I’ve been waiting and wishing ( ;D ) for this movie for a while. Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie and I was curious to see what else they could do with it in a live action remake. Last year now I reviewed the Broadway show, and I’m excited to review the live action movie too! I’ll keep the story synopsis simple, and talk more about the similarities and differences between the original animated movie (abbreviated from here on out as “OG animated film”), the Broadway show (abbreviated as “BW show”), and the live action remake (abbreviated as “LA remake”).
The young man Aladdin is street-wise, charming, and dashing. Everything a girl could wish for. One problem. He’s a street rat – an urchin and a thief living on the streets of Agrabah. He’s got dreams of becoming something, someONE, more. He believes he can when he meets a beautiful girl in the marketplace, and it turns out, she’s the princess! The law states that Princess Jasmine can only marry a prince, so Aladdin’s got next to no chance. That all changes when he is recurited by the Royal Vizier, Jafar, to steal a treasure from the legendary Cave of Wonders, and by accident Aladdin ends up with that treasure: a magic lamp with a Genie inside. He can now wish anything he wants, including turning himself into a prince. Changing himself on the outside affects how people see him, but can it change who he is on the inside?
First, the similarities!
The core story is unchanged. At it’s heart, Aladdin is two tales. The first is a tale of integrity, honesty, and friendship. Beneath it’s glamour and gusto, it whispers “Be careful what you wish for.” As Aladdin discovers, having a magical Genie and three wishes at your disposal won’t solve all your problems – it can, in fact, make them worse.
The second tale is Jasmine’s. She’s an interesting Disney princess in that she’s not the star of her own movie, but a secondary character. However, in every iteration of the story, we see her struggle to assert her worth and independence in a world that allows women no agency. We learn from her that love can be found in unexpected places, and not to judge a book by it’s cover.
Guy Ritchie takes this desert romance and gives it a different spin. There are elements of action, heists, and even hip hop. Though there are more high-speed magic carpet chases through the Cave of Wonders and the streets of Agrabah, but the film never loses sight of the core stories.
Though the OG animated film was rich in desert colors, in my opinion, the BW show and the LA remake have the “real” Agrabah feel. Through the sets and costuming, we get all manner of luxurious textures, sparkles, a deeper rainbow of colors. The rich sensual experience translates better in either live-action experience for me, though I will admit the magical and fantastical elements translated best in the OG animated film. There’s some things that just work best with traditional, hand-drawn animation, and the Genie’s magic was one of them!
Speaking of, let’s talk about the blue elephant in the room for a moment. I believed from the start that Will Smith could pull off the Genie. Of course, no one can replace the late, great Robin Williams, and many were afraid of that. But replacing Robin Williams was never the point. No one was up in arms about Genie’s Broadway casting, were they? Will Smith got a lot of crap from fans about “getting Genie right” and “replacing Robin,” which made me sad. I don’t believe Robin Williams would have wanted this. Will Smith has the acting chops, plus the comedic ability, and he is also a record-selling rapper and musical artist. If I was afraid of anything, it was that Will Smith’s performance would overshadow those of Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, the relatively new actors they cast as Aladdin and Jasmine.
(Though, really, it’s like tradition for Genie to overshadow everyone – I just didn’t want him to be too much)
Will Smith was phenomenal, just as I’d predicted. I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face throughout the whole Friend Like Me sequence because I had just KNOWN he would be great, and he didn’t let me down. They let Will Smith… well, just be Will Smith. They gave him a whole lot of razzle dazzle in post (while not a fan of blue Will in the first trailer, I’m adamant the CGI wasn’t finished at that point; he looks MUCH better in motion), but for the most part, they just cut him loose and let him have fun. His enthusiasm billowed out through the screen and infected everyone in the theater.
Casting was spot on for most everyone else as well. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin is as charming and bumblingly endearing as the original. His rougish smile melted my heart; I couldn’t bring myself to be mad when he broke into Jasmine’s quarters to talk to her again (oh, I wanted to. Oh, HOW I wanted to be mad. NEEDED to be mad. I could not!). Naomi Scott brought new life and new elements to Jasmine (more on this in a moment) while staying true to her independent nature. She and Massoud had great chemistry, though I found their singing abilities left something to be desired. I wasn’t moved to tears during A Whole New World as I should have been; the BW show had me sobbing in the theater and I wanted the same experience, dang it!
Now for the differences.
While Jasmine’s character was given more agency, more of a voice, and a new song to match (Speechless as opposed to These Palace Walls from the BW show), her new voice amounted to… next to nothing, unfortunately. Her moment was built up from the very beginning, when Jafar told her to hold her tongue in the presence of a man. She finds her voice in the climax of the film – only for the rest of the third act to unfold exactly as it did in the OG animated film. I was waiting and rooting for her triumph only to be extremely disappointed when she became the damsel in distress once again. I suppose there would have been no other way to do it without changing the ending events too much… but I am a little bitter about it.
More backstory was added about the Queen, Jasmine’s mother, and Jafar and how he rose to his station. However, this exposition was so paper thin, added nothing new to the story, and was mentioned only once or twice. At that point, why bother? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief about Jafar’s backstory especially.
Jafar was the only character I took real issue with. Though Marwan Kenzari portrayed Jafar appropriately misogynistic, he didn’t appear scary enough… or dare I say, old enough. In the OG animated film, Jafar is a creepy, lecherous, and truly sinister old dude. I don’t think the film gained anything by aging him down. His preying on Jasmine was toned down, I think, in favor of his thirst for Agrabah’s throne, but I wasn’t truly sold on his performance.
And, speaking of mothers, to my last point: why on Earth didn’t they include Aladdin’s mother, or at least the song about her? Proud of Your Boy, Aladdin’s ballad about mourning his mom and wanting to do right by her, was cut from the OG animated film. It was included in the BW show, however, and brought feeling and depth to his character. I was expecting it here, for whatever reason… dunno why I’m so surprised it’s not! Apparently I’ve forgotten how much Disney hates mothers! After hearing the less-than-stellar vocal performances by much of the cast, I can now understand why it was cut here, too… but I still feel it should have been included. I would have welcomed an effort at Proud of Your Boy and the reprise over the two “blink and you miss it” mentions each of Jasmine’s mother and Jafar’s past.
I’ve heard mixed things about all live-action remakes Disney’s made to date, and only seen one and a half myself (all of 2015’s Cinderella and the second half of 2014’s Maleficent), but overall I was not disappointed with this live-action remake of my childhood favorite. Guy Ritchie’s direction took us to a more action-oriented Agrabah, but his vision never lost sight of the desert glamour or the heart of the story. Casting for the most part was done very well; Will Smith’s Genie especially. Going in with an open mind on this one makes for a magical carpet ride at the movies ;D
Ritchie, Guy. Aladdin. 2019.