By: Christy Jedigoddess
When I first heard of Disney taking on the task of remaking the beloved 1992 animated classic Aladdin, I was skeptical. So far, I have really enjoyed all of Disney’s reincarnations of their animated classics into live-action films. But, Aladdin, just like Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, is quite close to my heart.
That being said, I knew that I would be seeing this and leaving my judgment at the door until I gave it a fair chance. Well, I am happy to report that this recent live-action endeavor did not disappoint.
To break it down.
The cast was solid, and what really came through was how strong their chemistry was. This was especially true of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott). I admit this housed a big part of my skepticism. Aladdin and Jasmine’s connection had to feel authentic to me, not rehearsed and produced. It had to feel natural. I can’t imagine a better person to have been cast as Aladdin. Massoud’s performance was like watching the original all over again. Aladdin’s charisma is undiminished in Massoud’s performance.
In Scott’s performance as Jasmine, Jasmine’s strong independence and intelligence are still intact with some updates to fit today’s societal changes since 1992. It’s not only that Jasmine wants to avoid marriage for the sake of some outdated idea of a “woman’s duty”, rather, but her ambitions also lie with becoming the Sultan herself. Her vision for her people revolves around uniting them to prosperity and harmony.
The Genie, originally portrayed by the legendary comedian Robin Williams, is some rather large shoes to fill. However, Will Smith was able to dial in a performance that is well suited. His humor, one-liners, ad-libs, and overall charm breathe new energy into the genie, while also giving an ode to Williams’ original performance.
There were some rumblings about the casting of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), especially given the change of his age. It makes sense that they went with a “younger” casting of Jafar, especially since in the original story, he does try to make a bid to marry Jasmine in order to gain the title of Sultan himself. The same dark ambition is present in Kenzari’s performance as Jafar, and his youth and attractiveness actually add a new layer of villainy to the Vizier.
What I really love about Disney’s casting choices, beyond chemistry, is the fresh faces they went for. Other than Will Smith, there really aren’t any “big” names sharing the screen in this venture, and that is a great thing. They opened the door to usher in some fresh talent and more diversity.
Directed by Sherlock Holmes and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels director, Guy Ritchie (who also co-wrote the screenplay with screenwriter John August of Big Fish), the film hallmarks a departure from the type of gritty films we normally see Ritchie at the helm of. Ritchie’s unique take on action sequences and high-speed edits are definitely showcased in his direction of Aladdin, which heightens the spectacle of the film.
The plot closely aligns to that of the original, with some clear updates that carry it well into the modern film space. It is filled with its share of musical numbers and a vivid color palette that adds an animated feel to the film, and also pays homage to Arabian culture.
The musical numbers are fun and catchy, while showcasing new covers of classic songs. The main song, “A Whole New World”, does not deviate from the original but you will be hard-pressed not to sing along while watching it. A few new songs and updates to the classic songbook are also featured in the film. The music, both old and new, are great, and even Will Smith adds his own twists to some of Genie’s classic numbers.
Overall, I really enjoyed this take on Aladdin. Guy Ritchie did well to keep the magic intact from the original while also sprinkling in some new twists and turns that the audience can hold on too. I left the theater feeling positive and really enjoying my experience.
If the theater audience was any indication, this film feels like it’s a solid addition to the Disney film canon. I left the theater hearing nothing but praise from families and fellow filmgoers, both young and old, who saw the original as children and now have the opportunity to share it with the next generation of their family. Now that’s magic.
P.S. It’s absolutely IMAX worthy!