms of sweetness & pleasure."

I thought about this card and her words all day. The World is, numerically, the last card in the Major Arcana journey—the last card if you don't think about the Fool, who is numbered at 0 and so is the beginning and the end. The World is, therefore, a completion card too, a big echo of a full moon.

This morning, holding the sweet and expansive nature of The World, thinking on Sagittarius people and their love of travel, of reckoning with the edge of an atlas and questioning the map-makers, I pulled the nine of swords from my own Tarot deck. The other side of knowledge is to overwhelm and shut down. Gemini, ruled by Mercury, holds information in her hands. She understands duality in all things. Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, yearns for the expansion of mind and the illumination of power. The philosopher and the moralist, a Sagittarius at her best can teach anyone to break open a prison. A Sagittarius at her worst can justify any cage. Don't forget that Jupiter was the king of the gods. His lightning bolt was a weapon. Sometimes, we are too exposed to each other. We imagine we know others through the stories we create about one another. We imagine we know the future because we refuse to be humble about how vulnerable we are to the universe's ever-shifting outcomes. We refuse abundance by convincing ourselves that the cage of identity we build for ourselves is our only possibility.

For the next two days, as the Sun lingers in Gemini and we feel the effects of the moon's fullness in Sagittarius, reflect on the ways you have used knowledge. When has your knowledge been a tool of empowerment for yourself and others? When have you shared the beauty of the world and the joy of radical ideas/ways of living? When have you used knowledge to understand and relieve your own suffering and the suffering of others? And, too, when have you used knowledge as permission for self-delusion? When you have expanded so far into your idea of the world and your own work in it that you forgot how to be accountable to your daily life, your body, your friends, and the people you love? You know when Janis Joplin sings "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose"? That's only one kind of freedom, and it's the kind that Sagittarius thinks it knows very well. Freedom can be about nothing, if nothing is what you want. Then welcome to the monastery, friend. Freedom can also be another word for everything you revel in not knowing. Freedom can be about having everything because you are part of everything, even if you can't see the relation, even if you can't imagine yet how what you want also wants you.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Kat is making me relive my fat-teen trauma

When people say that HBO's new Zendaya-led teen drama, Euphoria, is triggering, believe them. In the pilot alone we're introduced to Rue (Zendaya) and her drug addiction issues via a graphic depiction of the overdose that sent her to rehab. Then, there's the disturbing rough sex scene featuring Jules (Hunter Schafer), a teenage trans girl who has just moved into town, and a middle-aged man she met on Grindr. Oh, and don't forget the unchecked, toxic masculinity of uber-jock Nate (Jacob Elordi); or the body obsession of his sometimes-girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie). For me though, the ultimate trigger came via Barbie Ferreira's character Kat's experience, as she dealt with and internalized a vicious form of fatphobia.

Kat—almost alone amongst her friends—seems self-assured and dismissive of the idea that any high school drama should be taken too seriously. "You just need to catch a dick and forget about your troubles," Kat tells Maddy, following the latter's recent breakup with Nate. But internally, Kate craves male attention, and resents the fact that she's the only virgin she knows; she hints at this when she tells Maddy that she'd "settle for, like, four Corona Lights and some non-rapey affection," from a guy—any guy.

Kat's bravado leads her into a compromising situation at a high school party; she winds up in a room alone with three boys, where she talks a big game about how she's a "savage" who watches porn and has slept with more people than any of them can count. None of this is true, but Kat is determined to become "a woman of questionable morals."

The scene shows the fine line between being an empowered young woman deciding what to do with her body, on her terms, and being a teenager who thinks she's in control but doesn't fully understand the power dynamics at play. Because, yes, Kat is trying to make an intentional decision about her sexuality and how to use it, but she's doing so with a group of boys who don't value or respect her. This reality is made clear when one of them says to her, "You know what they say, right? Fat girls give the best head."

At those familiar words, I melted into my couch and said a silent prayer of gratitude that I wasn't watching Euphoria in the company of anyone else. Onscreen, Kat, too, shrinks ever so slightly into herself, all while trying to keep a poker face about the whole thing. We don't see exactly what happens in the room, but, later, she seems happy when she shares the news with her friends that she's lost her virginity; even though she then lays down, awake, scrolling through the guy's Instagram, seeming altogether less than happy.

Kat's isn't the most violent or necessarily the saddest story line in the episode. But it showed the ways that issues like consent, toxic masculinity, substance abuse, and body image—all of which are difficult to deal with no matter what your size—are further magnified when experienced through the additional trauma of fatphobia. This is something with which I've personally dealt, and so I felt my past experiences rise up inside me when I watched how Kat couldn't build her own sexual identity without being constantly aware of the ways her body exists outside the parameters of acceptable desirability.

My childhood and adolescence are defined by my experiences as a fat girl; it was a time that often felt like a hazy battlefield, when I could hardly navigate which feelings and thoughts were my own, and which ones were the result of outside forces. My body hardly ever felt like mine, and it took years to develop the autonomy that Kat is grasping at as a teenager. Kat, like so many other fat women, has a total lack of support from her peers when it comes to body image and acceptance, and there's a devastating absence of affirmation about her own worth and the importance of her pleasure. Because of fatphobia, Kat is going to be swimming against a strong, but invisible current as she navigates the already fraught social politics of high school. It's one thing to grasp this truth on an intellectual level, but letting those principles guide your decision-making is truly difficult—even for an adult, let alone for a teenager.

Euphoria airs Sunday nights at 10pm, on HBO.

Courtesy of RLJE Films

White-knuckle your way through wedding season with Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid

Maya Erskine might have first come to our attention in PEN15, the hilarious show she co-created and stars in with Anna Konkle, in which they play 13-year-olds in the year 2000, but in the just-released Plus One, Erskine is all grown up and engaging in a very familiar adult activity: white-knuckling her way through wedding season.

Written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer—who just so happen to be Erskine's former NYU classmates—Plus One stars Erskine and Jack Quaid as Alice and Ben, two longtime friends who decide to attend a summer of weddings together, and avoid any of the awkwardness that can come with finding the right plus-one. This is especially important for Alice, who is coming off a bad breakup. Of course, as the laws of rom-coms dictate, nothing stays totally platonic. Beyond that, though, Plus One doesn't fall into predictable rom-com tropes, and instead hilariously explores what it's like to spiral into a quarter-life crisis, all while dressed in optional black-tie. Which, we've all been there, right?

"We kind of use the script as its own therapy," Chan told me recently, when I spoke with him, Rhymer, Erskine, and Quaid, about the film. "We were watching friends who have been broken up for a long time get back together at weddings; we were watching people get really sad and get drunk and start crying... they were breeding grounds for lots of emotions coming to the surface."

Courtesy of RLJE Films

And those emotions have the perfect outlet at weddings in the form of toasts and other assorted speeches. Plus One makes good use of that platform by making the wedding speech the hilarious eye of the storm at each of its weddings. These toasts were delivered in the form of scene-stealing cameos—also friends from NYU, of course.

"Almost all of those speeches are based on a real speech Andrew and I have seen," Chan said. "We'd go to a wedding and [we'd think], Yep, that's going in there."

Rhymer adds that they used these speeches as metonyms for the weddings, which made sense time- and budget-wise: "Being an indie film, we obviously produced 12 weddings, but did so kind of cleverly, showing you the rooms or the side rooms where they're rehearsing. We weren't seeing 12 full-blown receptions in all their glory... that would have been, like, millions of dollars."

But perhaps what's most refreshing about Plus One is that it destroys the image of weddings—and, by extension, relationships, and women, in general—as having to be fantasies, as having to be perfect. Because nothing is perfect, and that's what makes life interesting. Erskine, for one, likes being able to show the weirder sides of life, whether as a 13-year-old girl washing a thong with hand soap or a millennial woman who doesn't know what comes next. "There's something really liberating and freeing to show and bear the ugliest parts of yourself—or what society may deem as the ugliest, weirdest parts of yourself—that no one wants to see," she said. "I'm also an over-sharer. So I am drawn to roles that expose more than is typical, and everyone is weird in one way or another."

"I think," Erskine laughed, "it's because I myself am a wacky trash goblin." As it turns out, that's exactly what rom-coms have been missing, until now.

Plus One is in select theaters and available to stream via Amazon now.

PLUS ONE Official Trailer

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Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

That's one way to solve a wardrobe malfunction

Cardi B twerked so hard during a performance that she ripped her outfit and had to rock a bathrobe for the majority of her set.

At Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennesee, as Cardi got a little too down and into it, a seam split on her bedazzled body-con jumpsuit only moments into her set. Not one to be set back by a wardrobe malfunction, Cardi B rocked a nude strapless bra with a bathrobe on top, making for a Serious Fashion Moment.

"This wasn't just part of the show," Twitter user Lena Blietz pointed out. "No one performs in a nude, strapless bra by choice." I have to agree there. A strapless bra is the bane of my existence on a slow day, I can't imagine what it's like to have to dance in one on stage.

Honestly, watching Cardi perform in this getup made me a stan for life. Despite it not being as flashy as her jumpsuit, Cardi made the bathrobe work, throwing the shoulders down for drama as she paced the stage during each song.

Bonnaroo attendees couldn't help but agree that a bathrobe and nothing else is a mood we all felt in the very, very hot and sweaty crowd. If she had one in my size to share, I would have gladly changed in a heartbeat.

But, despite loving this comfy solution to a big problem, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the beauty that was the original jumpsuit. RIP.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

And launched an inclusive summer campaign showcasing 30 different models

Just in time for swim season, sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt launched an inclusive summer campaign, called Every Body is a Beach Body, and significantly expanded its size range.

The brand's sizes now go up to 24 and 2X—quite a jump from its previous availability, which went up to a size 14. Co-founders Reshma Chamberlin and Lori Coulter told NYLON that the size expansion was a must because "we know that there are countless women out there who are missing out on the joy of summer because they don't have the right suit." They noted that they have plans to expand the brand's sizing even more: "We're excited to continue to add more sizes and be even more inclusive."

For the summer campaign, each suit was fitted on 30 professional and non-professional models ranging in body type to ensure it would look great on as many bodies as possible. "We wanted the models for this campaign to be just as diverse and unique as our customers, and we're proud to show models of different sizes, races, gender identities, and physical abilities," said Chamberlin and Coulter. "We want our customers to see themselves in our models, and know that their body is a beach body, exactly as it is right now."

The new collection includes bright new colorways and styles to rock at the beach or the pool. There are bikinis, one-pieces, and even a swim tunic and leggings for modest fashion wearers.

Check out the campaign and some of the new styles, below, and shop the new collection now at Summersalt.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt