Synopsis – A kind-hearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.
My Take – Like most, I too have been open about my cynicism towards Disney‘s recent practice of remaking their entirety of their animated library (trust me it is heading that way) into soul-less live-action features, a factor which contributed to the disappointing box office returns of recently released Dumbo.
While, the prospect of remaking a Disney-fied Middle Eastern folk tale into a CG extravaganza may not have provoked the visceral repulsion that one would have initially expected, but it’s fair to say that the new version, had many clenching their jaws in dread. Mainly as the 1992 animated classic is still beloved by its audience for its rollicking adventure, memorable soundtrack and Robin Williams’ magnificent voice performance, especially for people, who are now in their 30s, who grew up with the video playing on repeat, even if its depiction of Arabic characters, besides Aladdin and Jasmine, can be/have been slammed as problematic.
But ever since an early footage of Will Smith’s big blue smurf inspired Genie dropped online, social media has been at it. Throwing everything possible nasty towards the film, which has even gone as far as questioning Guy Ritchie’s directorial capabilities due to the disaster box office returns of his recent films. Are you kidding me? Guy is awesome!
Having seen it, I do admit that some of those fears were not unfounded, but the film on the whole is not the cringe-worthy catastrophe most claimed it to be, instead it is actually quite fun, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen for some of the musical numbers, the production design, and just the spectacle of the film itself.
Perhaps I’m biased as a ’90s kid who was in the sweet spot for the Disney Renaissance, but here, director Ritchie seems to have targeted older millennials, like myself, who just wanted to indulge their nostalgia but whose sensibilities have since evolved, and by aiming for maximum spectacle, with everything else a secondary priority, he has got it all, wrapped up in pretty package and topped with a feel-good, class-shattering romantic bow.
Sure, the absence of Robin Williams means the adaption never has quite the charm of the animation, but nevertheless the film leaves you with a smile once the end title appears on screens.
The story follows Aladdin (Mena Massoud), an orphan with a heart of gold, who along with Abu, his trusty monkey sidekick, survives on the streets of Agrabah, by carrying out his petty thief duties. Believing that he is meant to do something better, Aladdin gets a whiff off a possible good life when he comes across Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the princess, who often dressed as a commoner is willing to serve her people more than just carry off her societal duty of marrying a prince.
Meanwhile, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the vizier and chief adviser to Jasmine’s father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban), in his power-hungry grand scheme to usurp the throne, comes up with a plan to use Aladdin’s attraction towards Jasmine in his favor. All Aladdin must do is enter a secret cave and bring him a lamp, and in returns be awarded with all its riches.
As expected, things don’t go accordingly, which leads Aladdin and Abu to find that the lamp contains a Genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes. Using the first wish to become a prince in order to court Jasmine as royalty, Aladdin must do all he can to win her over all the while making sure he also keeps the powerful lamp away from Jafar’s possession.
Here, co-screenwriters Ritchie and John August have kept the story largely the same, mainly due to their dutiful allegiance to the source material. For example, the scene where Aladdin sneaks in to visit Jasmine in the palace, it’s made apparent that director Guy Ritchie was going for, as close as he could, a shot-for-shot remake of the 1992 film.
From Jasmine’s tiger Raja, to the balcony in her room, the similarity is spot on. But when it gets to be its own thing, it’s a spirited romp that has also new songs amongst the old ones, and a bevy of amazingly colorful sights and sounds, it has no shortage of charms.
Staying within the lines of the source material while blessing it with a welcome new layer of substance and consequence, director Guy Ritchie makes the story and tone uses to the light and goofy tale to work on a grandly entertaining yet relatable scale. Like, Jasmine, especially, has been re-imagined as a more dynamic and proactive figure, confronting the sexism she faces in her everyday life and given the film’s most show-stopping musical number, an original song from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul called “Speechless.”
From the jump, Scott and Massoud stand out particularly strong with their voices, with Aladdin’s song ‘One Jump Ahead,’ and the pair’s version of ‘A Whole New World.’ The soundtrack of both original and new songs are actually really, really fun. For as many moments that drag on in the film, the music is great. It almost reminded me of some moments from The Greatest Showman.
The humor here is also genuinely different from the original. Where the animated film used its art style to get across its comedy (mainly with the Genie), this new take on the story uses more straightforward jokes. The entire “jams” bit was legitimately funny, as was the small role of Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen).
What the filmmakers have changed is the addition of new characters, including Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaid, and the comedic actor provides most of the laughs. The palace guards, whose 1992 characterizations were criticized for being barbaric, have a face and a name in head guard Hakim (Numan Acar), and the Sultan has been changed from a bumbling and hapless ruler to one who is noble albeit toothless.
As one can expect from a big studio film, the special effects are quite spectacular. Everything from Genie’s magic to Abu, Iago, and Raja was crisp, clean, and very believable. This gives me plenty of hope for another live-action remake, The Lion King, coming later this summer.
The one area where this film falls completely flat is in its treatment of Jafar and Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk), arguably two of the best aspects of the original. Marwan Kenzari is not a bad actor, but his possible big moment, a possible remade version of Prince Ali (Reprise), was replaced with a very bland evil villain speech.
By the time the climax had come about, I had lost all interest in his motivations and I really felt that had they done a better job with him, this would have been as great, if not better than the original film. Just a massive misstep here that drags the rest of the film down with it.
Even Iago was quite wasted here! As much as I love Tudyk (he is killing it on DC Universe‘s Doom Patrol currently), I just do not think he could have ever topped Gilbert Godfried’s performance as Iago.
However, the lead performances are on spot on. Will Smith is awesome!! Here, Smith puts his own unique spin on them, and that felt honest, and earned. I bought into this new Genie, and that felt right. His versions of Friend Like Me and Prince Ali are both instantly memorable, while also staying true and paying tribute to the classic versions performed by Robin Williams in the 1992 animated version. T
he character changes made to the Genie are still kind of strange looking back on the film, but they do work and help make the character feel more relatable rather than just being a source of comedy and a plot device. Again, I do not think enough can be said about how great Smith is in the role, with him being one of the highlights throughout.
Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are both charismatic and winsome. Scott turns in a great performance, with the entire character of Jasmine having much more characterization than in the animated film, which is a major plus here. She looks the part of a real life Disney princess, but brings strength and personality to a character that while memorable in the original, was vastly underwritten. Massoud on the other hand shows off some serious comedic chops, with his chemistry with Genie being the main source of comedy throughout.
Billy Magnussen is barely in the film, but does well in his comical cameo. In supporting roles, Nasim Pedrad, Navid Negahban and Numan Acar also do well. On the whole, ‘Aladdin’ is a lavishly produced live-action remake of a classic which despite a few misgivings manages to be quite fun and conscientiously progressive.
Directed – Guy Ritchie
Rated – PG
Run Time – 128 minutes