When Disney first announced their plans for remaking their animated classics in live-action, I was skeptical. How could the Mouse house ever hope to achieve the greatness of those classics? Films like Aladdin & The Lion King are cherished by many, and no one wants to see an inferior version of them. Well, with the recent remakes ranging from mediocre to surprisingly good (we’re looking at you, Jungle Book), I had hope for 2019’s Aladdin.
Aladdin is directed by Guy Ritchie. Now, before I go on further in the review, let that sink in. Weird choice, isn’t it? Guy Ritchie, the man who directed the weirdly satisfying Sherlock Holmes, the same guy who made the unsurprisingly bland King Arthur. To give him the reigns of an over the top musical is a surprising move that Disney made, but in the end, it seems like it might have paid off, if ever so slightly.
2019’s Aladdin tells the familiar tale of Aladdin, Jasmine, and the magic lamp which houses the Genie, played by Will Smith. Yet another surprising decision, which we’ll get to in a minute. Starting off, I want to say that the cast here, for the most part, does its job pretty well. Mena Massoud is a good Aladdin, and his cultural background certainly helps in selling this live-action version of the character. Naomi Scott is certainly the best performer here, with her Jasmine certainly being updated to fit a story being told in today’s times. She’s graceful, smart and a great singer. All signs pointing positive, right?
Well, if a story is only as good as its villain, then this story falls apart pretty soon. From the opening montage where we first meet Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar, I knew this was not gonna go well. With the internet making countless memes on “Hot Jafar”, I was always cautious that this casting decision by Disney that might backfire. He’s not bad per se, but his Jafar just feels out of place by a long shot. One moment he’ll be playing this suave con-man, the other this maniacal bad guy, which is really inconsistent.
See where I’m going with this review? The movie looks like it packs a punch, but by the time it lands a hit, it feels more like a soft caress. It feels like with every good decision that Disney takes with this movie, it takes 2 steps back.
But if it’s adapting the story we all love, isn’t that a good thing?
Yes, but certain changes are made here to better reflect the live action medium. Let’s talk about Iago for a moment. Jafar’s iconic parrot, who was in the animated film many times a unique character, becomes a shell of itself in this remake. Iago can’t speak full sentences, doesn’t have any personality, and is only present to mock others in a condescending tone. Sound familiar? No, right?
Speaking of changes to the source material, let’s talk about the USP of the movie. The Genie! Who can forget this classic rendition of the character by Robin Williams in the original? Going into this movie, almost everyone’s biggest fear was how Will Smith would carry this role. And I am happy to report that he does the job fantastically well. Genie is funny, charming and over-the-top, in the best ways Will Smith can be, without taking away anything from the Robin Williams’ version. Smith never tries to imitate the original character and instead provides his own spin on it. And this is certainly the best part of the movie, which it should be. In fact, I was rooting for Smith to return to his antics on screen whenever he wasn’t.
The film has a lot going for it in terms of production design, but as many critics have pointed out, it does feel like it’s all been shot on a sound stage. That coupled with rough CGI in some spots did take me out of the movie every once in a while, but it wasn’t something that I paid attention to at all times.
All things considered, Aladdin is a good time. It isn’t as good as the original, of course. But of all the bland remakes that Disney has been pumping out lately, this one seems to be among the best.