Film Review: Aladdin

Director Guy Ritchie conjures a live action remake of Disney's magical tale that offers a few charming surprises of its own but, in spite of the fact that it has a big budget and a capable cast, it does not quite recapture the wonder and creativity of the original.

By: Fazielah Williams
Posted: 7 June 2019
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


Aladdin posterSince it was first announced in 2017 I have been really excited to watch and experience the live adaptation of Disney's classic hit Aladdin, which has been directed by Guy Ritchie with a cast led by the bankable Will Smith as the Genie, Mena Massoud as the titular character, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Marwan Kenzari as the villainous Jafar. I imagined and looked forward to a blockbuster that would fill me with nostalgia and inspire me with its innovative take on the well-known tale. I got the nostalgia but not necessarily the innovation I was looking for.

In 1992, when the animation was released, I was a young, fairy-tale-loving, Disney-obsessed daddy's little girl who was thrilled that there was finally a princess who looked like me on the big screen. I lapped up every musical number and the very strong message conveyed on screen that a daughter, while well read with a yearning for adventure and a menagerie of cute animals, must do as her father commands: wait for and marry a prince who will show her the world.

The mysterious cave of treasures in Aladdin

In 2019, adult (and now fatherless) me, while still longing for a menagerie of cute animals, was horribly confronted with the truth about poor Jasmine's restrictive lifestyle as depicted in the live-action version. As a strong, educated, self-sufficient woman who enjoys travelling solo all over the world, I am definitely not waiting for a man to give it to me (no matter how catchy "A Whole New World" and the prospect of a romantic magic carpet ride may be!).

Naomi Scott as Jasmine in Aladdin

A new song, "Speechless", which helps Jasmine realise she can take back her power and change her own destiny at the climax of the film, was created specifically for this remake and is beautifully performed by Scott. It is a great addition to the soundtrack, which includes all of the classic favourites ("Prince Ali", "Arabian Nights", and more). My only worry is that with it being performed so late in the movie, the damsel-in-distress-who-can-only-be-saved-by-a-man message will once again be absorbed by this generation's princess-adoring girls, whereas what the movie updates and portrays well to older audiences is a woman who actually has more agency than the titular character, Aladdin.

Smith, in preparation for the role of Genie, knew he had big shoes to fill. Following the late Robin Williams' beloved animation act wasn't going to be a walk in the park. As he has stated in various interviews, he was well aware of this and based his portrayal as part homage to Williams, part throwback to his own iconic Nineties characters (from performances in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Bad Boys, and as Agent J in Men In Black).

Will Smith as Genie and Mena Massoud as Aladdin in Aladdin

Will Smith as Genie and Mena Massoud as Aladdin in Aladdin

There's no doubt that Smith is larger than life in the film (though far less blue than all of that pre-release controversy about his make-up turned out to be) and his version of Genie is sure to delight young people. The trouble is that his performance ended up being far too streetwise kid/hip-hop artist and less noble magical sidekick. That being said, I did enjoy his rap version of "A Friend Like Me".

This may be the first live action cinematic outing for Aladdin but not its first live adaptation. Fans of the TV series Once Upon A Time and its spin-off Once Upon A Time In Wonderland will remember the spectacular rendering of the palace and Agrabah as being places worthy of Aladdin's coveting. The movie's version felt lackluster in comparison.

Marwan Kenzari as Jafar in Aladdin

The same comparison can be made between both of the series' Jafars, played with a certain devilish flair by Naveen Andrews and Oded Fehr, respectively, and the film's version. Kenzari's villain comes off as more of an entitled upstart than the all-powerful evil sorcerer to be feared and is all too easily defeated.

Ritchie's signature cinematography style of quick jump cuts and intense action shots are well suited for the dramatic and magical elements of Aladdin. I particularly liked the scene in which Aladdin and Jafar (in disguise) struggle for the magic lamp in the narrow corridors of Agrabah.

Prince Ali arrives in the kingdom in Aladdin

The CGI worked well for some elements, such as the magic carpet, which really felt like the breakout star of the film with its almost humanlike mannerisms, and Genie's hilarious makeover of Aladdin into Prince Ali before his arrival at the palace, but failed in others. Aladdin's leaping from building to building while being chased by the merchant in the opening scenes, for example, looked far too unrealistic, as did Genie whenever he was rendered (presumably with the help of motion capture) in his blue incarnation.

The surprise addition of a handmaiden to Jasmine and a love interest for Genie, Dalia, as played by TV series New Girl's actress Nasim Pedrad, adds an extra comedic and romantic layer to the overall story. Dalia, with her independent streak, provides a much-needed second strong female character in an otherwise male-centric plot.

I must also offer a word of appreciation for the costume designers being respectful of the fact that a shirtless Aladdin and scantily-clad Jasmine would not sit as well with 2019 family audiences as their 1992 animated (or the current Broadway musical) versions did. Jasmine's array of gorgeous and demur costumes, with colourful coats worn over her signature teal pants, are a sight to behold.

Aladdin finds the lamp in Aladdin

Having said all of the above, though, my inner youthful self quite enjoyed this magic carpet ride down her Disney childhood memory lane and I may treat her to a second viewing soon.

Aladdin is a faithful remake of the animation, likely to make adults nostalgic for their childhoods and give new, young fans a wonderful taste for Disney magic.

Aladdin was written by John August and Guy Ritchie, based on Disney's 1992 animated film of the same name, was directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, and Billy Magnussen.

The press screening was courtesy of Disney. Rating


Tags: Screen, Speculative Fiction

The teaser video does not contain spoilers. The trailer contains very minor spoilers.

[ YouTube link ]

[ YouTube link ]

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