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Aladdin

Aladdin (2019)

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.

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I fell in love with the sets and costuming with Entertainment Weekly’s first look at this film!

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.

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Genie and I both say “See? Told ya so!!!”

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.

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Let Jasmine sing!!!

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

Kathleen

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Ritchie, Guy. Aladdin. 2019.

 

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Disney’s Aladdin

Have we reviewed a musical here before?

*crickets and tumbleweeds*

I feel like I do a lot of firsts here =P

Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie. My mom got my boyfriend and I tickets for the Broadway in Chicago show for Christmas. She hid them in a pair of winter boots she got me and one fell out when I went to try them on. I was so shocked and overwhelmed when I realized what it was that I cried. So my boyfriend and I spent this weekend in downtown Chicago to see it!

It’s not exactly like the movie, so don’t go in expecting that, though the storyline is basically the same. Aladdin, a street rat, is scraping by on the streets of Agrabah. He meets and falls in love with the Princess Jasmine, who is desperate to carve her own path and marry for love, not politics. Through the trickery of Jafar, the Royal Vizier next in line for the throne, Aladdin is coerced into entering the Cave of Wonders to secure a lamp. But not just any lamp… a lamp containing a Genie. Genie promises Aladdin three wishes, and Aladdin promises to set Genie free as his third wish. But his first? Becoming a prince to woo the princess. Being a prince is harder than it looks, but even harder is keeping up the charade. Will Aladdin live out the lie or stay true to himself?

New characters are introduced and some are humanized for the sake of theater. Iago is not a parrot here but Jafar’s assistant who “parrots” everything Jafar says. Instead of his monkey sidekick Abu, Aladdin gains three goofy yet steadfast friends: Omar, Babkak, and Kassim. A plot line scrapped from the original movie script resurfaces here: Aladdin’s mom has passed away, and he’s trying to turn over a new leaf in her memory.

Though it was utilized poorly: her death was mentioned in passing once at the beginning, so if you weren’t paying attention, you probably missed it and wondered why there were 2 reprises of “Proud of Your Boy.”

In a phrase, this musical is visually dazzling. The set design was PHENOMENAL. I was astonished they were able to fit so many scenes on one stage. There’s the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin’s house, the Royal Palace, the Cave of Wonders (complete with giant tiger head), the famous star-studded magic carpet ride, and many more. Everything glittered – including the actors, their costumes had sequins and some wore glittery makeup. The last musical I saw was Sweeney Todd, which had a towering but minimalist set. By comparison (though really, who could compare the two?), Aladdin‘s set was extravagant, saturated with color, and fluid, shifting like the desert sands.

The actors were all incredible. Aladdin was roguish but charming. Jasmine was, of course, headstrong and defiant, yearning with all her heart for more of her tiny corner of the world. The ensemble were fantastic. The Sultan was much more of a side character, but the one song he sang, dang the man had chops. Jafar and Iago never really hit the same “sinister villain” mark as in the movie, they felt more like those laughable bad guys you love to hate. Omar, Babkak, and Kassim were funny and acted as Aladdin’s conscience as much as Genie did.

And Genie. Oh man. He needs a whole paragraph dedicated to him. You know how Robin Williams’ performance stole the whole movie? The same thing happened here. He was hilarious (had the audience dying a minute in with a Cubs hat), flamboyant, HOT DAMN HE COULD SING, and he truly made magic happen onstage. The scene at the end where Aladdin frees him broke open my floodgates and made me realize the true reason I love this story.

Jasmine of course, is my favorite Disney princess. I love that she stood up for what she believed in and stood her ground until the world shifted to suit her. But that’s not really why I love it.

The friendship between Aladdin and Genie is the real magic of this story. Aladdin learns what it means to be a friend, to be true to himself and his friends, and keep his promises. Genie helped Aladdin find the love of his life, but Aladdin gave Genie what he wanted most, the most precious gift in the world, without being asked: freedom.

That Genie was played by a black man made it even more powerful, or maybe problematic depending on your point of view, but the impact of that moment cannot be denied no matter what.

The only thing I was truly disappointed by was Jafar’s downfall. I guess they ran out of room for a giant Jafar-snake in the back with all the set pieces. Or maybe the giant tiger ate it? My point is, what was the entire third act of the movie was basically squeezed into 30 seconds. That was one vanishing act that could have used a lot of work.

If you’re visiting Chicago for a weekend this summer, go ahead and get a ticket. You’re in for a visual feast, a whole lot of laughs, and the A/C in the Cadillac Palace Theater. I texted my mom a HUGE thank you immediately after the show. She texted back, “You’re welcome, Kathleen. I couldn’t have it come to Chicago and have you not see it. It was worth it. I’m sure there’s a big smile on your face and happiness!!!”

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There certainly was ❤

– Kathleen

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