With the help of the magical Genie of the lamp (Will Smith), Aladdin (Mena Massoud) becomes a prince to impress Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Meanwhile, the royal vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is also trying to get his hand’s on the magic lamp to use Genie’s magic for his own nefarious purposes.
I’ve been feeling conflicted about these live-action remakes Disney has been releasing these last few years and plan to release in the foreseeable future. On one hand, I enjoy seeing these wonderful animated classics realized and interpreted into live-action versions of themselves. On the other, most of them are so beloved that it will be hard to top the originals for most audiences. For me, I grew up on the 1992 Aladdin, and is so ingrained in my history as a cinefile that I highly doubted this remake would do anything to surpass it. However, not one to dismiss a film before I watch it, I went into the theater with an open mind and ended up leaving pleased.
One thing that Disney has been nailing (mostly anyway) about these remakes are the leads. Firstly, Naomi Scott is absolutely stunning as Princess Jasmine. She updates the character to be more than just a damsel looking to escape the confines of the palace. Scott’s Jasmine is confident and determined, characteristics seen in her animated counterpart but Scott takes that foundation and elevates Jasmine to whole new heights. Her song, “Speechless,” perfectly captures Jasmine’s spirit and is nailed by Scott. “Speechless” is bound to become a classic Disney song belted at the top of their lungs by many.
The titular character is played by Mena Massoud. While he doesn’t capture the same spirit of his character the same way Scott captured the character of hers, Massoud plays the part well; he captures the charm of Aladdin well enough. He also has good chemistry with his co-stars, especially Scott and Will Smith. I’d say his biggest weakness is he doesn’t have the same singing chops as Scott or Smith. Songs like “One Jump Ahead” or his parts in “A Whole New World” lack the same energy of Brad Kane, Aladdin’s singing voice actor in the animated version.
Leading up to this film’s release, there had been a lot of talk as Will Smith as Genie. Robin Williams famously voiced Genie in the animated version and brought his unique energy and comedy to the character. Smith smartly didn’t try to emulate Williams. Instead, he played Genie in a very Will Smith way, creating a different kind of Genie that worked within the context of the film. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Smith doesn’t become the characters, the characters become Smith. Smith’s Genie is still larger-than-life and zany but doesn’t have the pizzazz of Williams’ Genie. Instead, Smith’s Genie is infused with Smith’s hip-hop and brand of comedy you’ve come to know and love over the years. While it garnered some criticism when he was announced to be playing the character, Smith’s Genie, like Williams’ before him, is one of the most entertaining and exciting aspects of this film.
I don’t bring up a film’s production design much in my reviews but dammit was this film gorgeous. The streets of Agrabah were filled with all sorts of vivid colors. Most of the time here is spent following Aladdin as he travels and runs through it. Another viewing just to pick out more details in the streets and bazaars would be worth it. Then the palace is even more extravagant. The architecture and set design is unlike any other. Last but not least are the costumes. Like the rest of Agrabah, they are bright and lavish. Jasmine’s outfits in particular are dazzling and truly fitting of a princess.
As for the film’s villain, Jafar left me wanting. Marwan Kenzari wasn’t bad in the role, he just wasn’t the right fit for it. He doesn’t have the menace the animated Jafar is known for. Like Jasmine, Jafar’s backstory and character was expanded on but unlike Jasmine, his changes don’t add much to the character, only seeming have been added to make a scene in the latter part of the film work better. Kenzari’s Jafar simply lacked the iconography that made the animated Jafar such a great villain.
Like the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and as this year’s The Lion King live-action remake appears to, Aladdin follows the animated source material pretty closely. Jasmine and Jafar are given more backstory and Genie gets his own love interest in Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, played by the humorous Nasim Pedrad, but if you’ve seen the Disney Renaissance version, then you’ll know exactly every story beat and exactly how the story plays out.
I’ve noticed a trend in these Disney live-action remakes: remakes of older films, such as Dumbo or The Jungle Book, don’t stick so closely to the story of the animated versions they are remaking. But for remakes of more recent films, such as Beauty and the Beast and this, they stay more faithful the the characters and story. I’ve said that for a remake to justify its existence, it needs to provide something new, either with the characters, story, or both. For example, Dumbo, tried to tell a similar but fairly different story as the 1941 Dumbo, or Maleficent told the story of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s perspective. As my feelings on these vary, at least they did enough to warrant their presence. Aladdin, while enjoyable, doesn’t do enough to properly answer the question “why?”
I thought Aladdin was GOOD 🙂 I had mixed feelings about one of my favorite Disney animated movies being remade but I went in hoping for the best nonetheless. Even though it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the 1992 animated classic, this film still manages to be entertaining. And really, for a remake of a film that is so dear to me, that’s the least I could have hoped for.
Cast & Crew
Guy Ritchie – Director / Screenplay
John August – Screenplay
Alan Menken – Composer
Benj Pasek – Lyricist
Justin Paul – Lyricist
Mena Massoud – Aladdin
Naomi Scott – Jasmine
Will Smith – Genie
Marwan Kenzari – Jafar
Navid Negahban – Sultan
Nasim Pedrad – Dalia
Numan Acar – Hakim
Alan Tudyk – Iago (voice)
Frank Welker – Cave of Wonders (voice)