Aladdin,” the 1992 cartoon feature with Robin Williams as a garrulous blue genie, may not be the best movie from Disney’s second golden age of animation, but like the others it has durable charms and memorable songs. “Aladdin,” the new live-action re-whatever with a blue Will Smith popping out of the lamp, may not be the worst product of the current era of legacy intellectual property exploitation (it’s likely that the worst is yet to come), but like most of the others it invites a simple question: Why?

The answer — spoiler alert: “money” — may not surprise you. I know it’s pointless to complain about Disney’s drive to wring every last dollar from its various brands. You might as well complain about the animal sidekicks (and I will). But the movie itself, while not entirely terrible — a lot of craft has been purchased, and even a little art — is pointless in a particularly aggressive way.

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The studio’s earlier cash-grab strategy was to protect the classic status of its “A” material through managed scarcity and lavish reissuing. Each new micro-generation of viewers could be initiated into fandom with a bit of ceremony: Here was an old thing that was being passed on to you in a shiny new package, a polished heirloom in the form of a special VHS or DVD edition or a limited run in theaters. What had belonged to your parents and grandparents could also be yours, whether it was “Snow White” or “The Little Mermaid.” (Not anymore with “Song of the South,” though.


There were problems with this approach, including the preservation of tropes and images that came to seem old-fashioned, and not necessarily in a good way. The patriarchal princess stories. The cultural and racial stereotypes. That kind of thing. But Disney, long committed to doing well by meaning well, has synergized evolving social attitudes with advancing digital technology to concoct a series of updates…

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