"Aladdin" is the latest live-action remake of a Disney animated classic. The studio has given themselves a titanic task considering the legacy of the 1992 film and Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a thief with a heart of gold living on the streets of Agrabah. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is a strong-willed woman who’s kept in the palace and she objects to being married off to a foreign prince. When they meet they fall in love despite their different social standings. Aladdin ends up having to work for the traitorous Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who seeks power from a magic lamp.
Cynics would consider the Disney remakes are nothing more than cash grabs offering little that is different or new. Aladdin is a clear case of this, being a low-risk film. And this is highlighted by the choice of director – Guy Ritchie. Ritchie is known for his comedy gangster films and the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies and his trademarks are slow-motion, quick editing, and fast flashbacks and flashforwards. His trademarks were mostly absent from the film and he was clearly a gun-for-hire looking for a sure-fire hit.
The 2019 version of Aladdin was met with controversies. The biggest was a report that some actors and extras were given makeup to darken their skin and make them look more Middle-Eastern. The first promotional material was mocked online – a promotional picture on the cover of Entertainment Weekly made the film look like a cheap panto and the trailer showing Will Smith’s blue-skinned Genie were lampooned. The cards were stacked against Aladdin.
A mistake Ritchie made was choosing to film Aladdin in studios in England instead of on location in Morocco. The scenes on the streets of Agrabah or within the palaces were tighter and restrictive than the animated version and the city itself looked artificial.
The CGI and special effects were more miss than hit. This is mainly due to the Genie and the use of his powers. The main reason for this was trying to repeat some of the animated scenes which do not work in live-action. Audiences will enter the uncanny valley.
The best feature of the film was the cast. Will Smith was given a seemingly poisoned chalice as the Genie because Robin Williams’ performance was so iconic and Smith was in an acting slump so doing this film seemed like an act of desperation. Yet he plays to his strengths; his charm, and likeability. Whilst Smith doesn’t ad-lib and riff like Williams he is still fun, humorous and there was sincerity in his friendship with Aladdin.
Most of the cast were from Middle-Eastern or South Asian backgrounds which meant many of the roles were played by unknown or emerging actors. The actor I was most familiar with was Naomi Scott and that was because of the Power Rangers film. Massoud and Scott have a natural chemistry together and Massoud inhabits the cheeky chappy character of the animated original.
Princess Jasmine was made to be a more strong-willed character – she doesn’t just want to be allowed out of the palace, she questions why she can’t be the heir to the throne. Jasmine is shown to be intelligent, well-read, and compassionate and that’s what she wanted from a man. Scott was given the new song which she belts out. It’s clear that Hollywood wants to make her into a star.
The casting of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar was met with more criticism. Jafar is one of the great Disney villains: he was an imposing figure. The filmmakers wanted to go in a different direction by making Jafar a dark mirror to Aladdin. He was also a street rat and a pickpocket who rose up the ranks to be the Sultan’s main advisor. Aladdin could have gone down the same path as Jafar if he uses the power of the lamp. Yet he was a limp villain, neither a powerful threat or master manipulator.
Other characters were changed for the live-action film. The Sultan, played by Navid Negahban, was turned from a bumbling boob to a more competent figure. The filmmakers could have put more effect to show The Sultan’s grief – that he hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife – which explains why he’s so overprotective of Jasmine.
The biggest addition to the remake was the character of Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), Jasmine’s handmaiden. She was the love interest for the Genie and she was a likable presence as the fun best friend. She was Jasmine’s Genie.
"Aladdin" is a musical and the best number was ‘A Whole New World.’ It was basically a shot-for-shot redo of the animated version.
The live-action version "Aladdin" pales in comparison to the animated original. There are moments that will entertain audiences of all ages. Though overall, it’s incredibly average. I'm going to give "Aladdin" a 5 out of 10.