There are two kinds of people who get three wishes: the kind that can make their dreams come true and the kind that have to use up their wishes getting themselves out of scraps. Aladdin in Mario Bava and Henry Levin’s The Wonders of Aladdin is the latter kind of chap.
Played by Singing in the Rain’s Donald O’Connor, it goes against every instinct to dislike someone O’Connor plays but his Aladdin is the worst. Movement-wise, the film plays out like a live action animated movie. Of course, there is a live action version of Aladdin now, but as a precursor to both Disney films the scenes at the marketplace where Aladdin gets into trouble and O’Connor is leaping on buildings feel extremely alive.
It’s Aladdin’s personality that’s the trouble – his glee at escaping punishment and his self-congratulatory manner are severely off-putting. Heroes are supposed to be concerned when they cause destruction. No scenes of Aladdin sharing bread with children in this movie. Aladdin is also easily impressed by wealth. He’s supposed to be a street kid yet there’s a sense of privilege about him that O’Conner can’t shake.
Instead Aladdin is determined to attend the royal wedding of Prince Moluk (Terrence Hill) and Princess Zaina (Michéle Mercier, in a wasted role) and while he has a girlfriend (Noëlle Adam’s Djalma) back home who loves him, his FOMO is too great for him to consider her feelings.
Italian director, Vittorio De Sica, plays the genie and if you haven’t seen his movies there’s a Sophia Loren box set that’s one of Kino Lorber’s best releases. Usually genies are portrayed as being sticklers. They take their wishes seriously and will find any excuse to turn their wish caster’s words against them but de Sica’s genie goes out of his way to help Aladdin and is one of the most amenable genies I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame he appears so sparingly because that’s when you get a lot of the special effects. Also weird but I don’t think before The Wonders of Aladdin I ever saw a magic lamp used for its actual purpose, as a lamp.
The male fantasy aspects of The Wonders of Aladdin are disappointing, and that’s not just a 21st century perspective. Film historian, Tim Lucas (whose biography on Mario Bava is available to purchase here), provides the commentary track on Kino Lorber’s release and reviewers at the time noticed the adultness of the movie, too, especially since it was supposed to be a family film, like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The production was not a happy one for O’Connor or Adam. O’Connor suffered multiple injuries. Adam was kidnapped, and that’s not even the worst thing that happened. Lucas also takes time to point out which scenes were only available in the Italian version of the film before and which scenes are still missing.
The Wonders of Aladdin has a magic carpet ride but there’s also rampant sexism, a whitewashed cast, and a scene involving blackface. The fantasy elements don’t make up for the film’s shortcomings.
The Wonders of Aladdin is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting November 17th from Kino Lorber.