Aladdin Review: One of the Best Disney Live Action Remakes Yet
Walt Disney’s claim to fame was in animation followed by the creation of the Disneyland theme park. Walt set the bar for animation, which is why millions of people from all over the world love and cherish the Disney brand. Films like Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin are considered some of the best animated feature-length films of all time. These films have been labeled by many as flawless classics, so whenever conversation begins of a live-action remake, there is always a huge debate about it.
The initial announcement of a live-action Aladdin raised some eyebrows. Hardcore fans of the animated original weren’t quite sure if they wanted their animated classic turned into a live action film. People had mixed feelings after the release of the first trailer. There was immediate criticism of how Will Smith looked as Genie and a lot of chatter about how Jafar went from being an older bad guy to a younger hottie. Personally, the trailers for Aladdin didn’t sell me, nor did they discourage me. I felt rather indifferent about this remake because the original is one of my favorite Disney films. That said, the early word of mouth got me excited, and as the release date moved closer, I became more excited about seeing it.
Aladdin stars Mena Massoud as a street urchin living in Agrabah with his pet monkey, Abu. After meeting Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) during a chance encounter, Aladdin is kidnapped by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Sultan’s chief advisor. Jafar informs Aladdin that if he helps Jafar retrieve a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders, he will, in return, help Aladdin win over the Princess. Of course, this was merely a trick, though Aladdin ends up with the lamp anyway, while stuck inside the Cave of Wonders. After rubbing the mysterious lamp, a magical Genie (Will Smith) appears, informing Aladdin that he is now his master and will grant him three wishes.
If you’ve seen the animated film, you know where the story goes from here. If you haven’t, you have been missing out on something special and should rectify that immediately. For those who are familiar with the 1992 film, about 85-90% of this live-action remake is the same or very similar. The opening scene is different, there is a new character named Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaiden, played by the always amusing Nasim Pedrad, and Jasmine gets a new song.
Most of the early criticism centered around the film was tied to Will Smith playing Genie. To my complete surprise, Smith embraces the role and makes it his own. I can understand the argument that Will Smith is no Robin Williams. I get that, and it is clear that Smith understood that when he signed on to play the role. At no point during the film did I ever feel as though Smith was trying to impersonate Williams but instead was always doing his own thing. What audiences don’t seem to understand is that if Robin Williams were alive today and played Genie again in the live-action version, he would be doing his own thing as well. Williams got lucky because he got to voice the animated version of the character and made the role his own. But just like you knew it was Robin Williams in the animated original, you always know it’s Will Smith in this version of the story.
Fortunately, Smith brings a lot of energy and charisma to the table. The Genie is very in your face, and his goal is to help Aladdin do the right thing. Some of the scenes between Genie and Aladdin shine even more in this version than they did in the original. One scene that immediately comes to mind is when Aladdin becomes Prince Ali and tries to talk to Princess Jasmine for the first time. Smith’s reaction to what Prince Ali says is hilarious. Another great scene features a dance sequence in which Genie helps Prince Ali show off his dance moves to impress Jasmine.
I’ll admit that I am not all that familiar with Mena Massoud‘s work before this film, but he truly brings the character of Aladdin to life. Massoud is charming and has such a terrific on-screen dynamic with everyone in the cast. Massoud loves the original film and wanted to bring it to life properly. The scene where Aladdin sings “One Jump Ahead” while running through the marketplace feels as though it was ripped directly from the animated film and brought to life in the best of ways.
Naomi Scott as Jasmine is without question the MVP of Guy Richie’s Aladdin. Not only does Scott makes every scene better, but she takes what made the animated version of Jasmine so great and elevates that while making the character her own. Scott deserves a lot of credit for not only being one of two female characters in the film but for outshining every other actor in the movie. She delivers a performance that not only has multiple layers but stands for something. Jasmine has no problem speaking her mind and questioning the status quo, and Scott’s performance will serve as an inspiration to little girls all over the world.
This brings me to Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. While everyone was worried about Will Smith as Genie, they should have been more worried about Jafar, as he is the film’s weakest link. I understand making Jafar younger and more appealing for a new generation, but honestly, the character doesn’t come across as very menacing. The animated Jafar was such an iconic Disney villain, and this live-action Jafar is so forgettable and dull. The animated Jafar was imposing and even creepy at times, but that never occurs with Kenzari’s take on the character. I don’t know who is to blame for this. It almost seems like an even split between script and Kenzari ‘s performance.
Guy Richie directing Aladdin seemed like an odd choice, but he made it work. Some of Richie’s signature slow-motion shots appear, despite not matching the tone of the film. However, when it came to capturing the chase scenes and big musical numbers, Richie shined. He made those musical numbers pop off the screen. The musical numbers are so incredible that I wish Richie added more so audiences could be treated to the same energy that came from scenes like “Friend Like Me,” “A Whole New World,” and “Prince Ali.”
Luckily, there is one new song in Aladdin. It is called “Speechless” and was written by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (of Greatest Showman and La La Land fame), and the legendary Alan Menken. “Speechless” is the “This is Me” of 2019 and will more than likely be nominated for Best Original Song at next year’s Academy Awards. It is safe to say that Naomi Scott will be getting a lot more offers for musicals after seeing and hearing her perform this song. Scott is not only is a talented actress but has the voice of an angel.
Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson will also more than likely receive a nomination for the gorgeous costumes featured in this film. There is no denying that Disney hires some of the best costume designers working today, but I think the costumes featured in Aladdin are incredibly detailed and stunning to look at.
Guy Richie’s Aladdin is one of the better live-action Disney remakes. The musical sequences are big, bold, and colorful. The majority of the cast is excellent with Naomi Scott proving she is here to stay. The production, costumes, and visuals are all superb. The soundtrack is still one of the best of all time. While Aladdin might be a bit longer than necessary and has some minor flaws, Guy Richie manages to recreate most of the magic found in the original thanks to a committed and talented cast and crew.