We are living in a time where reboots, remakes and sequels are hotter than ever, and Disney is at the forefront of this department. Their latest live-action interpretation comes in the form of the Arabian fairytale of a street-rat turned prince and a magic lamp— Aladdin. Based on the 1992 animated film, this retelling brings together a host of brand new actors, and some experienced star power, giving the classic story a welcome revival.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a charming man with nothing but his best friend by his side, who happens to be a monkey named Abu. Together, they survive as best they can, stealing food and jewelry from merchants and occasionally giving back to other people in need. After having a run-in with a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) on the streets of Agrabah, the Royal Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), takes interest in the young man and takes him to the Cave of Wonders where he retrieves a magic lamp which houses the most powerful being in the world, the Genie (Will Smith). With the Genie at his disposal, Aladdin must learn that power is a tricky concept with a lot of grey area. It can be a dangerous thing if used selfishly.
Guy Ritchie commands the ship as director, which for a lot of people, was a very uninspired choice. His latest outing behind the camera, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, was not a success, critically or financially. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t go overboard with a lot of his signature Ritchie style. You get the occasional slow-motion shots, especially in the first half, which is the weaker portion of the film. It does get better over time, however, but it’s clear he had to follow a more cookie-cutter approach to his directing. Ritchie rouses the story, giving more time to the real MVPs of the movie, Jasmine and Genie.
Will Smith is a huge star and multi-platform entertainer. He’s in the movies, he’s making music and now he is even a huge creator on YouTube, something people use every day. Smith’s casting as Genie was something many audiences weren’t on board with at first. Those skeptical about the choice may find their cynicisms rectified as Smith creates a character of his own. Obviously, no one can replace or recreate Robin Williams’ performance from the original, and Smith doesn’t try to. Smith’s characterization of Genie is fleshed enough and the way they expand his story adds a lot to his relationship with Aladdin. His comedic timing is great and his banter with Aladdin is some of the best stuff in the movie. Another big concern was the crazy backlash the Genie was getting over his CGI appearance. This is a perfect example of waiting until the final product before making such bold claims based on trailers and marketing stills. The CGI of the Genie itself was solid, nothing to near awards recognition, but more than passable. His introduction alone with Smith’s rendition of “Friend Like Me” offered some amazing visuals and the best recreation of one of the songs from the animated movie to live-action (can’t say the same for the others, but more on that in a bit).
Another character who received boastful attention is Princess Jasmine. Naomi Scott commands the screen and you can’t take your eyes off her. She gives an electric performance and has outstanding chemistry with every other character. If you are familiar with Scott, it’s no surprise her singing was also top-notch. She performs the new original song for the film, “Speechless”, and while it feels a little shoe-horned into the film, the song itself is great and Scott’s vocals bring it to life.
Jafar transformed from a creepy old dude to an attractive foe but overall his motivations remain the same and Kenzari embodies this power-hungry villain. On another hand, poor Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk) wasn’t given as much time as in the animated film. A change that served the movie well is the role of Sultan (Navid Negahban) which was made to be a lot more level headed and realistic compared to the bumbling character in the original animation. This helped in expanding on the power struggle between him and Jafar as well as Jasmine in the long run. As for the titular role, Aladdin, Disney cast an underdog in Mena Massoud to play the iconic thief-turned-prince. Massoud had starred in television series like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan before hopping onto this Disney remake. His performance in the film wasn’t anything stellar, but his chemistry with Jasmine and Genie made up for a lot the weaker aspects such as his singing. Over time, Massoud could make a name for himself, now having this leap of Disney stardom to fall back on.
Where Aladdin underwhelms is in its execution of the musical set-pieces. As mentioned, with the exception of “Friend Like Me” and “Speechless”, every other song feels uninspired and visually dull. Most notably the opening sequence of “One Jump Ahead”, which is denoted as a throwaway song and “Prince Ali” which is turned into a bland parade with Smith just being himself. Finally, there is “A Whole New World,” the nostalgia-inducing song from the animated film. Visually, it underperforms and is forgettable in the larger scope of things. On its own, the rendition by Scott and Massoud is lovely (especially when Scott takes over), but in the context of the movie, it doesn’t do much.
In terms of the Disney live-action remakes, Aladdin falls somewhere in the middle. Not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Christopher Robin, but not nearly as bad as an Alice In Wonderland. An updated story is just enough to not make it a carbon copy, but they did eliminate a lot of the magic from the original in the places that counted most, the music. Its saving grace is Naomi Scott and Will Smith, who jointly bring superb charisma and carry the film to the very last scene. If a more inspired hand, and maybe one with more musical experience was behind it, it could’ve been knocked out of the park. It had all the right pieces, but fell short of mastering its potential.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari