(review originally written 5/6/2015)
Pre-read: Man, I want to read this so badly that it's not even funny.
"What if Jafar were the first one to summon the Genie", you say?
(note: this pre-review has no affiliation with Disney or this book, but I'm just entirely speculating)
Iago: Ooh, ooh, ooh! I know, lemme answer this one. PLEASE, I am BEGGING you.
Aladdin: (rubs the back of his neck) I don't think I wanna know the answer to this question...or Iago's answer either.
Iago: Come ON! I know this one! I'm raising my wing and getting wing cramps over here! CHOOSE ME to answer already!
Genie: Iago, you sound just a teensy bit too happy over there...
Iago: I'm just thinking that if Jafar had gotten the lamp before Mr. Goody-two-shoes prince over here, MAYBE I'd have my own palace, maybe I'd have my own entourage, maybe I'D have MY three wishes and get my own story. Is that too much to ask?
Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, and Abu: YES.
Iago: ...You guys kill my fun every single time.
Iago: 2-stars?!! Whadd'ya mean, 2 stars?! This was supposed to be EPIC, this was supposed to be EVIL! I expected explosions, blood, creepiness, take over the world kinda action!
Aladdin: Iago, calm down - 2 stars is not the end of the world, it just means that it wasn't...well, the best thing ever in the seven deserts. It had some good things...some bad, probably more bad than good, but it could've been worse? Maybe?
Jasmine: I'm not sure if any of this was as big as the original story/work it was based on. Besides, Iago, why would you even defend this book if you weren't even in the story most of the time? You were only there to show Jafar's manic moods anyway.
Iago: ...That's low. That's REALLY low.
Genie: Uh, kids, spoiler warning much?
Aladdin: Right, uh - I guess we'll have to talk about this later. See you guys in a little while.
(Reviewer's note: I'll think on this one a little bit and then decide how I'm going to write it, but overall - it didn't live up to it's potential really - mostly because the first 20% of the story was a rehash of the original movie with incorrect or awkwardly added details, then when the new material kicked in - the characters were underdeveloped and the conflict was conflated more than what the actual stakes in the story were. It had some cool moments and ideas, but they weren't organized enough to carry the story forward. Full review to come.)
I'm going ahead and writing it because as much as I anticipated and was excited by the idea and promise of this title, the actual story I read left me feeling more neutral than anything else. There were some awesome ideas here and potential aims for the characters and conflict, but the delivery...not so much.
As you can probably tell by my pre-review comments, I really enjoy the Disney's Aladdin franchise - the movies, the characters, the TV series, the people who were a part of it, etc. - I grew up with it being one of my most watched and favorite Disney movies. The last time I watched the original movie was about a year ago - it brings back fond memories. So when I heard about Disney releasing a YA series with a series of "twisted" tales based on beloved Disney movies and stories, I was pretty much like "Bring it!!!" And to start the series with one of my favorite movies with the villain being the main player in the story - I was doing more mental fireworks than the Genie was in the movie when he realized he was free.
But the experience of reading "A Whole New World" wasn't really that new at all, unfortunately. The first problem was that 20-25% of the first part of the novel was something of a direct play-by-play of the movie with embellished (and often not funny or immersive) details leading up to when Jafar gets the lamp. You already know the story if you've watched the Disney movie, and I'd venture a guess the purpose of this series is not to introduce the story but appeal to people who already know the story of Aladdin (or the other twisted tales to follow). I don't think it needed the space of 20-25% of the novel doing that play-by-play because it made the story extremely tedious to slog through. I'll commend Braswell - at least - for the prologue because that was an all too brief eye into Aladdin's life as a boy (if you know the story of Howard Ashman and the writing of the song "Proud of Your Boy" for the original movie - you'll know that there were plans to go into Aladdin's boyhood, but they had to take it out for the sake of the story.)
But honestly, if you took out that 20-25% of the novel, there'd be nothing missing from it and readers would probably be thankful for it, because it was a slog even for me to get through (and I imagine a teen would probably be like "Pfft, I know this already; this is boring"). And it often got many of the details from the movie wrong if it were actually being included for the sake of consistency (i.e. Jasmine getting half an apple in the story, versus in the movie getting a whole one from Aladdin during their first meeting in his hiding place). So what was the purpose of the retracing?
When the story actually gets to the part of the premise that's advertised for the book, that's where the potential of the story took off, but at a cost. There were some dark moments, and I think the only original character from the movie that Braswell got right on the money was Jafar. Iago was barely a character (which - with as much personality as Iago has, that was kind of a waste), Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie had moments where they resembled their original characters, but their newer incarnations were much harder to follow because of a severe lack of development. And that's what made the following story feel so...empty for me. I loved the overarching concept and aim but the execution of the writing of the story and the dynamic between the characters felt either forced or lacking for the promise of the potential story. Even the character deaths felt empty in places (which I think some people are going to be surprised by how quick they happen and to whom it happens).
In the end, a read that I was aptly excited and enthused about ended up not being able to carry the imaginative promises it purported to have. That's not to say I won't follow this series though, because I think it has a ton of potential to work with. I just hope that the journey's more dynamic and immersive in future stories than this one was.
Overall score: 2/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Disney Book Group/Disney Press.