The Costumes in Aladdin: Just as Bad as We Expected

By Jen.
Photos: Entertainment Tonight and Popsugar
Aladdín is my absolute favorite Disney movie. Of all times. There is nothing compared to the magic of the sounds of 'A Whole New World' and to that story with a magic carpet, a genie and the first Disney princess that I thought looked a bit like me. It took me a while to realize (I was a kid when the movie first came out, in 1992), but I have princess Jasmine imprinted in my memory because she was the first Disney princess with dark hair and big eyes, like mine. She was not blonde and didn't look like the others... she looks a little bit like me. And well, if we also think about how she rebels to her government to marry the man she wanted, we have a movie for my inner child and my current feminist, a Disney princess to look up to.

In my memories of Jasmine, of course, that dress is the strongest of them all (I wanted the costume as a child, but all my mom got me was a black and fuchsia costume, midriff showing and everything). that specific tone of blue, sometimes turquoise and sometimes baby blue, is the biggest feature of the character and one of the things I was afraid of seeing in the live action movie, featuring Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud, and Will Smith. And I was right to be afraid.

Ever since the new movie was announced I was reluctant because, first of all, it is very tricky to translate the magic of an animated movie to something in real life, and secondly because the original version of A Whole New World is the best Disney song of all time (and nobody will change my mind), and third, for the reason that has gathered us here: the costume design. It is very odd when Disney gets a live-action movie in which the costumes look real and at the same time worthy of the original animated movie. A successful case studie is Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, in which Anne B Sheppard made one of the best-animated villains into a powerful character, full of exquisite details that made her performance even richer, while in the attempt of Beaty and the Beast, the costumes were a complete fail. I still cringe when I remember the sad little yellow dress they put on Emma Watson and that was nothing like the beautiful and memorable Belle dress.

The task for the costume design in Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, was given to Michael Wilkinson, who had previously made costumes for other movies such as Batman vs Superman. Wilkinson has told to different media outlets that he throughoutly researched texts and images in famous books such as the tale of One Thousand and One Nights. The movie, from its conception and casting, was planned as a celebration of Arab culture in which, for example, lyrics that were considered racist were corrected and the casting selection focused in a cast that was representative of the middle eastern history. And although those goals were accomplished, the way it reflected on costumes was not enough, to say the least.

Do you notice that Aladdin's shoes (he's a street thief) look like new?
As soon as the first images came out, the costumes looked disappointing. We've already said that trying to translate the fantasy of animation to real costumes is really tricky, but Wilkinson had real references that turned out to be more a caricature than close to reality. In Aladdin's character, for example, both outfits looked too 'new' and perfect, with no tangible difference between the impeccable image of Prince Ali and the appearance of a street thief. How on Earth is it possible that someone who practically lives in the streets HAS NEW-LOOKING SHOES AFTER WANDERING IN THE DESERT AND ENTER THE CAVE OF WONDERS? It's ok, I'm fine.

However, the biggest disappointment of this costume design project, the one that broke my inner child's heart, was that of Jasmine. Yes, that costume that was crystal clear in my memory, with very distinctive elements that Wilkinson and his team (including Gemma Jackson, from the production design of Game of Thrones) just decided to ignore. It was clear that being limited to two looks (like in the animated version) was not going to be realistic, but to change the entire color scheme was an unnecessary turn. According to an interview that Wilkinson gave to Fashionista, they tried to incorporate turquoise in all the looks, as well as keep in line with a peacock theme, but they were too many variations and the idea was all over the place. There is way too much room between turquoise, bright pink and yellow (huh?) and again, everything looks forced and fake. A point to the team was, though, the selection of fabrics used for the outfits. Because the fictional city of Agrabah is in the famous Line of Silk of the Middle East (that includes Turkey, Siria, and Saudi Arabia, among others) they included references to this countries (and my guess is that this is the reason for the embellishments and jewelry work, references to the Indian sari) and silk was a crucial part of the dresses, which makes them have a beautiful texture in specific moments, such as when Jasmine is walking down the stairs of the palace.

But the jewelry is another fail in the execution of the costume design. With so many strong Indian and Turkish references that they tried to incorporate, it was only fair that the elements of jewelry were stunning and breathtaking... something that did not happen, and ended up looking, again, like costume props. Neither the bracelet that Aladdin 'stole', nor any of the jewels in Jasmine character looked luxurious, rich... nothing worth of the illusion of a princess from such an opulent culture. If they undertook such deep research, did they not find real references to the work of Indian artisans and the importance they give to gems? In cases like these, is not only about 'reading', it is also important to have a right vision of the culture you're trying to portrait, and the best way of doing so is to involve people from this culture in the process. And even further, a corporation like Disney could not spare in an important jewelry budget? Looks to me that Wilkinson could've looked at Bollywood films, in which any piece of jewelry looked better than that toy-looking necklace they put on Jasmine.

Really? No one could've watched Om Shanti Om (left) for references?

Another subject that caught my eye when talking about the costume design was the decision of covering more skin for the live-action version. "No midriff", said Dan Lin, one of the producers of the movie, deeming that in this version they tried to 'correct' some issued than in the animated version could've been seen as inappropriate. And although the concept of "innapropriate" is relative, that is not even the problem. The real issue is that this "rule" was not succesfully translated into the designs, specially that turquoise look, that attempted to do a sort of nude corset (*rolls eyes*) that instead ended up looking like a spandex undergarment. Although this is not confirmed, we guess that another decision was influenced by this rule: that one of putting a shirt on Aladdin when the original version only showed with a vest.

In fact, one of the things that are off about this new movie is the way everything revolves around the character of Jasmine (nothing bad in that), but at the same time that made the team forgot about the possibilities for other characters, aka the guys in the movie. Although Aladdin's clothes are within the frame of the two original outfits, there is someone that caught all the eyes in the original movie and this time was incredibly overlooked, clothes and all. I'm talking about Jaffar. He is the one that looked more out of element, more in costume and stripped from all the features that made him look powerful, crowned with the most awful tuban I've seen in years, one that makes it look a little foolish instead of as one of Disney's biggest villains. It is almost as if they forgot to pay atention to him because they were too busy looking for cheap looking earrings for Jasmine.

This new Jafar looks more like a child in a costume
Overall, we cannot say the movie was terrible (in fact, Will Smith did a great job, just the genie we neede), but the costumes could've definitely been better. Except for Maleficent, Disney still needs to crack the formula of success when it comes to dress the stars of their live-action movies, one that makes the characters look fabulous and real, and not like they just bought something out Amazon. Or maybe it would be better if they just stopped trying with the live-action? What do you think? 

3 comentarios:

  1. Overall, your article sounds like it was written by a spoiled teenage girl who is stamping her foot and crying to mommy because the costumes in the movie didn't look like the cartoon. As a costume designer, I think they did an amazing job with these costumes overall. The Indian and Asian references are stunning, and far more accurate and appropriate to the culture than the "bikini tops" of the cartoon. The one thing I agree with you on is Jafar's turban was not the greatest. In the future, I think what you need to remember is that costuming for theater or the movies isn't always about making an exact replica of something from the past, or the way it was done in the past. Great costume designers will always put their own spin on costuming, so ad to keep it interesting, fun and fresh, which is how it should be.

  2. As a South Asian you have no idea how Jasmine’s dresses broke my heart. There is so much to take inspiration from and they chose that? You could find a random auntie in a temple in better outfits than what Jasmine was wearing. It was blasphemous.