Ja'far and other Disney villains in StarKid's Twisted.Twitter/@sattimbanqu3tt3

Our cinematic overlord and childhood-creator Disney is going through something of a midlife crisis. While it may be putting out some of its finest, most nuanced and gorgeously animated originals (I’m looking at Moana and even Frozen 2 here), it is simultaneously trying to relive the glory days of its renaissance by putting out remake after vanilla remake. I hardly shy away from professing my love for the Magic Kingdom, but I’ve given up on watching the products of people who believe that ‘reimagined’ means slightly longer and starring a successful actor who’ll bring in the crowds – even if they can’t really sing.

Who, then, could possibly be trusted with the remoulding of a classic? I present to you Starkid, the student musical theatre internet phenomenon, whose first production back in 2009, A Very Potter Musical, has amassed over 17 million views, and a dedicated fanbase which has funded them through 12 original musicals to date. Their musicals are that fantastic comedic cocktail of hysterically witty and flabbergastingly absurd – what Gen Z call, with utmost love, trash. And this is never put to better use than in their homages; where else could the Sorting Hat get hitched with the Scarf of Sexual Preference? Or Voldemort emerge in his revenant form only to reveal his life-long dream of tap dancing? Or a Horcrux be a Zac Efron poster? I could go on. Playing hard and fast with established and beloved worlds is Starkid’s forte, and if anyone could make Disney work for grown-ups (and I use that term liberally), it’s them – and they have! Twisted is a Wicked-style inversion of Aladdin, in which the protagonist Ja’far, not a green witch, is actually a hard-working politician who is trying to make the collapsing Magic Kingdom a better place, whilst dealing with grief, heartbreak, and numerous *wacky* side characters.

“Twisted doesn’t just retell the story... it exaggerates some aspects, contorts others, all the while completely relying on the audience’s familiarity with the original.”

I think Twisted is one of the best examples of a “remake”, because it doesn’t just retell the story; it exaggerates some aspects, contorts others, all the while completely relying on the audience’s familiarity with the tropes of the original. Take Aladdin’s seduction song on the magic carpet as an example, ‘Take Off Your Clothes’. The song’s bolshie sexual overtness would be nothing without the controversy already surrounding sexual imagery in Disney films. Twisted engages with the original Aladdin, but also its place in pop culture. In one of the jokes, a direct reference to audience commentary on ‘A Whole New World’, the sleazy remake Aladdin points out all the phallic imagery he can spot in the skyline; desperately trying to get the Princess to subliminally think about sex- jokes aside, I think this skill would make him an excellent English Lit student.

The success of A Very Potter Musical rocketed StarKid musicals into the mainstream. Twitter/@Ma_AiLing

Aside from particular references, I find that it is in Twisted’s narrative and musical voices that the loving parody really excels. The music, written by AJ Holmes (who could come into his own once Darren Chris left for Glee), so perfectly conjures up that Disney, saccharine, I-can-change-the-world optimism, that it has already established much of the world-building, and so the lyrics can do the damage. The mild self-deprecation of recent years, such as Frozen’s mockery of marrying a man you’ve just met pales to invisibility compared to the opening number, ‘Dream a Little Harder’, a satire on the Disney classic. It’s an idea best summarised in the lines ‘If you’re good and you’re attractive, no need to be proactive; good things will just happen to you!’ The song shows the conflicts within the world which appears to be a positive, uplifting place, as it simultaneously (with much profanity) spits on the character for whom this is not an option: the proactive, and attractive-ly challenged, Ja’far.


Mountain View

All the world's Staged

Here is the genius of the show. Because the beginning is so callous, you let your guard down, and your heart is completely exposed to the heart-string tugging – nay, ripping – which it sets you up for. Twisted as a Disney adaptation does not stop believing in magic – far from it – but the magic is more complicated, and there are more consequences. Ja’far is a self-proclaimed man of optimistic reason, but his long, overwhelming exposure to the cruel world, only heightened by grief, strips him of the hope he has as a young man that he can overturn socioeconomic inequality (the true villain of the piece) and change the world. Many Disney stories are about finding your own identity because they are written about, and for, young people just starting out on their journey. So how could a remake be more effective than by returning to a story of a once-optimistic hero? How could it hurt us more, than to see him lose that identity that Disney tells us is essential? And how much better is it, to see the anti-hero untwisted, finding the light, again, at the end of his umpteenth tunnel? That’s remoulded magic.