Aladdin, a thief with a heart of gold, falls in love with a princess and comes into possession of a magic lamp which contains a genie that will grant him three wishes.
The recent Disney remakes have not really been my thing. As a child I was never too interested in the animated classics as I grew up with two older brothers which lead my taste in cinema to usually fall more towards family franchises like… Rambo, The Terminator and Star Wars.
So although I’ve highly enjoyed some of the new versions of Disney’s stories like Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s visual effects wonder The Jungle Book, I haven’t really gotten that emotional nostalgic connection that many people have felt which lead movies like Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland (not a fan of either) to accumulate over 1 Billion dollars at the box office.
But out of all of the remakes, the original Aladdin is the only one I actually grew up with, so yes Disney… I’m yours now.
Having said this… I really liked Aladdin, but its not without its issues.
The leads Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott shine in their roles as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, respectively. Massoud in particular handles the charm, physicality and heart of the hero with ease and aplomb, looking like he was ripped straight out of the animated version.
However, it’s Scott who gives the best performance as she also happens to have the meatiest role. Director/screenwriter Guy Ritchie and co-writer John August have justifiably updated the character of Jasmine to reflect contemporary ideals of women’s place in the world with a much more robust characterisation and complex motivations as well as providing an admirable role model of strong and intelligent women for young girls. She even gets a powerful new song “Speechless”, one of the musical highlights of the film.
The Genie was always going to be a tricky role to cast as Robin Williams informed the nature and essence of that character to such a degree that anybody who would ever tackle the character again would be unfavourably compared to the legendary comedian. Even so, Will Smith proved to be perfectly cast as only such a large personality like him could have inhabited the character. He does his best to make it his own and largely succeeds with his iteration being very much a “Fresh Prince of Agrabah”, failing slightly whenever he tries to replicate Williams performance with some jokes falling flat.
On the downside, the CGI on the blue version of the Genie can shift between fantastic and fake. The design is great but the motion capture and movements can occasionally look out of place and cartoony, saved only by Smith’s manic energy and infectious joy.
Genie’s and Aladdin’s relationship gets an improvement from the original as well, with Smith and Massoud elevating the material, creating a very sweet and genuine bond between the main characters presenting them much more as friends, giving us a sense that Genie helps Aladdin out of a feeling of friendship rather than one of cosmic duty.
There’s a saying that goes “all stories are only as good as its villain”, a saying that Aladdin doesn’t seem to know. Thankfully, Aladdin’s villain doesn’t sink the movie, but it certainly hurts it with Marwan Kenzari feeling completely miscast as the manipulative and evil Jafar. I’m sure Kenzari is a good actor given the right material but here he doesn’t exude the necessary grandeur and presence, feeling like not much of a threat and portraying the Vizier as some whiny, petulant teenager.
On a final note for the performer’s side, big kudos should go to small but impressive secondary roles played expertly by Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaiden, Navid Negahban as the Sultan and Billy Magnussen as Prince Anders.
From a technical standpoint Aladdin stands as one of the most impressive within the recent Disney catalogue with some fantastically vibrant and animated costume and set design. Ritchie’s signature slow/fast motion camerawork and snappy editing is also put to great use.
Additionally, the filmmaker’s past in music videos helps for the fun dance numbers, each one distinct from the other while remaining faithful to the original classic, with a particular standout being one that appears to have been filmed in a single shot.
For fans of the original there are not many surprises to be found (as is to be expected with all of these remakes), but iconic scenes such as the magic carpet ride and the “A Friend Like Me” dance number are faithfully recreated and many times expanded, which should keep them more than happy.
Largely keeping what worked from the original while updating and improving on other much needed areas, Aladdin proves to be a fun and energetic remake that fans of the original should highly enjoy.